goldmine loop trail | smoky mountains

Discover Goldmine Loop Trail in Smoky Mountains National Park

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Are you ready for an adventure that takes you from mysterious tunnels to serene tranquility? Join us as we explore the hidden secrets of the Goldmine Loop Trail in the majestic Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Step back in time as you wander along the historic “Road to Nowhere” and venture through a 1,200-foot tunnel. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Fontana Lake and its picturesque shoreline. With a perfect blend of history, scenic views, and moderate hiking challenges, the Goldmine Loop Trail promises an unforgettable journey through one of America’s most cherished national parks. Let’s embark on this captivating exploration together.

Trail Overview

  • Trail Name: Goldmine Loop Trail
  • Trail Difficulty: Moderate
  • Round Trip Hours: 1 Hour
  • Round Trip Distance: 3.1 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 615 Feet

The Goldmine Loop Trail offers a moderate hiking experience suitable for both beginners and seasoned hikers. With a round trip duration of approximately one hour and a distance of 3.1 miles, this trail allows you to immerse yourself in the picturesque beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trailhead can be easily accessed by following the provided driving directions.

Trail Description

Prepare to be captivated as we delve into a detailed description of the Goldmine Loop Trail. We’ll guide you through each step of the journey, highlighting the unique features and points of interest along the way.

Discovering the “Road to Nowhere”

The Goldmine Loop Trail begins at the end of Lakeview Drive, affectionately known as the “Road to Nowhere.” This iconic road, extending northwest from Bryson City, leads hikers into a world of rugged ridges and panoramic vistas. As you start your adventure, take a moment to appreciate the significance of this road and the history it holds.

Lakeview Drive Tunnel

The Lakeview Drive Tunnel: A Journey through Darkness

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Goldmine Loop Trail is the renowned Lakeview Drive Tunnel. This 1,200-foot-long tunnel, carved through the aptly named Tunnel Ridge, offers a unique and slightly eerie experience. Step into the darkness and witness the light at the end of the tunnel, quite literally. For those who prefer an alternative route, the 1.6-mile Tunnel Bypass Trail provides a scenic option.

Exploring the Lakeshore Trail and Fontana Lake

As you emerge from the tunnel, the trail continues westward along the Lakeshore Trail. This nearly 35-mile-long path stretches along the picturesque shores of Fontana Lake, offering breathtaking views and opportunities to connect with nature. Keep your eyes peeled for the convergence of the Lakeshore Trail with the Benton MacKaye Trail, a long-distance footpath spanning multiple states.

Descending into Goldmine Branch Drainage

Leaving the Lakeshore Trail behind, the Goldmine Loop Trail takes a downhill turn into the Goldmine Branch drainage. The descent may challenge your stamina, but the rewards are worth it. As you navigate the path, be on the lookout for remnants of stone chimneys and other remnants of former homesites, serving as testaments to the area’s vibrant history.

Backcountry Campsite 67: A Tranquil Overnight Option

Approximately a mile and a half from the trailhead, a spur path leads to site 67. This serene and secluded campsite, nestled along the Hyatt Branch, offers a peaceful escape for those seeking a longer adventure. Set on the grounds of a former farmstead, Campsite 67 provides a perfect opportunity to extend your hike into an unforgettable backpacking experience in the vicinity of the “Road to Nowhere.”

Fontana Lake: A Natural Wonder

After immersing yourself in the Goldmine Branch drainage, the trail leads you to the breathtaking shores of Fontana Lake. This pristine lake, surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, offers a tranquil and picturesque setting. Keep in mind that the water levels of the reservoir may vary, impacting the appearance of the shoreline. Nevertheless, the serene ambiance and panoramic views are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Conquering Tunnel Ridge’s Southern Spur

As you bid farewell to Fontana Lake, prepare for an ascent along the southern spur of Tunnel Ridge. The trail gradually takes you uphill, offering glimpses of the surrounding natural splendor along the way. The invigorating climb culminates in a rewarding sense of accomplishment as you approach the end of the Goldmine Loop.

Returning to the Trailhead

Just shy of a mile from reaching the cove, you’ll find yourself at the junction of the Goldmine Loop Trail and the eastern leg of the Tunnel Bypass Trail. From this point, it’s a quarter-mile hike uphill, bringing you back to the Lakeview Drive trailhead. Take a moment to reflect on the memorable journey you’ve embarked upon and appreciate the beauty and history that the Goldmine Loop Trail has to offer.

lakeshore trail

The Fascinating History of the “Road to Nowhere”

The Goldmine Loop Trail is not only a pathway through natural splendor but also a portal into the intriguing human history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Let’s delve deeper into the fascinating story behind the “Road to Nowhere” and the significance it holds.

The construction of the “Road to Nowhere” began in the 1940s as a response to the flooding of Highway 288 caused by the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Fontana Dam. Highway 288 had served as a vital access route for families in Swain County, who were displaced by the park’s establishment and the subsequent creation of the reservoir. The intention behind Lakeview Drive was to provide these families with a means to visit their ancestral cemeteries and reconnect with their roots.

However, environmental concerns led to the discontinuation of the road project in the 1970s. Only a portion of the intended route, approximately six miles of Lakeshore Drive, was completed. The decision was met with controversy and legal disputes, which finally reached a resolution in 2010 when the federal government agreed to compensate Swain County with $52 million.

Today, the “Road to Nowhere” stands as a testament to the complex history of the area. As hikers traverse the Goldmine Loop Trail and pass through the Lakeview Drive Tunnel, they are immersed in the stories of the past and the enduring spirit of the local communities.

Exploring Fontana Lake and its Surroundings

Fontana Lake, a prominent feature along the Goldmine Loop Trail, offers a myriad of opportunities for exploration and appreciation of the natural surroundings. Here are some highlights to enhance your experience:

Water-based Activities

Fontana Lake beckons water enthusiasts with its tranquil waters and scenic vistas. Consider embarking on a kayaking or canoeing adventure, allowing you to glide across the pristine surface and soak in the beauty of your surroundings. Fishing enthusiasts will also find joy in casting a line into the lake’s depths, hoping for a prized catch.

Picnic Areas and Shoreline Strolls

Take advantage of the numerous picnic areas dotting the shoreline of Fontana Lake. Enjoy a leisurely lunch amidst nature’s splendor, savoring the fresh mountain air and serene ambiance. Afterward, take a stroll along the shoreline, relishing in the gentle lapping of the water against the rocks and the captivating views that unfold before you.

Wildlife Observation

Fontana Lake and its surrounding forests are home to a diverse array of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of deer, black bears, raccoons, and a variety of bird species. Capture the magic of the moment as you witness these creatures in their natural habitat, appreciating the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

Fontana Lake | Goldmine Loop Trail

Tips for an Unforgettable Experience

To ensure that your journey along the Goldmine Loop Trail is nothing short of extraordinary, here are some tips to guide you:

  1. Embrace Appropriate Lighting: While the Lakeview Drive Tunnel does not necessitate a flashlight due to its even pavement and visible outlet, it may still be comforting to have a source of illumination, particularly if you are sensitive to dark surroundings or visiting on an overcast day.
  2. Capture the Beauty of Autumn: The Goldmine Loop Trail meanders through mixed hardwood forests, offering a stunning display of vibrant fall foliage. Plan your visit during autumn to witness nature’s paintbrush at work, as the trail transforms into a breathtaking tapestry of colors.
  3. Pack Adequate Supplies: Ensure you have sufficient water, snacks, and essential hiking gear for your journey. While the Goldmine Loop Trail is relatively moderate in difficulty, it’s always wise to be prepared for unexpected circumstances.
  4. Practice Leave No Trace: As you explore the trail, follow the principles of Leave No Trace to minimize your impact on the environment. Respect the natural surroundings, pack out any trash, and leave the trail as pristine as you found it for future generations to enjoy.
  5. Check Weather Conditions: Before setting out on your adventure, check the weather forecast for the area. Be prepared for changes in weather patterns and dress accordingly to ensure your comfort and safety throughout the hike.


The Goldmine Loop Trail offers an enticing blend of history, natural beauty, and moderate hiking challenges. As you traverse the trail, you’ll unravel the captivating stories of the “Road to Nowhere” and immerse yourself in the tranquil charm of Fontana Lake. So, lace up your hiking boots, prepare your camera, and embark on an unforgettable adventure through the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Discover the treasures that await along the Goldmine Loop Trail and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1: Is the Goldmine Loop Trail suitable for beginners?

A1: Yes, the Goldmine Loop Trail is considered a moderate hike, making it accessible for beginners with a reasonable level of fitness. It provides an excellent opportunity to embark on a hiking adventure while enjoying the historical and natural highlights of the area.

Q2: Can I bring my dog on the Goldmine Loop Trail?

A2: Yes, leashed dogs are allowed on the Goldmine Loop Trail. However, please be mindful of other hikers and clean up after your pet to maintain the trail’s cleanliness.

Q3: Are there camping options along the Goldmine Loop Trail?

A3: While there are no designated campsites along the Goldmine Loop Trail itself, you can opt for a backpacking experience by staying at Backcountry Campsite 67, located approximately a mile and a half from the trailhead. Obtain the necessary permits and adhere to the park’s guidelines for backcountry camping.

Q4: Are there restroom facilities along the trail?

A4: Restroom facilities are not available along the Goldmine Loop Trail. It is advisable to use the restroom before starting your hike and practice the Leave No Trace principles for waste disposal.

Q5: Can I swim in Fontana Lake?

A5: Swimming is permitted in Fontana Lake; however, it is essential to exercise caution as there are no designated swimming areas or lifeguards. Assess your swimming abilities and be aware of changing water conditions before taking a dip.

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