Fontana Dam (How to See NC’s Tallest Dam in Person!)

Last Updated on August 10, 2021

Disclaimer: This site uses demographic data, email opt-ins, display advertising, and affiliate links. Please visit our Disclosure and Privacy Policy pages for further explanation.

If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

Fontana Dam is one name for a town in Graham County, though many know it as Fontana Village. But, of course, the name “Fontana Dam” is largely attributed to the tallest dam east of the Rockies.

The Appalachian Trail runs through the dam, and because it’s also a short drive from Bryson City, we think it’s fair to say that Fontana Dam is a popular place to visit in North Carolina.

Whether you’re hiking through, want to ride a boat on Fontana Lake, or if you are interested in the dam’s fascinating history, our guide will share it all and why Fontana Dam belongs on your NC Bucket List.

In case you’re looking for something specific, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Fontana Dam History and Facts
  • How to See Fontana Dam
  • Fontana Dam Things to Do
  • Things to Do Nearby (Fontana Village and More!)

You can skip around to find exactly what you want or keep reading, starting with the history of Fontana Dam!

We think visiting Fontana Dam is one of the best things to do in North Carolina. This post is also part of our series on our favorite places to visit in Western North Carolina.

Fontana Dam History and Facts

Fontana Dam

Fontana Dam is one of 5,600 dams in North Carolina and was the brainchild of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA built the dam to provide electricity to aid in nuclear power research during World War II.

Fontana Dam also provided power to a largely rural area of the US that lacked electricity.

Construction began in 1942 and was completed in 1944, taking only 36 months to build what is now the tallest dam east of the Rockies.

It cost $70 million to build, is 480 feet tall, and a half-mile long at its widest point. As a result, Fontana Lake and Fontana Village with the dam now encompass what is collectively known as Fontana. 

Families Displaced

Top view of Fontana Dam

Building the dam required clearing lands occupied by 1,300 families. The TVA paid many of them to leave and took 70,000 acres to make room for the dam.

Because of the creation of Fontana Lake, homes, communities, and cemeteries became inaccessible or flooded. Displaced residents were promised a way to visit the cemeteries, and the federal government told them they would construct a road to do so.

The Road to Nowhere

Things to Do in North Carolina The Road to Nowhere Bryson City inside the tunnel
The Road to Nowhere

Unfortunately, the road has never been completed due to environmental concerns. Only six miles out of the 42 total finished, along with a 1,200-foot tunnel.

This unfinished road is known as “The Road to Nowhere” and has been a source of contention among the locals. Some want access to their loved ones and others wanting to protect the wilderness in that area. 

The Road to Nowhere sits 10 to 15 minutes outside downtown Bryson City, about an hour’s drive from Fontana Dam.

How to See Fontana Dam

People on Fontana Dam

There are two ways to park and see the dam: either by parking at the foot of it (Fontana Dam Basin) or driving to the Fontana Dam Visitor Center near the top. You can walk on the lakeside or the dam-side of the two-lane road that runs over the top of Fontana Dam.

Fontana Dam Road

Before visiting Fontana Dam, make sure you know your route or have it in your GPS. We simply input “Fontana Dam” and lost cell signal about 30 minutes from there.

Luckily, there’s WiFi at Fontana Village and at the Pitstop Gas Station on NC 28.

The Visitor Center is typically open from April to October. There, you can find information about how Fontana Dam was constructed, how it operates, and more history.

The Visitors Center also provides great views of the dam and the area below it. An upper deck awaits for anyone seeking an even higher view.

Fontana Dam Things to Do

The “Fontana Hilton”

Fontana Dam is a popular stop for Appalachian Trail hikers. The trail is over 2,000 miles spanning from Georgia to Maine, with 95.7 miles going through the North Carolina mountains.

Hot showers are available at the dam’s accessible overnight trail shelter. This has led hikers to dub it the “Fontana Hilton”. 

Fontana Reservoir

Inside Fontana Dam

The Fontana Reservoir comprises 238 miles of shoreline and 10,230 acres of water surface, providing vast space for visitors to enjoy recreational activities. Fishing, swimming, and boating are all popular things to do at the reservoir.

Fishers enjoy watching and taking part in Fall and Spring Bass Classic Tournaments. In addition, anglers who enjoy fly fishing can check out the reservoir’s north shore, and plentiful spots such as Eagle Creek and Hazel Creek. 

Fontana Marina

Fontana Marina, the closest marina to the dam out of several around, offers watercraft and equipment rentals. These include kayaks, pontoon boats, canoes, and paddleboards.

Ready to Visit Fontana Dam?

The towering Fontana Dam somewhat overshadows an interesting history and even the beautiful lake it created. Whether you’re boating on Fontana Lake, hiking through via the Appalachian Trail, or drove to the Visitor Center,

Have you ever visited Fontana Dam? We’d love to know if you were as impressed as we were to see it in person!

If you haven’t yet spent time here, please feel free to share your first impression with us in the comments section here or our Facebook Group!

Things to Do Nearby

You may feel a bit isolated when venturing out to Fontana Dam, but don’t worry because you’re not too far from these fun places to go and things to do.

Fontana Village

Fontana Village Bryson City NC

Fontana Village has been around for nearly 100 years, and it first started as a town for the families and construction workers who came from all over the country to build the dam.

Now, it offers an assortment of accommodations for those visiting, including a lodge, cabins, and campgrounds.

Visitors can enjoy a marina that offers pontoon cruises and fishing areas or rentals to Fontana Lake. In addition, enjoy recreational amenities such as pools and a lazy river, mini-golf, basketball and tennis courts, mountain biking, and more.

Different events and activities, including traditional music, car club, and motorcycle gatherings, outdoor activities, and holiday events, happen throughout the year. Fontana Village is also a great place to grab some lunch after visiting Fontana Dam.

Cherohala Skyway

Cherohala Skyway North Carolina

The Cherohala Skyway is 43 miles of scenic byway that stretches from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina.

Driving this road takes you through beautiful forested mountainsides and past overlooks, where you can stop for a closer look.

It winds over 5,400-foot mountains and through 18 miles of NC before descending through 23 miles of the Tennessee backcountry. The skyway received its name because it crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. 

Bryson City

Swain County Heritage Museum Bryson City NC

You may have traveled to Fontana Dam from Bryson City, but in case you didn’t, here are some of our favorite things to do there.

This wonderful mountain town sits next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visit the aforementioned Road to Nowhere, see the elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, or go tubing at Deep Creek for some outdoor adventures.

Of course, you’ll want to hop on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for a ride from downtown through the Nantahala Gorge.

One of the many highlights of that train ride is the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), but you can drive to and see on your own time, too. It’s possibly the best outdoor store in North Carolina, an amazing place to have a riverside meal, and an adventure park all in one space.

Make sure to visit the Swain County Heritage Museum while downtown. It shares a beautiful former courthouse with the Bryson City Visitor Center. The museum tells the story of Swain County and those who’ve inhabited it for hundreds of years, including the Cherokee people.

The town also hosts many events throughout the years, several types of accommodations, tons of unique stores to peruse, and great restaurants and bars to satisfy any appetite. 

Lakeview at Fontana

lakeview at fontana bryson city

Between downtown Bryson City and the road that leads to the NOC (or eventually Fontana Dam) is Lakeview at Fontana. This is the perfect place to relax and unwind while in the presence of nature.

Lakeview is an adult-only retreat where guests can enjoy the serenely decorated rooms and indulge in spa and massage treatments and treetop soaking cabanas.

The cabanas offer a private room overlooking Fontana Lake and the Smoky Mountains. Soak all your troubles away in their oversized stand-alone tubs.

Bath salts and the option to add on additional items means no matter what you choose; you’re sure to experience the calm and healing properties of the salt bath. 

More Things to Do in Fontana Dam’s Surroundings

Mingo Falls is one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians, worth the many steps you take to reach it!

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower sits on the North Carolina side of the Tennessee border and offers bucket list-worthy views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Deep Creek Trail inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best spots for hiking in North Carolina, taking you by three amazing waterfalls.

The Road to Nowhere is now a popular tourist destination near Bryson City. Of course, the history of this part of Western NC should not be forgotten.

Surrounded by the breathtaking Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is a quaint town with many attractions. These are the best things to do in Bryson City!

Lakeview at Fontana in Bryson City is the perfect romantic getaway and among the best spa resorts in North Carolina. Our guide shares all the details.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is one of the best things to do in Bryson City, North Carolina. Our guide shares prices and everything else you need to know!

Leave a Comment