Goldmine Loop Highlights
- Trail Features
Historic, Lake views
- Trail Location
Lakeview Drive (Bryson City)
- Roundtrip Length
- Elevation Gain (total)
- Elevation Gain (per mile)
- Trail Difficulty
This easy hike is 3.1 miles roundtrip and includes 615 feet of elevation gain.
Goldmine Loop Description
Since this is a loop you can start your hike in either direction. For purposes of this trail description we will take a counter-clockwise direction. If you have a fear of walking through the rather long Lakeview Drive Tunnel, you'll have the option of taking the clockwise approach and using the Tunnel Bypass Trail, which avoids the tunnel.
From the parking area at the end of Lakeview Drive hikers will immediately proceed through the tunnel. Fortunately the tunnel is flat and easy to walk through; however, it's 1200 feet in length, or almost a quarter-mile long! On dark overcast days you may want to bring a flashlight.
The tunnel marks the end of the so-called "Road To Nowhere." Its construction came about when citizens of Swain County gave up the majority of their land for the creation of Fontana Lake and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During the 1930s and 40s hundreds of people were forced to leave their homes in order to make way for these Federal projects. Additionally, when the TVA filled Fontana Lake, Old Highway 288 was buried beneath its waters. As a result, many of those people lost access to their family cemeteries.
In exchange for their lands, however, the Federal Government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road that would run along the north shore of the lake, thus giving displaced residents access to old family cemeteries. Unfortunately for the citizens of Swain County, environmental issues stopped construction of the road at the tunnel, and it was never completed. As you might expect, lawsuits ensued. After a decades-long fight the dispute with Swain County residents was finally resolved in February of 2010 when the US Department of Interior signed a settlement agreement that paid the county $52 million in lieu of building the road.
On the other side of the tunnel hikers will reach the official start of the Lakeshore Trail. At 34.7 miles it's the second longest trail in the Smokies. The longest, the Appalachian Trail, runs for nearly 72 miles along the crest of the mountains.
Roughly two-thirds of a mile from the parking lot hikers will arrive at the Tunnel Bypass Trail junction. In addition to people using this path to avoid walking through the tunnel, it's also used by horseback riders for the same reason.
About a tenth-of-a mile further down the Lakeshore Trail you'll reach the Goldmine Loop Trail. Hikers should turn left here to continue on the loop hike.
From the junction the trail makes a steep descent down to the Goldmine Branch creek. After walking 30 or 40 feet past the creek you may notice a clearing up ahead. This is the location of an old homestead. As far as I could see the only thing left at this former homestead site was an old washtub and a crumbling chimney.
At roughly 1.5 miles hikers will reach a side trail that leads to Backcountry Campsite 67. To continue on the loop you should stay towards the right at this junction.
Roughly a quarter-mile past the side trail hikers will reach a small cove jutting out of Fontana Lake. At the time of our first visit lake levels were pretty low. In fact, it looked like the lake was at least 20 feet below its normal level, so it really wasn't the most scenic view at that time.
As you make your way around the loop you may notice a couple of wild hog traps. In the early 1900s a local rancher brought two dozen European wild boars to his hunting ranch, several of which eventually escaped into the mountains. Unfortunately this invasive species roots out native plants, destroys stream banks, and carries a variety of diseases that can sicken or even kill native wildlife. Using traps, wildlife managers have been fighting to remove the hogs from the park for several decades now.
From the cove the trail makes a relentless climb back up to Lakeshore Drive, with a few short sections that are fairly steep. As you climb higher you'll pass through a section of trail that was burned by a small forest fire several years ago. As a result, the wildfire has opened up the canopy to some relatively decent views of the surrounding mountains.
At roughly 2.7 miles the trail dead-ends at the Tunnel Bypass Trail. To continue on towards the parking area you should take a right at this junction. A left will lead you back to the west end of the tunnel. A couple hundred feet past the junction you'll pass a sign indicating that you're on the Tunnel Bypass Trail. Although this might cause a little confusion, simply continue heading in the same direction.
At 3.1 miles hikers will arrive back at the parking area, thus completing the loop.
After our hike we paid a visit to the Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City. We both tried a couple of their Nitro Stouts, which was perhaps one of the finest beers we've ever tasted.
Goldmine Loop Map
Goldmine Loop Profile
Directions to Trailhead:
From the intersection of U.S. 19 and Everett Street in Bryson City, NC, turn north to drive along Everett Street. Once through town the road becomes known as New Fontana Road. Continue on the same road until reaching the park boundary. Here the road becomes known as Lakeview Drive. In total, it's about 8.5 miles from Bryson City to the Lakeview Drive Tunnel.