Spring in Appalachia, North Carolina

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14050A, Lodge


  • Walk, fish, and explore the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Stay at the Lodge in historic Fontana Village
  • Enjoy the southern Appalachians' incredible diversity of spring wildflowers


  • All meals, lodging, taxes, tips
  • Boat ride on Fontana Lake
  • Comfortable rooms and gourmet meals
  • Bed and bath linens


DatesApr 6–12, 2014
StaffOtto Spielbichler

This trip has already run. Here are a few others you may enjoy:

To search our full lineup by destination, date, activity, or price, please visit our Advanced Search page. Or give us a call at 415-977-5522 to find the trip that's right for you.

Trip Overview

Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

The Southern Appalachians are world renowned for their diversity of plant and animal life and the beauty of their ancient mountains. Spring in Appalachia is a very special time of year, with the early spring bloomers putting on a show and the forest waking up after a winter's nap. We will feast on the profusion of wildflowers and enjoy spectacular mountain views without the summer crowds. 
Our home for the week, Fontana Village Resort, is a perfect setting for our daily excursions. It is off the beaten path and set amidst the pristine beauty of the Nantahala Forest of western North Carolina, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Among the things that we will do together, we will carpool (sharing costs) and drive the country road to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest to enjoy 500-year-old tulip poplars, hemlock trees, and a profusion of spring wildflowers, not to mention mosses, ferns, and galax. The Forest has never been timbered and it is pristine! The lovely Little Santeetlah Creek tumbles through the center of it all.

On another day we will walk through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Twenty Mile Creek, with its cascades and waterfalls that are so typical of the park -- and more wildflowers.

We will also carpool to the Cherohala Skyway to try to catch spectacular views. There, we will hike up to some of the balds so typical of the southern Appalachians. No one really knows why or how those were formed. Why are some mountains bald, while nearby mountains, at the same elevation, are covered with trees? The Cherokee have legend about their creation. Otherwise, they remain a mystery. We will also visit Fontana Dam, the largest dam east of the Rockies. There, we will walk on the Appalachian Trail -- that's the trail that runs over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. In actuality, the trail goes right across that dam! Sometimes we'll have the opportunity to chat with "through-hikers" heading north to Mt. Kathadin.

On yet another day we will go by boat on 29-mile-long Fontana Lake (with its 280 miles of shoreline) to Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There, we will visit the abandoned lumbering town of Proctor and learn a bit of the Park's interesting history.

On our daily walks, we will look for migrating birds, enjoy great views, and identify wildflowers. In the past, we have seen whole hillsides of white trillium, spring beauties, Canada violets, and squirrel corn! In addition, there are usually very few people on the trails at this time of year and we often feel we have the entire area to ourselves. This trip, actually, is a general overview of this incredibly beautiful unspoiled area. We end our days midafternoon, so you can visit any place that interests you.

In the evenings, we will invite local people to give us information, discuss environmental issues, and share some of their culture with us. In the past, we have been entertained by local musicians, rangers from the Cheoah Ranger District of the Nantahala Forest, and Cherokees from the Snow Bird Community -- the largest settlement of pure-blood Cherokee remaining in the region. Remember the Trail of Tears? Many died when the Cherokee were forced to walk to the government reservation -- in Oklahoma! It is an historic tragedy. On a brighter note, if you play a musical instrument, bring it. In the past, we've had wonderful evenings with participants playing the guitar, violin, or recorder, as well as singing or telling stories. On one evening, we will walk up to a cemetery within the Park.

On Friday, we take a day off, so you can return to any area that you wish to spend time in, explore new areas, go fishing, do some birding, or just hang out. Remember, it does rain a lot in the area -- 80 inches during the year -- so be prepared with good raingear. It may also be cool in the evening, but it should be warm during the day. Expect temperatures to range between 30 and 80 degrees. Occasionally there will be snow at the upper elevations.

Note: The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.



Getting There

Fontana Village Resort is located in western North Carolina, 20 miles north of Robbinsville on Highway 28 North near Fontana Lake.

  • From Knoxville, Tennessee: Take Hwy 129 south from Knoxville to Maryville. Just past Maryville, Hwy 129 turns left off of the four-lane highway. Caution -- part of this road is a twisty mountain road. Just past the TN/NC state line, turn left on Hwy 28. Continue on Hwy 28 for 9 miles.
  • From Asheville, North Carolina: Take I-40 west. Take the exit for Hwy 74 (Great Smoky Mountain Expressway). Stay on Hwy 74 (four lane). You will pass Clyde and Sylva. Eight miles past Bryson City (last chance for groceries and restaurants), turn right on Hwy 28. Continue on Hwy 28 for 25 miles.
  • From north Atlanta: Travel north on I-75, I-575, GA 5, US 76, GA & NC 60 North, US 64 east to US 129/19. North of Andrews, take US 129 to Robbinsville. Take NC 143 east to Hwy 28. Follow Hwy 28 to Fontana Village.
  • Another route from north Atlanta: Travel north on GA 400 to Dahlonaga, then US 19 north to US 129, then US 129 north to Robbinsville. Take NC 143 east to Hwy 28, then follow Hwy 28 to Fontana Village.
  • From east Atlanta: Take I-85 north to 985 north which turns into US 441. Continue into NC to the town of Dillsboro. Merge onto Hwy 74 west to Bryson City (last chance for groceries), then turn right on Hwy 28. Continue on Hwy 28 for 25 miles.
  • From Chattanooga, Tennessee: Take I-75 north to exit 60, then turn right on US 68 south. Merge onto US 411 north, then turn right on TN 72 and right on US 129. Caution -- part of this road is a twisty mountain road. Just past the TN/NC state line, turn left on Hwy 28. Continue on Hwy 28 for 9 miles.

Please plan to arrive by mid-afternoon on Sunday, April 6. We will meet at 4 p.m. and dinner is at 6 p.m. It's nice to settle into your room before the meeting, and remember: the area is sort of in the middle of nowhere (no superhighways here). It will take longer to get there than you expect. Those who fly into Knoxville will drive on Route 129. You will encounter 318 curves in 11 miles. The road is known as "The Tail of the Dragon" and is extremely popular with motorcyclists and sports car drivers, especially Miatas. Actually, no matter what direction you come from, you will find that the last hour of travel is on two-lane, up and down, curvy, scenic country roads.

Accommodations and Food

Beautifully situated on the northern edge of the lush mountains of the Nantahala National Forest, the Lodge's spacious, comfortable double rooms (accommodating two people) have private baths, heat, air conditioning, telephone, TV, and wireless internet. There will be no traffic congestion or neon signs. It's a quiet place, nestled amid some of the most scenic forest in America. Bedding and towels are provided. There is a huge fireplace in the lobby and a gift shop.

Meals, prepared by the chef and his staff, are served in-house, family style. The lodge serves a hearty breakfast, a healthy packed lunch for our outings, and a substantial supper. The first meal of the trip will be dinner on Sunday, April 6, and the last meal will be breakfast on Saturday, April 12.

Trip Difficulty

The trip can be considered leisurely. There will be time for birding, observing flowers, taking photos, fishing, and enjoying the old-growth forest.

Equipment and Clothing

On Sierra Club outings, participants furnish their own personal equipment.

You will need a day pack to carry your lunch, water, raingear, binoculars, cameras, etc. You must have raingear and comfortable -- preferably waterproof -- shoes or boots. It is sometimes wet in the forest, and tennis shoes get wet and uncomfortable quickly. It is also your responsibility to provide any equipment you will want, such as bicycles, fishing equipment, canoes, and kayaks. It is also good to carry sun protection, insect repellent, and something for the itch, although we've had very few problems with insects at this time of year. We will carry a first-aid kit, which we hope not to use!


You may wish to purchase trail maps, topographic maps, or books at the Cheoah Ranger Station. It is located north of Robbinsville and 1.5 miles from U.S. 129 on Massey Branch Road (SR 1116).


The saddest current environmental issue is the destruction of hemlock trees by a non-native insect -- the hemlock woolly adelgid. Although expensive spraying slows them down a bit, eventually they will destroy all -- even the Park's 500-year-old giants. They have already destroyed most of the hemlocks in the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah National Park to the north.

A long-standing environmental concern is the dam on the Cheoah River. Built by Alcoa to produce electricity for its plant in Tennessee, the dam releases too little water into the river, making it difficult to sustain fish populations and prevent the growth of brush and trees in the riverbed. Potentially, the river could be a pristine fishing creek; some would also like to see it become a whitewater river for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. For the first time, in 2006, several releases provided whitewater enthusiasts with an opportunity to raft or kayak Class IV plus rapids! Hopefully negotiations between Alcoa, Graham County, and the Cheoah Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest will continue to eventually restore the river to its original water flow.

Other environmental concerns include acid rain (especially at the higher elevations of the Smokies), logging in the national forests, and the persistent problem of people who establish "fishing camps" with big plastic tarps, "fire rings," and garbage piles -- in designated wilderness! Unfortunately, as the Forest Service will tell you, there just isn't enough money for staff to manage trails and police the area. We agree with them. Even more staff will be required if indeed the Cheoah River becomes a prime whitewater destination.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest.



Otto Spielbichler


Vivian Spielbichler

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Try Another Trip

By Date