TVA’s shelter along the Appalachian Trail – often referred to as the Fontana Dam Hilton – was recently named as one of REI’s top picks for North Carolina fall and winter camping. REI is a well-known American retail co-operative that sells camping gear and sporting goods.
The REI Co-Op Journal states that, “Of the more than 250 different trail shelters along the Appalachian Trail, the Fontana Dam Shelter has a reputation for being one of the nicest. Part of that is because of the location; it sits on the edge of Lake Fontana with a view of the serene waters.”
“But the shelter is also meticulously maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority, with clean restrooms, picnic tables and access to hot showers at the TVA visitors center. Because of the location and these premium amenities, thru-hikers have nicknamed the shelter, the ‘Fontana Dam Hilton.’
“There’s plenty of space (it’s actually two shelters facing each other) and its proximity to the paved road running across the dam gives the shelter frontcountry access. You’re basically car camping, but in an AT shelter.”
Here is additional information on Fontana from the REI Co-op Journal:
- Location: Forneys Creek, N.C., about 32 miles from Bryson City
- Winter Season: November to April
- Best For: Car campers who want an AT shelter experience
- Dogs: Not in the shelter
- Access: Drive-to with short road hike
- Accessible Sites Available: No sites available for campers with disabilities
The southeastern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers some of the most remote hiking inside the 500,000-acre wilderness, thanks largely to the creation of Fontana Lake, a nearly 12,000-acre man-made lake that separates that section of the park from nearby communities and highways. The hiking in this corner of the park is lonely, even during summer, when most of the crowds tend to stick to trails off of Newfound Gap Road, which bisects the middle of the park. During the winter, you’re all but guaranteed to have the trails to yourself.
The Lakeshore Trail runs for 32 miles along the edge of Fontana, crossing trout streams and offering access to the lake, but most hikers opt for the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the dam (the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains) and climbs steadily towards Shuckstack Tower, a restored fire tower inside the park. The views from Shuckstack are unparalleled, taking in Fontana Lake below and stretching all the way into Nantahala National Forest.
“Some of my favorite parts of the Appalachian Trail are the sections inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Morgan Sommerville, southern regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “They’re simply the most remote pieces of trail in the state.”
This corner of the park is also close to Tsali Recreation Area, in Nantahala National Forest, which offers almost 40 miles of flowing singletrack on the other side of Lake Fontana. Campers can spend a day hiking the most isolated corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a day pedaling the flow trails of Tsali.