The Great Smoky Mountains National Park usually brings to mind great backpacking and camping. However, great kayak and canoe camping can be experienced as well. Fontana Lake offers ten thousand acres of water you can kayak and canoe, and there are several campsites in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that are right at the water’s edge.
Fontana Lake was created by the building of Fontana Dam in the mid-1940s. Being a man made lake the levels of the lake are subject to change. So what is a waterfront campsite in the summer months may require a short hike to get to in the late fall to early spring.
My trip was in early spring as I wanted to check out bear activity before I took my sons camping in the area. Bear activity is something to keep in mind any time of the year, but especially in early spring as they are just beginning to wake up from hibernation and are hungry. If their normal food sources are plentiful there’s no problem. You may have to chase a bear or two out of camp as they are looking for your food, but usually no threat to your own self. Unfortunately, the food sources weren’t that plentiful and about a month after I made my trip, a sixteen year old boy experienced an extremely rare attack by a black bear while he was sleeping. His father who should win the, “Father Of The Decade” award physically jumped on the bear after hitting the bear with rocks and sticks didn’t work. All that to say, “it is very important that you be aware of bear activity.”
The Launch Site: Fontana Marina is a great place to launch. There is a $5 fee per vessel, but there’s great parking, and a store where you can buy all the needed supplies that you forgot to pack. For me that was a flashlight, and a lighter. It was raining on the day of my launch so playing caveman and rubbing two sticks together probably wouldn’t have worked.
The GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park) requires permits for camping. You must book these online ahead of time HERE. I chose to go up Eagle Creek. It’s straight across from Fontana Marina and offers plenty of coves to paddle and explore. There were two camping options on Eagle Creek. I chose the one furthest, that is known as Lost Cove campsite, or campsite 90 on the reservation system. Lost Cove just sounded like a great place to kayak to and camp. The other option on Eagle Creek is Jerry Hollow which is campsite 87 on the reservation system. Jerry Hollow can only be accessed by boat and during the summer months is an island, thus limiting the possibility of a bear problem. Jerry Hollow is also a much shorter paddle.
I started paddling toward the Lost Cove Campsite around four in the afternoon after I got a slight break in the rain. Unfortunately, the break was a very slight break. About 10 minutes into my one hour plus paddle it began to rain again for about 30 minutes, and then it finally stopped. I was soaked so badly that if you squeezed me, I’d probably seamed like a sponge. But, the views, and the smell of the forest after the rain, along with the clouds that the Smoky Mountains are known for gave a sense of being caught up in a well produced nature documentary with perfect lighting and mood.
Arriving at the campsite seemed like paddling in a dream as you could float right up to the edge of camp. I was around dusk when I arrived, and I needed to get my hammock set up, and get dinner cooked and dry off so I wouldn’t freeze in my wet clothes during the night. The edge of the camp that I chose was right where two streams come converged. It had that makes you want to pee soothing roaring water sound that makes sleeping so easy.
After about 20 minutes camp was set up and the fire was going. I made a camp staple of beanie weenies for dinner. For some reason it just seemed like good camp food, and it makes you really glad you camp in a hammock instead of getting the dutch oven affect in a tent. I carried all of my food in it’s on bag that would be easy to run up the official backpack hanging system in the camp ground.
After dinner I did my dishes, and enjoyed sometime around the fire. Then it was time to sleep, and anticipate the forecasted thunderstorm that was forecasted to come through. Fortunately, the storm never came through. However, during the night as I was sleeping, I started to hear a sound, and it seemed to be pretty close and startled me. It was definitely growling that I heard. I grabbed my flashlight, popped up out of the hammock and looked around, and there I stood with the frightening realization that…………………….. my wife is right, I do snore really loudly.
In the morning, I awoke a little before sunrise and got to watch the forest as it began to awake. I began to take down the campsite and carry things back to my kayak. Across, the stream was a site I had never seen before in this area. Sitting on a branch of a dead tree was a bald eagle. Somehow, it seemed to know that it was the big bird among birds in the US. It sat there with a presence that seemed to say, “Who’s this been sleeping in my forest?” It is just I Mr. Eagle, thank you for allowing me to be in awe of your presence.
Under the watchful eye of the eagle, I finished packing my kayak and paddled back toward Fontana Marina. The morning light on the waters of Fontana and smoke like clouds on the mountains made the paddle out a very meditative and contemplative event. It was like getting a good sensory massage the first thing in the morning.
Conclusion: The Lost Cove campsite is an awesome campsite for kayak and canoe campers. However, if you have younger paddlers as in ages 5 to 10 you might want to choose campsite 87 Jerry Hollow as Lost Cove is quite a paddle for younger paddlers.
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