"The Road To Nowhere" | Great Smoky Mountains

The relocation of Swain County, NC residents and a broken promise by the federal government led to an expensive dead end and a $52 million settlement by the US Department of Interior. While tragic for those who called the area home, the displacement and destruction of a settled mountain valley created a legendary attraction, scenic views and hiking trails on the famed "Road To Nowhere".


Photo taken of the end of the road on a 2020 motorcycle trip. I can't recommend this area enough for motorcyclists, hikers and sight-seers.


In the 1940's America was at war and many of its resources were allocated to aid in the fight. The demand for aluminum was at an all-time high, necessary for the building of military aircraft and ships. This demand created the need for power solutions to run the factories. The Fontana Dam was one such solution, created for its ability to harness hydroelectric power from the Little Tennessee River. At 480 feet, it is the tallest dam in the eastern US, and was a great asset to ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America). However, with the dam came the forced move for the people living in the valley, as soon their homes and the Old Highway 288 would be under the deep waters of Fontana Lake.


Fontana Dam - This photo was taken from US 129, near the end of "The Tail Of The Dragon", on a motorcycle camping trip in 2020.


As part of the deal the US Government would build a new road, Lakeview Drive. This road was slated to connect Bryson City to Deals Gap, allowing access to the lands and cemeteries now blocked off by flooded water. Unfortunately, during the construction process, it was discovered that large amounts of sulfur were present in the rock and would cause acidic runoff to the freshwater below. This halted construction after only 7 miles, at a quarter mile tunnel, deep in the Smoky Mountain National Park. In 2010, nearly six decades after the dam was built, the US Department of Interior settled with Swain County, North Carolina, at a sum of $52 million, confirming that the road would remain unfinished. It is now dubbed as the "Road To Nowhere". The park service does still ferry locals to their cemeteries and ancestral lands throughout the summer.


Sure, the Lakeview Drive project could be considered a failure. However, the Park Service has turned lemons to lemonade as Fontana Lake and the end of the road have now been turned into unique and interesting recreational areas. There are many miles of trails and camping locations located near the tunnel, and the ride or drive from Bryson City offers some incredible views.


View of Fontana Lake from Lakeview Drive.


If you are ever in the area be sure to check it out! It's a great opportunity to enjoy nature, our natural park system and to witness a unique part of smoky mountain history.


Bryson City Brochure/Trail Map