- 60 miles (96 km)
- Two hours
Travel this beautiful section of the Nantahala Gorge where history meets industry in the forested areas of western North Carolina. The Indian Lakes Scenic Byway will take drivers on a journey through an area of meaningful names just itching to tell a story. The Indian Lakes Scenic Byway will also take travelers by several other North Carolina byways including the Cherohala Skyway.
Visitors will have many opportunities to enjoy the scenic and recreational qualities that western North Carolina has to offer. And who can resist those rich green forests? Try a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains or a picnic on the shores of Fontana Lake or Santeetlah Lake. Be sure to stop at Robbinsville to visit the grave of Cherokee chief Junaluska who displayed great bravery throughout the early 1800s.
On the drive, visitors might wonder about some of the names of the communities. The community of Stecoah is an Indian name that means "lean" or "sparse hunting". The name Tapoco sounds like an Indian name, but it is really a shortened name for the Tallassee Power Company. The naming conventions of many cultures become mixed up in this byway. And its funny that they all seem to mix quite well.
Points of Interest Along The Way
Cheoah Lake (NC)
This lake was named with the Cherokee word for "otter."
Located near Tapoco along US 129.
Fontana Dam and Lake (NC)
Towering out of the North Carolina foliage, Fontana Dam is 480feet tall, which makes it the tallest dam in the east. As a result,Fontana Lake provides 11,685 acres of water for recreation and industry. The power generated by the dam is used all over the area.When the lake was created in 1944, many people were relocated while villages and communities were covered by the water.
Now the lake is a beautiful byway spot for recreation and enjoying the great outdoors. Much of the land around the lake is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors will still find remnants of the old communities on the shores of Fontana Lake.Old cemeteries and building fragments are a monument to the past.
On the byway near Fontana Village off of NC 28.
Fontana Village (NC)
This historic village provides access to all the recreational opportunities of the byway.
Located off of NC 28 on the byway.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NC)
The national park, in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, encompasses 800 square miles of which 95 percent are forested. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal resources, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of American pioneer culture, and the depth and integrity of the wilderness sanctuary within its boundaries, it is one of the largest protected areas in the east.
The byway goes right next to the Great Smoky Mountains as travelers drive from Fontana Village to Tapoco.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (NC)
Joyce Kilmer, the poet who is best remembered for his poem "Trees," (I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree . . .) and who was killed in action in France during WWI, has a living memorial in his memory. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is an impressive 3,800 acre remnant of virgin wilderness, now the largest stand of old growth trees in the eastern United States. The dedication took place on July 30, 1935, on the eighteenth anniversary of the poet's death. At the dedication, a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt was read.
In this most beautiful, unmarred and natural setting, that was the unchartered hunting ground of the Cherokee Indians, virgin trees grow more than 100 feet tall and some 20 feet around the base. In addition to these trees, there is an outstanding variety of shrubs, vines, ferns, mosses, lichen, liverworts and herbaceous plants. In Spring, wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight which will not be available after the hardwood trees are covered with shade producing leaves. The Memorial Forest, comprised of huge poplars, giant red oaks and magnificent hemlocks, as well as many other varieties of trees, is maintained in its primitive and natural state. No plants living or dead may be cut or removed.
Located just west of the byway.
Junaluska Memorial and Museum (NC)
As a representative of the Cherokee culture, Junaluska was a hero and a warrior. In 1814 he was said to have saved Andrew Jackson's life in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend from the Creek Indians. Ironically, Jackson was the same president who demanded the Cherokee removal to Oklahoma. The beginning of the Cherokee Trail of Tears is here as well as Junaluska's grave. Junaluska tried every appeal to keep his people in their homeland, but to noavail. Junaluska returned to the land many years later. He was buried in Robbinsville where the Memorial now stands. A museum dedicated to the Cherokee culture can also be found in this area.It includes artifacts, artwork, and tools of the Cherokee people.
Located in Robbinsville on the byway
Nantahala National Forest (NC)
This beautiful forest lies in the mountains and valleys ofwestern North Carolina between Waynesville and Murphy. Elevationsin the Nantahala National Forest range from a low of 1,200 feet along the Tusquitee River below the Appalachian Dam in Cherokee County to a high of 5,800 feet at Lone Bald in Jackson County. The Cheoah, Highlands, Tusquitee, and Wayah Ranger Districts form the Nantahala National Forest. Their headquarters are in several mountain communities, situated along the western recesses of the Appalachian Mountains. The Wayah District is located in Franklin,North Carolina.
With the exception of Highlands, the other three districts have taken their names from the Cherokee Indian language. Cheoah is the Cherokee word for otter, Tusquitee is Cherokee forwhere the water dogs laughed, and Wayah is Cherokee forwolf. Even the term Nantahala is a Cherokee Indian wordmeaning land of the noonday sun, a fitting name for thedeep valleys and gorges where the sun only penetrates to the valley floor when directly overhead at noon. With over half a million acres, the Nantahala is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina.
The entire byway is located within the Nantahala National Forest.
Located near the easternmost end of the Byway, Robbinsville is the gateway to areas like the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
Located on US Highway 129 on the byway.
Santeetlah Lake (NC)
Santeetlah Lake is located at the east end of the Cherohala Skyway and is a well known recreational getaway. Most of the shoreline is maintained by the Forest Service as the lake is found in the Nantahala National Forest. Visitors will be able to find several marinas, boating stores, rentals, and fishing shops along the byway. Primitive campsites can be found around the lake as well providing a true outdoor experience at Santeetlah Lake.
The western section of the byway on US 129 travels along Santeetlah Lake.