Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Smokies by boat - Fontana report

Fourth of July on Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Quiet and majestic. No fireworks . . . except for nature's own.

The lake has warm and clear blue-green water. The thick rhododendrons forests are in bloom with rushing cold creeks and rarely a person to be seen.

What can I say, it's a paradise. There is no better way to see the Smoky Mountains.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The best way to visit the Great Smoky Mountains -- by boat

Here at Bill's TN Paradise, we do things differently. When we seek out the most beautiful places, we don't follow the crowd, we tend to follow the path less traveled.

With 9 million visitors a year, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited National Park in America. (click photos to enlarge) To get a true wilderness experience, you can't go through Gatlinburg and hike Mount LeConte - unless you want to be surrounded by hundreds of other hikers and tourists. It seems like 90% of park visitors come to the park through Gatlinburg. So, we avoid such tourist areas and visit the most remote and beautiful areas of the park ... by boat.

I would guess to many people whose idea of a Smoky Mountain vacation is a cabin in Gatlinburg, Sevierville or Pigeon Forge, that to visit the mountains by boat would seem like an impossibility . . . unless you happen to look at a map. If you do, you'll notice that nearly the entire park is bordered by the crown jewel of TVA mountain lakes - the 30 mile long majestic Fontana Lake. This resevoir was created in 1944 by the largest dam in the east, the 480' concrete Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River.

Hiking from the North Shore of Fontana is superb. Some of the great remote destinations include Shuckstack Tower, High Rocks cabin, and many family cemeteries quite close to the shore. The lushness of the rhododendron thickets on the Forney Creek and Bear Creek Trails is awesome. From Forney Creek, it's also possible to hike up to Clingman's Dome and back to the lake in a day. It is the biggest day hike I've ever done - 25 miles with a 5000' climb.

Staying on the boat for several days isn't exactly roughing it compared to camping. A 24' Sea Ray cruiser with a queen size bed, hot water, shower, bathroom, stove, icebox, and TV/DVD ... there's a movie every night, a hot shower, popcorn and a cold beer after a day of hiking. A great boat to stay on, small enough to trailer but fast enough to ski behind.

This place is a slice of heaven, and it's best shared with a companion and as few other tourists as possible. I can't wait to see that moonlight on the water.