Fontana Dam, Last Stop Before the Smokies

The weight of water passing through the dam today weighs 3.1 million pounds per second. The entire structure has a subtle rumble and the sound is of course loud.

Yesterday both of these were open fully. It’s only happened a handful of times. I just missed it. The half that is open now hasn’t been open like this since 2013.

Fontana Dam, the largest dam of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system was completed in 1945, it is 480 feet high, 2,365 feet long, and 376 feet thick at its base. Fontana Dam was commissioned as part of the war effort. Production facilities need electricity.

In November 1944 Fontana Lake began to fill, and on January 20, 1945, three years after construction had started, the powerhouse produced electricity for the first time. The project had cost $74.7 million, consumed 2.8 million cubic yards of concrete, and required 34.5 million man-hours to build. The dam created a reservoir of more than 11,000 acres with a 240-mile shoreline and a drainage area of more than 1,500 square miles.

On your way to the dam there’s a popular biker route called Dragon Tail. It boasts 318 hard curves in 11 miles. Lots of bikers about and you can rent them in Stecoah if you want to roll.

Another tip, print your Smokey Mountain permits ($20 online) before you get here. Which I did, but the other 3 with me this morning did not. Yes, it’s 2018. Yes, I could implement a solution with what they have in seconds. No, you probably won’t be successful getting any of it done either… this is a government office after all. In the end you’ll pay $6 for a round trip shuttle to the Village to print your permits and be late for your mandatory 12 miles uphill to the first shelter. Print 2 copies of your passes before you get here, seriously. You have to drop one in the box on the other side of the damn and you must carry one on your person at all times.

Before you do the final descent to the damn, the Fontana shelter and bathroom are down a side road about 100 yards to the right. The first building is the bathroom, with a hot shower. Don’t miss the power strip up by the damn ceiling! You can secure your phone behind the electrical conduit above the sink. You’re going to need full charges before the Smokies.

Below the bathroom a couple hundred yards is the shelter, known as the Fontana Hilton.

And it is the Hilton of shelters.

It’s a great place to plan a half zero. Kick back in one of the 3 picnic areas around the dam or the shelter. Look up, there are Bald Eagles about.

And look down… there’s big’ol wolf spiders wandering around.

For a great swim in a Smokey Mountain Lake, with above average visibility and temperatures, don’t miss the trail below the lower shelter platform to the right. Once on it, stay left and enjoy decent access to the water for a refreshing dip.

I brought my air mattress for a raft. We caught the scenic view of the climb tomorrow. The large fire tower you’ll pass, Shuckstack, is about the size of an ant from down here.

Want a snack, worms, ice cream or beer? The marina has them, head 1.4 miles downhill from the shelter or call the Fontana Village for a $3 shuttle. I had another quick hitch with Jeremy, the bearded marine pictured below, for free.

The Fontana dam is a must stop for a time. You are sure to meet up and get to know people you’ve been encountering for weeks, as well as meet new ones.

Check the bear and site closure activity postings before you go. Take a picture to reference.

Be prepared to enter the Smokies with an 8 mile uphill ass kicker. And there is a very minimal food supply at the dam store. Glad I stocked up.

Unless I go into Gatlinburg, updates will likely not be happening this week…

5 thoughts on “Fontana Dam, Last Stop Before the Smokies

Add yours

  1. Dams are an amazing feat of architecture and construction! My dad helped build the dam in Libby, MT which is where I was born. My Grandfather helped build the Noxon, MT dam. Such great info about the Smokies! Especially the permits which we encourage hikers to get at TOG, because of lack of availability further up the trail and the federal site actually goes down. It was down Sunday. Good info regarding the shuttle! Fontana Dam looks amazing! Maybe that’s my section….beginning to Fontana!!!! So funny about the air mattress especially since as soon as I saw the pic Insaid, WHERE THE HELL DID THEY GET THE FLOATIE FOR THE LAKE? Oh ya, I talking to the guys who have excellent trail SPIRITS, and build fires with hand sanitizer! Can’t wait to hear about the Smokie! Likely, I’ll be in London by then! You guys are having such an amazing adventure! Take care of one another! Packages imminent! Be safe, be well and message me on WHATSAPP!!!!!!! Peace!!!!!


  2. Hi it’s Maddie from the shelter yesterday! Thanks for the feature and it’s so awesome to look through your blog! I will keep updated 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a friend that lives in Townsend and looking at the map you might only be a day or two from her. Let me know if you want to contact her.


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