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Lake Fontana in North Carolina - Weekend Trip Report

A self-supported trip created by MedicineMan

Trip Overview

Wanting to experience a new-to-me QCC 700 I ventured toward Fontana Lake for a 3 day paddling trip. For those unaware, Fontana Lake forms a large portion of the belly (southern boundary) of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had seen the lake on prior hikes in GSMNP because the Appalachian Trail crosses Fontana Dam, thus the curiosity to experience the lake and the park from another vantage.

Other reports have been issued on paddling this lake. I can further expound the point that looking upon the Smokies from the water is a wonderful experience. The camping opportunities are a bit trying as the monikers denoting the campsites are small and easily missed unless you have a good idea where to look for them before hand, and the campsites are often situated in an area that is not readily easy to access either because of debris (log/brush jams) or water level. Note that when camping on the northern side of the lake you are in the National Park and are required to have filed a backcountry permit and keep a copy with you to be conspicuously displayed in your campsite. Also note that GSMNP is bear country and that preventative measures must be practiced to remove a chance bear-food encounter.

The most important thing I believe this report can give would be Fontana paddlers is the use of the outfitter in Fontana Village as a shuttle. At this point in time there is not an official shuttle but the manager Justin gladly (gladly took money to) shuttled me to my beginning point at the Tsali Recreational Area (an area noted for its mountain bike course, mountain bike races, and a yearly triathlon, and an area offering camping tent or RV style). Thankfully he helped me quickly unload the vehicle, took my keys and my vehicle and promised to deposit both at my predetermined take out point at Cable Cove (boat ramp and campground roughly 30 miles away).

My first days paddle began in the rain which soon became a downpour, but as paddlers we all know the wonder of encapsulation a kayak provides from inclement weather and with the heat of June the rain's cooling effect was welcome.

I paddled approximately 17 miles the first day, a 5hour paddle to my first campsite. Not liking the look of the take out there I paddled just a little further and found another spot more in tune with kayak egress and soon had the hammock strung between two stout trees, a victim of the woody adelgid in the guise of a large dead pine leaned precariously against one of the trees chosen but worried me not. After dinner and a nude bathing with the help of Dr. Bonner's peppermint soap I climbed in the Hennessey exhausted and awoke the next day to a cool misty morning. This second day's paddle was to be short with only 7-8 miles to cover so I lingered and slowly repacked the QCC. No rain in this paddle but it returned later as I again set up camp in the Hazel Creek area. At the end of Hazel Creek (not really a creek being 0.25mile wide and at least 4 miles long) are the remains of Proctor, N.C., a city that had its heyday in the early 1900's as a logging community. Loss of trees, the creation of Fontana Dam, and the establishment of the National Park now mean that what remains of Proctor are only the foundations of several buildings, a few buildings maintained by the Park Service, but lovely gravel roads along Hazel Creek and the typically information NPS signs depicting what had once been a thriving community. After leaving Proctor I returned to a spot found during lunch break on Hazel Creek, a side cove and creek that for one reason or another had an area possessing at least 10 picnic tables in a row and nice trees to hammock from. My nightly ritual again repeated with stringing the hammock, cooking dinner, hanging the bear bag and then skinny dipping Dr. Bonner style in the cove, was repeated.

My paddle out was with a small detour west until I could spot Shuckstack, a fire tower on the Appalachian Trail.

It�s always a good feeling to see the vehicle especially when you hire an unknown to deposit it for you, but the Montero was sitting as specified.

Notes to would-be-paddlers on Fontana: This is a large lake and even on the weekends (maybe with the exception of July 4 and Labor Day) motor boats can easily be avoided. As you paddle away from Tsali you will see less and less development. The campsites in the park are also used by the Lakeshore Trail (one of many trails in GSMNP) but you will rarely see any one using them, the park is just that big. Consider getting a North Carolina fishing license, the water in the coves is crystal clear and the smallmouth bass were obvious even to me a non-fisherman. Consider hiking options with your paddle trip, as mentioned each campsite is on the Lakeshore Trail (which is also now the Benton MacKaye Trail) and many other trails often coincide with it creating many loop possibilities. This area has many other wilderness offerings such as the Joyce Kilmer forest and the Appalachian Trail as mentioned prior. Consider weather, though the days were hot, it was cool at night, and rain is frequent here. This is a large lake and is very deep, paddling conditions can change quickly.


QCC700, Superior Kayaks Carbon Greenland paddle, Wildwasser Spray Skirt, Stohlquist paddle jacket, Hennessey Hammock, Nunatak down top quilt, Jacks-r-Better under quilt, Snow Peak


Backcountry Permits are required but free. I found mine at the Fontana Marina in a small kiosk.


I used the National Geographic map of Great Smoky Mountain National Park to find campsites and for general mileage.

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location