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Fontana Village and Marina and Backcountry Hiking the Great Smoky Mountains

Delayed gratification. It’s a term that we don’t frequently like to hear or even go through when we want something but have to wait for it. We live in a fast-paced society, and we all love to have our longings satisfied immediately. As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sang in the 1980s, “The waiting is the hardest part.” Fontana Village and Marina was “delayed gratification” for Gleason Family Adventure. Let me explain… It was sometime in 2016, and we were just getting started in really pursuing backcountry hiking and backpacking. We were training our legs for our big trip to the Rocky Mountain  National Park and thought a trip to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park might be a good break-in for our family.

We stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to ask about some right spots to break in the kids to hiking in the woods and sleeping in tents. That’s when the ranger asked, “Have you heard of Fontana Lake in North Carolina? They have a really cool water shuttle service that will take you from the Fontana Marina to a trailhead and drop you and your gear off to hike back.” It sounded like a blast to us, and we started to do our research and planning our hike there, but alas…we never made it. Enter in “delayed gratification.”

Fontana Villiage and Marina

Fast forward to February 2019 at the AAA Great Vacations Travel show, and low and behold, we came across a booth for…you guessed it…Fontana Village and Marina! Brandy and I were stoked to see all they had to offer far beyond what we could find on the internet. And not only that but Fontana Villages’ marketing director, Sabrina, was a delight to talk to and made it so we could not say no to finally making the hosted trip. FULL DISCLOSURE: Fontana Village and Marina hosted our stay

Backcountry Camping and Hiking

Our first stop was a bucket list backpacking trip for sure! We stopped by the Fontana Marina and grabbed a few snacks and some water at their well-stocked store. Then we jumped onto a pontoon boat and had Fontana Marina ferry us across the water with our backpacking gear to an island. You read that correctly, an island! Site 87 in the Great Smoky Mountains boasts beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains on one side and the Nantahala National Forest on the other. We found the perfect site to set up our tents near a fire pit made of rocks and settled in for the night as we watched the blazing sun drift off behind the mountains. Let’s say that it was nothing short of amazing!

The sun broke through in the morning, and we welcomed it with a cup of campfire coffee, pancakes, and bacon. I mean, think about it. Camping…on an island…mountains as far as the eye can see…coffee…pancakes…bacon…you can’t get much better than this! But it was time for us to go, and the shuttle service was right on time to take us to our next destination, which was a short hike on the Lakeshore trail to visit Hazel Creek.  Once a thriving community of about 1,000 people, complete with a doctor, dentist, theater, and train depot, the remnants of this logging town are all but gone, minus a few buildings and foundations.

Once again, we hopped onto our water taxi, made our way back to the marina, and headed to Fontana Village to settle into our more permanent accommodations. Originally built as a town for workers as they constructed the nearby Fontana Dam in the 1940s, Fontana Village is now an all-inclusive resort. And when I say “all-inclusive,” I mean it has two swimming pools, a lazy river, two restaurants, a lounge, a grocery store, ice cream shop, gift shop, post office, a gas station…(takes a gasp of breath), an arcade, 18 hole miniature golf, a disc golf course, tennis and basketball courts, mountain bike trails, 20 miles of hiking trails that connect up to the Appalachian Trail, and fire pits so you can get your s’more fix! You could never find an excuse to be bored here unless you really wanted to!

Fontana Village gives you lots of lodging options, from the beautiful lodge to the cabins throughout the village. Since we have kids traveling with us, we like to stay in cabins where everyone has space to spread out and relax after a day of adventuring in the Great Smoky Mountains. Our place was perfect for us, with it having a full kitchen, 2 full bathrooms, living and dining space, and three bedrooms. It was ample space, and the porch with rocking chairs was lovely to sit on and watch the sunset. This is truly a place to unwind, relax and reconnect with family.

If you are looking for some whitewater adventure check out Whitewater for a family outing while staying in Fontana village.  Read more about it by clicking here.

Earlier, we mentioned the Fontana Marina; this almost needs its own blog post. Brandon, the manager, has made this the most welcoming and relaxing place to come. We grilled out on the dock, swam in the lake, and rented SUP boards and peddle boats during the evening. Music plays as you sit and gaze at the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains from every space at the Marina.

Fontana Marina offers 7 Pontoon Boats, paddleboards and boats, canoes, and kayaks. You can schedule a guided tour of Fontana Lake and learn about this area’s unique features and history. Tours on Miss Hazel take you by the dam, and you can look for black bears swimming around the shoreline. I highly recommend the tour because it gives you so much of the area’s rich history, things you wouldn’t know unless you were told and it’s worth every penny!

This isn’t just a marina; it’s a community. We met the people of Fontana Lake, we sat around, and we got to know them, talk with them, and the best part, eat with them. We met Larry and Donnis, who rent a slip out here at the marina; they made us feel welcomed and embraced. These people are the heartbeat of Fontana. (Donnis made a chocolate cake for sharing with our family and Nate said, “It was so good, I’d eat it off the floor!”)

I don’t normally struggle with words when writing something but this blog post is different. Because I can share our experience with you and try to paint you a picture of what we did but it’s not enough. The beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people, and the diversity of all they have to offer was just overwhelming. We didn’t want to leave! But you have to come here to paint your own picture and family experience. Whether your family loves hiking, lounging by the pool or fishing on the the lake, there is truly something for everyone in the family. An empty canvas is waiting for you at Fontana Village and Marina, where you can come and create your own family masterpiece of memories.

Happy Adventures,

Matt, Brandy and the Gleason crew

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Fontana Village and Marina is Gleason Family Approved!

(It’s a bucket list must do!)

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