Fontana Dam is the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains and is an impressive architectural and engineering marvel that you definitely want to see in North Carolina!
Part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Fontana Dam was constructed to supply urgent electric power for the World War II war effort. Today, it supplies energy and recreational opportunities to western North Carolina and surrounding areas.
When in the Robbinsville, NC area, the Fontana Dam is a must-see attraction. Here is everything you need to know about visiting the dam and the surrounding recreational areas.
Fontana Dam History and Fun Facts
- Fontana Dam is 480 feet tall
- It is as high as a 50-story skyscraper
- The dam is 2,365 feet wide
- It is located on the Little Tennessee River
- The reservoir length is 29 miles
- 3 generating units supply 304 megawatts
- Fontana Dam is the 13th largest dam in the United States
- Construction began in 1942
- The dam was built in just 36 months
- Today, a dam of this size would take 10 years to build.
- Fontana Dam is the highest dam in the TVA
- A Walk in the Woods was filmed at the Fontana Dam
- Fontana Reservoir creates 238 miles of shoreline
- There are 10,230 acres of water surface in Fontana Reservoir
- The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of the dam
- Hot showers available at the trail shelter on the Fontana Dam are widely known as the “Fontana Hilton”
- Nearly 90% of the shoreline is owned by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest
Building the Fontana Dam
- More than 600 students attended school at Fontana Village between 1942 and 1946. These students were children of people working on the dam. The refer to themselves as “Dam Kids” and have reunions at Fontana Village.
- Workers constructed the dam day and night with no holidays
- There were 3 shirts of workers each day to complete the dam as soon as possible.
- Patriotic music was played over the loudspeakers at the work site to motivate employees to work hard to help support the war effort.
- More than 2.8 million cubic yards of concrete were used
- Gravel and sand needed to make the concrete were produced on site from rock that had been blasted from a quarry that was built one mile down the road.
- 14 men lost their lives building the dam
- Woman made up 10% of the workforce, getting the rare opportunity to do jobs normally reserved for men, including drafting, map making and public safety.
- The Fontana Dam cost approximately $70 million to build.
Visiting Fontana Dam
The Fontana Dam Visitor Center is open from the first Saturday in April until the last Sunday in October with varying hours depending on the season.
The visitor center is open later in the evening than you might think, so this is a great stop even if you are traveling through the area later in the day.
The Visitor Center shows educational exhibits and videos about the making of the dam, as well as the TVA and the Appalachian Trail. There are usually TVA retirees who are volunteering at the visitor center who can share interesting details about the dam.
The center has large windows overlooking the dam, as well as a tower on top of the retro-looking building that you can climb for a better view.
Kids will enjoy getting a free pack of TVA dam trading cards (when available). Free stickers and lots of local attraction guides are available.
There is a Wifi network at the dam should you need connection. However, as one volunteer told us, “This is where Wifi comes to die” so you might not want to bank on having a connection here!
There is NO cellular service at the Fontana Dam.
The Overlook Gift Shop and Snack Bar has a selection of souvenirs. However, there are very few snacks other than candy bars to eat, so be sure to bring some food if you plant to have a meal.
Can You Drive Across Fontana Dam?
Yes, you can drive across the top of Fontana Dam.
Was Fontana Dam in The Fugitive Movie?
While a dam from the Robbinsville area was used in The Fugitive, it was not the Fontana Dam. The adventure movie starting Harrison Ford filmed the final scene of a man jumping off of a dam at nearby Cheoah Dam.
You cannot stop at Cheoah Dam, but you can drive by to see the filming location.
A Walk in the Woods was filmed at Fontana Dam, though.
The Fugitive was just one of many popular movies filmed in North Carolina.
The Fontana Reservoir provides a great place to enjoy the water and surrounding mountain views.
Fishing, boating, swimming, hiking and picnicking are all popular pastimes.
There are many marinas in the area offering rentals including:
- Pontoon Boats
- Paddle Boards
- Jet skis
If you want a more leisurely way to enjoy the reservoir, consider a boat ride with a guide.
Among the fishing available at Fontana Reservoir are these species:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
Is There RV Parking at Fontana Dam?
Yes, there are designated spaces for RVs and trailers, as well as a very large parking lot for all vehicles. However, with the windy roads leading to Fontana Dam we would urge you to reconsider driving an RV or motorhome to Fontana Dam.
Is There Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging at the Fontana Dam?
Yes, there is free electric vehicle charging at Fontana Dam. The TVA has a solar powered charging facility.
Fontana Dam is around a 25 minute drive from Tapoco Lodge and Tavern, which we highly recommend!