Family reunion fun at Fontana Village, North Carolina – in the heart of the Smokeys

U.S. Odysseys
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My 10-year old is from Vietnam. I’ve written extensively about the nearly 4-year process to get him home to the U.S. and our five weeks in Vietnam waiting to be united with him (see posts from October 2010, November & December 2011). There were ten other kids in the same orphanage who were adopted at the same time. And, we are still in very close contact with seven of those families. In fact, eight families have had a reunion every summer since 2012. It is a beautiful thing to see how the kids have flourished and how strong their bonds remain, and it’s always wonderful to catch up with our friends. You may have recently seen a story on the Today Show about a group of girls from China whose families do reunions as well.

It’s challenging to plan a reunion for eight families who live all over the U.S. – we are from Indiana, Florida, Kansas, New York and Germany. We’ve hosted them in all of our home states so far, but this year, our valiant planner was determined to find a meeting spot somewhat in the middle. Our destination – Fontana Village, North Carolina.

Smokey Mountains - Fontana Village

Smokey Mountains – Fontana Village

Nestled, and I do mean nestled, back in the beautiful, lush tree canopies of the Smokey Mountains, Fontana Village is twenty miles from the nearest town, and you have to drive the switchback-filled Tail of the Dragon Highway 129 or “Hellbender Highway” 28  to get there (well-known among motorcyclists for the windy turns and scenic views). It’s also a stop along the Appalachian Trail, and you’ll often find hikers stopping by for showers and to replenish supplies at the general store.

A “Dirty Dancing-type resort” when it was built, it was once a hotbed for square dancers – they would host Square Dance Weekends and people from all over the region would come to show off their fancy feet.

And, it is the perfect spot to host a reunion, particularly one with kids.

Not only does it have a variety of lodging options – hotel rooms at the lodge, cabins from one to four bedrooms and even a campground to really rough it – there are also a slew of activities depending on how low key or busy you want to be.

Pool at Fontana Village, North Carolina

Pool at Fontana Village, North Carolina

The most of the kids hadn’t seen each other in a year, so they were eager to jump in the pool to play.  There are two pools on the property – a small one near the lodge and a larger one with a lazy river.  Most of the pool was under 4 feet deep which was perfect for our kiddos to swim, splash and float. Get there early if you want an umbrella for shade (or do what I did and stalk a family who is packing up to leave and then pounce on the newly vacated spot). There’s also a refreshment stand with a variety of food and drinks, including adult beverages.

There are also a ton of hiking and mountain biking trails in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park just off the parking lots of the resort – easy to difficult. Most of the group headed out one morning on what they thought was an easy 3-mile nature walk (those who did it the day before saw a coyote and frogs. No bears, though). Three hours later half had returned after five miles and said they’d been duped! The other half climbed to the top of a mountain.

Hiking at Fontana Village

Hiking at Fontana Village

On Friday and Saturday nights during the summer, the resort makes big campfires and gives you s’more making kits. This was a huge hit with our crew – and a perfect after-dinner dessert. The fire pits are close to a huge open field where our kids ran around, caught lightning bugs and played soccer. There’s also a playground, lighted tennis and beach volleyball courts to keep you busy. They also had an outdoor movie, but the kids were more interested in volleyball and getting sand everywhere.

The resort has two restaurants and an ice cream parlor – food was good, nothing fancy, but reasonable prices and several choices so that we could mix things up at every meal – and plenty of options for both young and old palates.

Restaurant at Fontana Village

Restaurant at Fontana Village

What we didn’t have time for…

Lots of water activities: Fontana Lake, created by the Fontana Dam across the Little Tennessee River (and the highest dam east of the Mississippi) offers lots of water sport options and great fishing. You can rent everything from a paddleboard to a pontoon boat and they even have cruises around the lake. We didn’t have time to enjoy the lake, but it looked incredibly inviting, and it is on my list for our next visit.

They also have mini golf and frisbee golf courses, shaded by the trees, which is a great activity on hot days in the mountains.

We loved Fontana Village resort – it was both serene and activity-filled, isolated, yet had everything we needed on site. It truly was the perfect spot for a reunion of our Vietnam families and lots of new memories.

Fontana Dam from a mountaintop

Fontana Dam from a mountaintop