Travel Distance/Time from La Dolce Vita: 8.6 curvy scenic miles (about 20 minutes). Stop by the bakery for a coffee and snack before you go!
Total Trip Time: You can do this in as little as 1 hour (if you drive straight to the tunnel, only walk the tunnel and then come back to town). You could also spend all day hiking the various trails. Trails from this point will take you out to Fontana Dam or up to Clingmans Dome, and beyond.
Parking: Parking is free and there is usually plenty. You can't miss the parking lot since the road literally stops.
What's close?: Nothing. The closest bathrooms, gas, and/or restaurants are in Bryson City (about 20 minutes away).
What you will do/see: Easy to moderate (depending on trail) walk/hike which includes walking through a tunnel. There are plenty of nice photo ops on the way to, and at, the tunnel. If you choose to take a longer hike, you can walk down to the lake. (see map)
Kid Tips: If you have an infant and are just doing the tunnel, a stroller is fine. If you want to take a longer hike you will want to bring your baby carrier. Kids will love walking through the tunnel. If your kids are old enough, try coming back after dark (with a flashlight). If you decide to take a picnic lunch or snack, throw a blanket in the basket. There are no picnic tables but there is plenty of flat open ground. There are no bathrooms, water fountains, gas stations, or stores of any kind.
History: In the early 40's Fontana Dam was created by damming the Little Tennessee River. The dam was created to offset the rising power needs associated with a nation at war. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) operates the dam and in the 40's, the power generated went to a plant in Tennessee that built the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima. Several towns were along the Little Tennessee river banks before the dam was built, including the towns of Bushnel, Proctor, and Hazel Creek. When the dam was built the citizens of these towns were given a minor compensation for their land and asked to leave. As part of the compensation, the town citizens were promised a road that would connect Bryson City to the grave sites of their ancestors that are buried near the shore of present day Fontana Lake. During construction of the road it was determined that disturbing the Anakeesta Rock that lines the road was raising the pH of the water in Fontana Lake. The basic water was causing fish kills. Construction on the road stopped as a result of the fish kills. The federal government then promised the county a cash settlement in leu of a completed road. As of March 2017, this money is currently "stuck" in a National Park Service bank account. The road is truly a Road to Nowhere.