If anyone thinks that the United States is one big homogenized interstate with lots of fast-food restaurants, I would like to invite them to Fontana Village and Hazel Creek in far-western North Carolina.
Friends of the Smokies (FOTS) held an overnight trip to the Fontana area, about 30 miles west of Bryson City. FOTS leads day hikes throughout the year but once a year, we organize an overnight around the park. We don’t rough it but stay in a building with beds and a shower. The exception was our overnight trips to LeConte Lodge.
Monday, we met at Fontana Village at noon and drove to the Twentymile Ranger station – that’s even more remote than Fontana. We hiked the Twentymile Loop Trail, a lollipop, which involved three trails – Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Trail and Twentymile Loop Trail.
Dan Pierce, Professor of History at UNC-Asheville, came on the hike. On a break, he talked about moonshine in the mountains and Quill Rose, a memorable moonshiner in this very remote part of the park.
Dan was also the evening speaker on Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Town published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
The next day, FOTS offered two hikes: a short hike on Lake Shore Trail to the old cars and my hike to the Hall Cabin.
The seventeen hikers going on Hazel Creek and into Bone Valley took a pontoon boat from the Fontana Marina across Fontana Lake to the Hazel Creek area. As we turned the corner, we spotted a mama bear and two cubs scampering up a branch on the shore. Most hikers pulled out their phones but I just watched – sorry, no pictures.
With 15.5 miles to walk and a return boat at 5 pm, we didn’t have time for interpretation. Dan Pierce had prepped the hikers for walking through the town of Proctor and on Hazel Creek Trail.
We then turned on Bone Valley trail and crossed five small creeks – without a bridge. Our wet shoes felt good after a long morning walk to the Hall Cabin. We had lunch and walked to a cemetery in back of the Hall Cabin, which I referred to as the Hall cemetery – Not sure of its official name.
On our way back, we formed little clumps of people but we still had an official sweep – a strong hiker who made sure that no hikers were left behind. A rattlesnake was lying quietly in the shadows on the side of the trail. Anyone who wanted to see the snake had the opportunity.
We stopped at the Calhoun house, home of Graham Calhoun, an entrepreneur and the last person to leave the Hazel Creek area in 1944, when it became part of the Smokies.
We saw only two other hikers the whole day – a runner and a woman who had paddled to Hazel Creek. It’s not easy or cheap to get across the lake here. The companionship and interpretation is priceless.
The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be Tuesday September 12 on the Boogerman Trail. Sign up now!