Explore the Road to Nowhere, a unique abandoned tunnel in North Carolina!
One of the best decisions my family has ever made was to move to North Carolina. With three distinct and geographically diverse regions, North Carolina has natural beauty and recreation opportunities that are nearly endless.
You’ll never believe what you will find there!
When thinking of something called a road to nowhere, you might be reminded of a dusty dead-end, or perhaps a seemingly endless dirt country road. Or you might even get symbolic and imagine a time in your life when you were experiencing a really difficult and hard time.
Most often, a road to nowhere is often associated with unfavorable emotions. I cannot claim any right to dark emotions, but did you know that a real Road To Nowhere actually exists in North Carolina?
Visit Bryson City, NC
Deep within the Smoky Mountains, The Road To Nowhere is a frequently visited road that terminates in a tunnel that goes….well, nowhere.
Getting to the Road To Nowhere requires a winding six-mile drive on Lakeview Drive out of Bryson City, a fun small town known as the Gateway to the Smokies. Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous mountain views around nearly every bend in the road.
Despite the beauty of the drive leading to the Road To Nowhere, there’s a dark history behind this scenic mountain drive.
You’ll find the first hints of trouble when you come across the wooden sign that reads – “The Road To Nowhere – A Broken Promise.”
Currently, there’s still plenty of speculation and controversy over how the Road To Nowhere came about.
It all began long ago in the 1930s and 40s when a significant amount of privately owned land was sold by Swain County, NC to the U.S. government. The original intent was to use the land for the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Fontana Lake.
The mountain people who called that land home were unceremoniously displaced but were promised that once the soon-to-be-built HWY 288 was completed, they would have easy access to old family grave sites and ancestral cemeteries.
Once the creation of Fontana Lake was complete, the former access road to the land was buried beneath intentional flood waters. There were challenging construction and environmental issues though so the remainder of HWY 288 was never completed.
A Broken Promise
The displaced families weren’t able to see the government’s promise fulfilled, and never regained access to land that was rightfully theirs. Instead, this lonely road sits hauntingly incomplete, with a large dark tunnel ominously denoting the end.
In 2010, an effort to appease the former landowners and their descendants began. The US Department of Interior paid Swain County $52 million instead of finishing the road and providing access to family gravesites.
The Road To Nowhere still remains unfinished today.
The Road to Nowhere Tunnel
Many people today travel through part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and head down the dead-end road, attempting to create their own Road To Nowhere experience.
Of course, if you make the drive to the end of the road, you simply must take a stroll through the entire tunnel.
Besides enjoying an exceptionally unique and sometimes creepy day trip, those courageous enough to trek to “Nowhere” are treated to much sought-after and amazing views of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains.
You can get to the road by driving or hiking, so be sure to spend some time exploring the area and pondering the history of an extraordinary, memorable tunnel that showcases the remnants of a broken promise.
Note: Per the national park pet policy, leashed dogs are usually permitted along roads throughout the park, but pets are not allowed on hiking trails.
Hiking the Tunnel
The tunnel is accessed from the Lakeshore Trail and is part of the Benton MacKaye trail system.
Graffiti artists have left their mark on the entire length of the tunnel.
Since it’s 1,200 feet long, the tunnel gets quite dark in the middle, so bring a flashlight, especially on cloudy days.
For a moderate but relatively short hike at 3.2 miles long, the Lakeshore Trail Loop ends with a walk through the tunnel. Hikers will pass thorough a mix of hickory, sugar maple, magnolia, American holly, and a variety of oaks before exiting through the tunnel.
The Road To Nowhere is a rare and eerie destination and is included on several lists of must-see places in North Carolina. On busy weekends, you will be joined by plenty of others taking in the sights of the area. If you prefer a less crowded experience, try to plan your visit for mid-week.
Visitors can access the tunnel year-round, but winter weather with ice or snow may cause local road closures. Be sure to check the weather forecast of you visit in the winter.
Nearby Hiking Trails
Since the location of The Road to Nowhere is within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are miles and miles of hiking trails to choose from that can extend the time spent visiting the area.
You can find hiking trails both before and after the tunnel, so extending your visit is easy for anyone interested in exploring more of the area.
One trail that’s a favorite of hikers and horseback riders is Noland Creek Trail. The creek is shallow and frequented by families with kids who enjoy wading and fishing.
Spend the day, or even longer, exploring this unique tunnel and surrounding hiking trails.
Have you taken a walk through the tunnel on the Road To Nowhere? Did you love it or was it creepy for you? Let us know what you thought of the experience in a comment below.
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