Trip Number: 13061A
Staff: Vivian & Otto Spielbichler
- 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
One day 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.
Photo: Otto Spielbichler
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.
We will carpool to the Cherohala Skyway one day and 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
On 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.
Photo: Otto Spielbichler
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
- 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 7. 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 the last hour of travel is on two-lane,
up and down, curvy, scenic country roads.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Otto Spielbichler
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 7, and the last meal will be breakfast on Saturday, April 13.
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).
Photo: Otto Spielbichler
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.
Even in Joyce Kilmer Memorial, people love the big trees to death. They like
to wrap their arms around the big trees and trample the roots and other rare
plants; dwarf ginseng, for example, is almost extinct in the area now.
And then there's hunting with dogs. While it is part of the area's cultural
heritage, it creates a forest with practically no wildlife.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate
under permits from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Viv and Otto Spielbichler have led Sierra Club outings for more than 25 years because they enjoy taking people to interesting places and helping to make them aware of the necessity of protecting the environment. They enjoy hiking, canoeing, skiing, and SCUBA diving. Both of their careers were in education, mostly guidance and counseling. They have lived in the East, the Far East, and in Jamaica as Peace Corps volunteers. Now, they are retired and live in south Florida so they can "boat" year-round and have access to three major airports. They have two sons, a daughter, and three grandchildren.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips