Fontana Lake, North Carolina, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - North Carolina - Mountains -

Also known as:  Fontana Reservoir

Fontana Lake, nestled in western North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to provide hydroelectric power to the surrounding area. It includes the tallest dam in the TVA system and the tallest dam in the eastern United Sates. Fontana Lake is often called one of the most beautiful mountain lakes on earth.

It’s impossible to talk about Fontana Lake without mentioning Fontana Dam’s unique properties. An engineering marvel, the dam reaches skyward 480 feet and unlike many other dams, no water spills over the top. As the reservoir fills and nears capacity, water is let out through spillways at the base of the dam. Fontana Dam was built as the United States entered World War II, and served to generate power and produce aluminum that the country needed during the war. The dam stretches 2365 feet across the Little Tennessee River.

Clocking in at an impressive 10,230 acres, Fontana Lake offers visitors many recreational activities. With over 39 miles of winding hiking trails, this mountain lake provides you with stunning vistas and incredible photo opportunities. Additionally, the Appalachian Trail, extending more than 2,000 miles north-south from Georgia to Maine, passes over the top of Fontana Dam, so if you’d like to say you’ve walked the Appalachian Trail, Fontana Lake is the place to do it. The TVA maintains a trail shelter with hot showers, earning it the moniker Fontana Hilton by grateful hikers.

Fishing and hunting are two of Fontana Lake’s popular activities. Fontana Dam’s deep, cold waters provide an ideal habitat for many of the most-desirable fish species. The reservoir reaches a maximum depth of 440 feet with an average depth of 135 feet. As if to prove a point, the lake has produced several record-winning muskie and walleye from beneath its surface. In addition to that tempting information, many anglers say that Fontana Lake is one of the best smallmouth bass fishing lakes in the entire nation. The Fisherman’s Bass Tournament Circuit agrees: in 2001, they held their annual Hall of Fame Classic at Fontana Lake.

One of the lake’s unique boasting points is its unparalleled natural beauty. Surrounded by 238 miles of tree-dotted shoreline, Fontana Lake is protected from overdevelopment, as more than 90 percent of its shoreline is publicly owned by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. This ensures wildlife protection, water quality, and provides visitors with the opportunity to truly get back to nature.

If you are lucky enough to be at Fontana Lake and Dam, you must take a dip in the cool, clean waters. Swimming, tubing, boating, and water skiing are all enjoyable pastimes. Several private boat docks and marinas exist, where one can rent anything from a kayak to a large houseboat for the duration of your stay. If you’ve brought your own boat to the lake, take advantage of TVA’s public boat launch areas.

The TVA draws down lake levels in winter in preparation for heavy spring rains. The normal summer pool level is 1710 feet above sea level. Winter pool drawdown is about 50 feet. Water levels can decrease even further during drought. Because marinas and boat launch areas may close when water levels are low, it is best to check the water level before your visit.

Tsali Recreational Area, located along the southeastern shore of the lake, is known as a haven for nature lovers. Indulge your love of hiking, mountain biking, nature observation, bird watching, and horseback riding at this beautiful park. Named for the Cherokee leader who lost his life in an altercation with federal soldiers, Tsali Recreational Area is a must-visit during your Fontana Lake vacation.

If outdoor exertion isn’t your style, head north of the lake to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 800 square miles of national biological preserve await you, and offers some of the most spectacular scenic driving trails you will ever experience. Furthermore, this areas is also home to the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of winding highway well-known to be one of the best sports car and motorcycling roads in the country.

Fontana Lake is so full of natural beauty and fun activities that all family members will love a vacation there, so pack your bags and get going!

Things to do at Fontana Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Fontana Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Walleye

Fontana Lake Photo Gallery

Fontana Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Tennessee Valley Authority

Surface Area: 10,230 acres

Shoreline Length: 238 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,710 feet

Average Depth: 135 feet

Maximum Depth: 440 feet

Water Volume: 513,965 acre-feet

Spread the word! Share our Fontana Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.