The sight of the Great Smoky Mountains mirrored in the waters of Fontana Lake is stunning enough to draw boaters and hikers to its shoreline year after year.
But the North Carolina reservoir is equally intriguing for the scenery beneath its waters: the remnants of old farm towns submerged in the 1940s to make room for the wartime necessity of hydroelectricity.
While the Tennessee Valley Authority still uses the dam, the lake has become well-loved for its boating, camping and fishing. And if you're curious about the area's history, plenty of stories from the valley's past life still surface from the deep.
— Compiled by staff writer Kate Harrison, firstname.lastname@example.org, 423-757-6673
BEST THINGS TO DO
By land or by lake
• Skim the nearly 30-mile-long reservoir by boat and treat yourself to majestic mountain views and peaceful scenery of 240 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline.
• The lake offers access to remote and historic areas of the park, such as Hazel and Eagle creeks.
• Fish for smallmouth bass, muskie and walleye in the lake's depths.
• What was once the dam's construction village in the 1940s is now a resort - Fontana Village - outfitted with accommodations, restaurants and a marina. Year-round activities include horseback riding, boating and rafting.
Sources: TVA, Fontana Village, National Park Service
"DON'T MISS" SPOT
Don't miss the dam
• Stretching 2,365 feet across the Little Tennessee River and rising 480 feet tall, Fontana Dam is the highest dam in the Eastern United States.
• Admire the view from the top. The Appalachian Trail actually crosses the dam's summit.
• A visitor center operated by the TVA off North Carolina Highway 28 features historical displays and videos about the dam's history and is open from May until October.
BEST KEPT SECRET
Road to Nowhere
• After residents were forced to leave their homes for the sake of the dam's construction, the U.S. government promised residents it would build a road so they could access their ancestors' gravesites along the shore.
• "The Road to Nowhere," as it came to be called, heads six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it dead-ends at a tunnel.
• Construction was halted because of environmental concerns. The road remained in dispute for more than 30 years until the U.S. government made a settlement with Swain County in 2010.
• Throughout the year, the National Park Service provides boating trips for descendants of people who lived in now-submerged towns to participate in "Decoration Days" and visit their ancestors' graves in old cemeteries along the reservoir's shores.
• The road is still accessible from Everett Street in Bryson City. Scenic overlooks provide dramatic panoramas of Fontana Lake and the Appalachian Mountains.
Sources: National Parks Traveler, North Shore Cemetery Association
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Fun for all seasons
• LakeAlooza, Fontana Village's annual Labor Day weekend lake party, caps off summer's end with music, tubing, a string of parties and fireworks.
• Sample 30 craft beers from 10 breweries across the region during Hoptoberfest on Oct. 13 at Fontana Village this year. Pair your beer picks with a bratwurst, or work off the carbs with a disc golf tournament and such games as corn hole and miniature golf.
• Plan your Thanksgiving at the resort and get ready for a weekend of live music, hayrides, guided hikes, square dancing and a full-course Thanksgiving meal.
Source: Fontana Village
BEST PLACE TO EAT IN TOWN
A room with a view
• Worked up your appetite on the water? The Mountview Restaurant in Fontana Village serves generous portions of primarily locally sourced foods.
• Large windows in the dining room allow you to watch the weather shifting over the mountains as you sip your wine.
• Retire next door to the Bear's Den Lounge for after-dinner cocktails and dessert.
Source: Mountview Restaurant, TripAdvisor.com
A village in the wilderness
• Biggest employers: Tennessee Valley Authority, which runs the dam; Fontana Village resort
• Number of miles from downtown Chattanooga: 140
• Landmarks or geographic feature: The lake forms part of the border of the Great Smoky National Park and the northern border of the Nantahala National Forest.
• Date founded: Fontana Dam was finished in 1944.
• Historic info: Before the 1940s, the gorge was quilted with farmland and small towns. Hundreds of people were removed to make way for Fontana Dam, which was built in record-breaking time to generate electricity for the war effort.
• Most famous visitor: Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre visited Fontana on a wartime press junket in 1945, and he expressed amazement that a town had sprung up in the wilderness.
• Unique characteristics/fun fact: When the TVA draws the lake down in September, you often can see the remains of old homes and skeletal farm structures.
• Web sites: www.tva.gov/sites/fontana; www.fontanavillage.com
Sources: TVA, Fontana Village, U.S. National Park Service