The Road To Nowhere

Bryson City's The Road to Nowhere - Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Her Bags Were Packed

Hello friends! First of all, I want to apologize for not publishing anything the last two weeks. Things have been a little extra hectic lately (long story short: my leaky kitchen ceiling resulted in mold which led to it being ripped out, along with my bedroom ceiling, and the dining room and living room) and all that has gotten me a bit behind schedule. That being said, I am excited to be back today sharing something unique with you. I am currently in Bryson City, North Carolina where I lived and worked for a handful of years during and post college.

Bryson City, part of Swain County, is a small town in the Great Smoky Mountains, about an hour west of Asheville, and close to the Appalachian Trail, whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, the Cherokee Reservation, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

While I’ve been visiting this weekend, I have had the opportunity to catch up with some friends, but I also have gotten to do a couple of things I never got around to while living here. One of these activities was hiking at the Road To Nowhere, which is a lesser known section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Road To Nowhere - Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Her Bags Were Packed

Some History

In the 1930s and 1940s, the people of Swain County were forced to surrender an immense amount of land to the Federal Government for use in the national park and to build a lake/dam that would create energy for the war effort.

Hundreds of families were forced to give up their homes and relocate as the area was flooded to make the lake. In the process, people were cut off from the north shore area of the lake and no longer able to access family cemeteries. In exchange for giving up their homes and property, the government promised to build a road to this area, specifically so people could pay their respects to their deceased loved ones.

Work on the road began in 1943 and progressed very slowly until concerns over environmental damage brought construction to a complete halt in the 1970s. The seven mile long road ends in the middle of the woods, just after a 365 foot tunnel, and is now known by locals as The Road To Nowhere.

Bryson City's The Road to Nowhere - Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Her Bags Were Packed

For decades, signs like the one pictured here were on display in store windows, front yards and on bumper stickers. They called for the government to “honor the agreement” and “build the road.” Finally in 2010, a settlement of $52 million was reached. The final payment was made last summer. Today all of that money is managed by the state but the interest is released to Bryson City each year. They plan to use the funds to raise pay for paramedics, keep property taxes low, and build a new library.

Today at The Road To Nowhere

The Road to Nowhere is most well known for the tunnel which has become a popular spot for high school and college students to hang out at night. It’s not uncommon to come across teenagers “tagging” the tunnel or drinking around a fire pit in the woods. When I was in college, we drove up to the tunnel a couple times, in the middle of the night, and challenged each other to walk through the entire thing without using our flashlights. It never occurred to me until later that there was more than this to do at the Road to Nowhere.

The Road To Nowhere Tunnel
Apparently the no flashlights rule didn’t stop us from trying to blind each other with camera flashes though.

While I definitely recommend anyone who enjoys a spooky challenge give the late night walk a try, there are also many incredible hiking trails that are accessible from the Road to Nowhere. Beginners can take the Lakeshore Trail, which is mostly flat and just over a mile round trip, while beginner to intermediate hikers can choose from hour to two hour long hikes on the Tunnel Bypass Trail, Noland Creek Trail South, or the Goldmine Loop. And those who are highly experienced can even take a 12 or 13 mile hike (one way) up to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t forget to leave enough time for your return.

The Road to Nowhere - Goldmine Loop Trail - Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Her Bags Were Packed

This past Saturday morning, I decided to give the Goldmine Loop Trail a go. The hike began with an easy .6 mile walk along Lakeshore Trail. There were a handful of other people visiting the tunnel and walking along the trail, but once I turned on to the Goldmine Loop, which is 2 miles long, I didn’t see another soul until I was back at the parking lot. The Goldmine Loop occasionally runs past a couple of creeks and even takes you past a portion of Lake Fontana. But one of the most interesting parts of the hike is when you randomly come across a clearing, in the otherwise dense woods, and realize it was once someone’s home. The only remaining evidence is a pile of crumbled rock — possibly once a chimney or the home’s foundation.

Bryson City's The Road to Nowhere - Great Smoky Mountain National Park - Her Bags Were Packed

To learn more about the Road to Nowhere, you can visit the Swain County Heritage Museum in downtown Bryson City. To view a map of the trails, you can download the Chamber of Commerce’s brochure on The Road To Nowhere.