This week August 25, 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service so it was an obligation to spend time in one of their protected lands or waters in my case. The plan was to inhabit an island on the lovely Fontana Lake which is sandwiched between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the north and the Nantahala National Forest in the south. Knowing where it’s situated should tell you just how beautiful it is. The lake was formed from the Little Tennessee River by way of a 480ft dam which is worth a stop in itself.
The best way to experience Fontana Lake is by getting on the water. If you’re without a vessel of your own then start at the Fontana Dock where you can rent just about any type of watercraft (Pontoon, Jet Ski, Kayak, Canoe, SUP, etc.). There are about 3 GSMNP backcountry camping spots(90, 87, 86) close by and I believe there are cabins that can be rented if roughing it isn’t in your agenda. Now if you plan on camping and have your own vessel then I’d suggest dropping in at Cable Cove. You’re only a mile or 2 from the backcountry sites mentioned and about 4 1/2 miles from my destination, #78 Double Island!
Once I saw it on the map I knew this would be the spot for me! I was hoping it would be the spot for us but when that doesn’t work out the show must go on. It’s always great to share the experience but being alone lets you completely focus on the activity at hand which is one of life’s greatest treasures.
This trip began with a 3 hour drive from Atlanta after cutting out early from work one Friday. It was about 7:30pm by the time I arrived at Cable Cove so I knew I was in for a treat as I had never paddled at night before. I also had never ‘kayak-packed’ so I’m sure I looked a little funny in my yellow kayak, with a pink cooler resting behind me and a light blue dry sack sticking out the rear well.
The water was perfectly calm and the golden hour was breathtaking. It really helped me forget (along with the Pacifico) that I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into.
I quickly realized this was going to take much longer than anticipated so I took out the map in search of a closer spot. There was one site (#81) close by so I decided to check it out and crash there if possible. Once I arrived the sun had just set and it was not obvious where the site was so I had to scratch that idea. It was then when I finally lost my impatience and became at peace with the night.
My detour added about a mile on to my trip east but I didn’t mind it one bit. With every passing second another star appeared helping better guide my way. It was also pretty rad seeing the sky burst with lightning every few minutes from the nasty storm clouds in the south.
When I finally reached Double Island I engaged in a vigorous first pump! At that same moment every cloud seemed to vanish and I noticed something I’d only ever seen in pictures, the Milky Way! I sat there for some time staring in amazement before eventually setting up camp. With the stars aid and a headlamp it was a very simple task. It was actually the only time I needed the headlamp as I never passed another person on my way in. I felt like the lake was all mine and I was stoked!
Come morning I was graced with possibly the most peaceful sunrise I’d ever experienced.
For the rest of the day the only muscles I planned on using where those that moved my eyes.
The weather was perfect, a book was in my hand and every now and then a Jet ski or boat would come flying by. I was really surprised there weren’t more people on the lake but then again I didn’t leave Double Island so I only had my select view.
I even read the whole book (The Last American CEO) from start to finish which is a rare feat for me. I’m usually busy on the next task so it was nice to just sit and watch the world go by.
Of course I was still eager to go do something active. So I paddled around never venturing too far from home. My only regret was not bringing a fishing rod as I heard and witnessed fish jumping all day just asking to be caught.
It’s hard to believe but later in the afternoon winds really started to pick up and clouds began to darken. Sunday’s forecast was not looking great either so at that time I decided to pack everything up and return a day early. I didn’t feel bad at all as my expectations were exceeded and it only cost $4/night for a general backcountry permit (smokiespermits.nps.gov).
Similar to my paddle in I could clearly see bad storms and rain falling in the distance but it never seemed to cross my path. It was so odd as I’ve seen this many times before and it usually meant that in a few minutes I’d be getting dumped on by rain. Although no rain ever appeared high winds did.
It became a race to find land as I thought I had been transported into the ocean. When I did reach land I ran for the trees and somehow everything was still in tack. Like the sunrise or my view from the hammock I sat there for awhile in awe of Mother Nature. Eventually things cleared up and it was smooth sailing back to Cable Cove.
It was nearing sunset when I finished but before driving home I continued up the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (US 28) to the Fontana Dam.
Be sure to stop at one of the many overlooks for an amazing view and maybe a gourmet meal like I did!
No matter where you go on or around this beautiful 18 mile stretch of water you’re destined for a good time! Now go find your park!