Every morning, in the high mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, one looks out and sees an enchanting, misty blue haze that seems to engulf these magical hills. This is actually fog rising from the mountains’ vegetation that emits something called volatile organic compounds or VOCs. Since these mountains are home to millions of trees, bushes and other plants, the collective vapor they exhale creates a blanket of fog that gives the Smokies their iconic look.
Most of this part of the Great Smoky Mountains is heavily entwined with the local Cherokee Indians history, but the Tapaco Lodge (www.tapoco.com) was built to house workers who were constructing all the TVA dams and lakes in these mountains. At one time as many as 2,000 people lived in the area working both in construction and timber operations. What is now the Tapoco Lodge saw service as a hospital, theater, residential and operations headquarters for the Alcoa Corporation.
The original structure, built in 1930, consisted only of the main lodge, but has gradually expanded to include the surrounding cabins as well. In 2004, Tapoco Lodge was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Situated on 120 acres in the lush mountain region of the Nantahala National Forest on the banks of the cascading Cheoah River, Tapoco Lodge is well known for its hiking, rafting, kayaking, fishing and mountain biking.
One of the most popular activities near Tapoco Lodge is driving the Tail of the Dragon, which is an 11-mile road featuring over 300 turns of every kind imaginable. The Tail of the Dragon drive is popular with performance car drivers, motorcyclists and vehicle enthusiasts from around the world. It is quite common to see car clubs and motorcycle groups along the Tail of the Dragon route or in the Tapoco Lodge parking lot.
Overnight guests in the main historic lodge can choose among three luxury suites or six plush rooms. The cabins at Tapoco Lodge offer another lodging option. All cabin rooms have relaxed luxury experiences. As with the main lodge rooms, each cabin room is unique and comfortable.
Also, one of the most popular restaurants in this part of the mountains is the Tapoco Tavern which is located on the lower floor of the lodge along the tumbling waters of the Cheoah River. This eatery has seating inside or outside for sunny days when patrons can enjoy the sound of running water and possibly see local wildlife while enjoying carefully crafted seasonal dishes.
Short drives from the lodge lead to the Chillowhee Dam on US Highway 129 just north of The Tail of the Dragon, the Santeetlah Dam slightly north of Robbinsville, the Calderwood Dam viewed from the popular overlook at the Tennessee end of the Dragon. However, the most impressive of these dams is the Fontana Dam on NC Highway 28, but don’t forget the Cheoah Dam just up the road from the lodge. This dam is commonly referred to as “the Fugitive Dam” as it was the structure Harrison Ford’s character in the movie “The Fugitive” jumped from.
Visiting this part of the Great Smoky Mountains opens the senses to unforgettably lush green forests, cool mountain streams and quiet meadows. It is a rich, pristine wilderness with abundant wildlife, amazing views and hundreds of opportunities for hiking vacations. Therefore, the absolute best base from which to explore all of this picturesque land is the Historic Tapoco Lodge!
Photos: by Bill Vanderford