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Lake Fontana in North Carolina

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

I took my Boy Scout Troop on a five day four night canoe trip on Fontana Lake that was incredible! We departed Tsali Campground and paddled to the Little T bridge where the actual lake begins and back to Tsali in one day. The next morning we paddled into the main channel and were so impressed by three things: not many motor boats, the awesome steep banks that had colorful rock formations, and the brilliant clearness of the water.

We camped at backcountry site 76 (Kirkland Creek) the second night and campsite 90 (Eagle Creek) the third night and ended our trip by staying at campsite 78 (Double Island) the last night. Folks, this is a free trip! No cost for permits or camping except at Tsali, which was minimal.

The five day total was 58 miles of paddling and hiking. There are showers at the Fontana Dam visitors center plus an ice cream cooler! The boys went nuts! We visited the old copper mine off of Eagle Creek, swam in the warm water each day, cooked and ate like kings and sat around the fire for hours making conversation.

We did some work for the Park Service (cleaning out fire pits, dismantling illegal fire rings, inspected food cables and carried away 20 gallons of trash). The boys earned their 50-Miler Award and the Leave no Trace Award plus the Canoeing, Camping and Cooking Merit Badges.

This is a great place to paddle especially from Panther Creek west to the Dam. There is NO DEVELOPMENT on the north shore and very LITTLE on the south shore. We saw a few motor boats but not enough to get tore up about. This is a great lake right in our backyard and it's basically a free trip!

Yes, this trip is great because of the low cost, semi-wilderness setting and multitudes of campsites.


We did all our own food packaging, canoe towing, etc.

We all had 17' aluminum canoes


No launch fees, camping fees, permit fees except for a small fee to camp at Tsali which is a Forest Service campground with hot showers. A Natonal Park permit is required for camping in the backcountry and it is free.
Call 865-436-1231 for the permit.


Fontana Lake is at the most southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A state highway is near by but not very close. Lake access is found at Tsali Campground, Cable Cove Campground and Fontana Boat Dock.


I used my 7.5 minute topo maps. I suggest acquiring a Great Smoky Mountain National Park trail map since it has all the roads and backcounty sites printed up to date.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location