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Fontana Lake in North Carolina

Trip Overview

Fontana Lake is by far one of the most beautiful and tranquil lakes I've been on. The dam was built during WWII in part to provide electricity for the war effort. It is the highest dam east of the Rockies, standing at 480ft tall. As others have stated, there is very little boat traffic, especially up on the western part of the lake towards the dam.

I arrived at Cable Cove boat ramp around 11:30am with mostly cloudy skies, a slight breeze, and a temperature of about 75 degrees. You can't ask for better weather.

Set out of Cable Cove and paddled across the main channel over to the mouth of Hazel Creek. I was very surprised at how perfect the water was in terms of temperature and visibility. Standing up to your shoulders in the cover you can still look down through the water at your feet. The 'green-ish' tone of the water comes from old abandoned copper mines at the bottom of the lake that existed prior to the dam being built.

Paddled all the way back up into Hazel Creek where I pulled up to a small gravely shore. (forewarning: there are not many places to pull off around the lake shore). When you get back to Hazel Creek you will see one gravely shore where they have placed gravel on a roadbed. A more convenient place to take out is just further up the creek to the right (about 150ft further).

Relaxed here in my ENO hammock for a bit, then ventured back up towards the old town of Proctor which was practically shut off from the rest of the world when the reservoir was filled. Trail follows hazel creek back up towards the town where you pass GSMNP campsite #86 (permit required) and the Lake Shore Trail.

Hiked back to my kayak, packed up, and set on my way back. Unfortunately, I ran into a bit of a headwind on the way back, but it didn't make things too difficult. Got back to the ramp at Cable Cove around 4:00pm.


Camping at Cable Cove and Tsali Recreational area with water and toilets.

Primitive campsites on north shore and island within the Great Smoky Mountains NP. A permit is required to camp at these sites; attainable at the Fontana Marina.


Permit required for camping at GSMNP campsites (free).


Take US-74 towards Bryson City, NC. Turn off US-74 onto NC-28. There are several boat different boat landings to chose from. The main two off NC-28 are at Tsali Recreational Area and Cable Cove.


National Geographic Tails Illustrated Map of Fontana & Haiwassee Lakes.

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip