Alpine Lakes of the Smokies

Floating Fontana
By T. Edward Nickens
  |  Gorp.com
Page 3 of 5   |  

The next morning I gassed up with the lodge's signature Kitchen Sink eggs (two of 'em, scrambled with fresh mushrooms, bacon, sausage, cheese, green onions, and herbs) and hit the road for the hour's drive to Fontana, largest of the Finger Lakes. The twisting road soared hundreds of feet over the lake one minute, then swooped low like a diving harrier the next. I crossed the Appalachian Trail and a few miles further along spied a small brown-and-white sign emblazoned with the words "Nell's Cabin." I instantly hit the brakes, sending flyrods hurtling through the truck. I knew that Nell, the Jodie Foster tour de force, had been filmed on Fontana's shores, but I'd never pinpointed the location. The side road turned to dirt and then ended abruptly at a U.S. Forest Service gate. A 40-minute hike brought me to the famous fern-carpeted cove. Nell's log cabin was still there, scarred with graffiti, but nonetheless keeping watch over a sublime setting, the weathered front porch mere feet from the water's edge.

The road along Fontana offered dozens of other turnouts with scenic vistas of mountain and lake, but I wanted a far-from-the-asphalt experience of the mountains that loom over the lakes. At the Fontana Village Marina I rented a small motorboat and steered around houseboats for the 20-minute lake crossing. Fontana Lake forms much of the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the 6,000-foot mountains rising from the water's edge are the perfect subject for disposable panoramic cameras. I threaded my way up historic Hazel Creek, hemmed in with dense forests. Proctor, a booming timber town in the early 20th century, crowded along Hazel's creekbanks until the national park was formed, and a few reminders of its 2,000 residents remain. For the rest of the afternoon I wandered among the ruins of soaring brick lumber kilns and the 1928 Calhoun House. Hazel Creek is a well-known trout stream, so I fished out the remaining light, casting Elk Hair Caddis flies to riffles where tenacious pink pods of late-blooming mountain laurel nodded over the banks.

During construction of the Fontana Lake dam in the frenzied days of World War II the federal government housed nearly 6,000 workers and family members in a remote mountain village, and today scores of the small, trim workers' houses have been converted into vacation cottages. Sprinkled among the trees they are a favorite aspect of the family-oriented Fontana Village Resort, which now includes three restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pool, stables, and a large dance floor.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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