The Cherokee people are one of the oldest settlers in United States history. The rich cultural, social, and historical background this community has, makes it one of the most delightful places to visit. Visitors and tourists from all walks of life will never fail to find Cherokee, North Carolina, an absolute pleasure to explore.
The fact is that Cherokee, NC, is still one of those communities where there are plentiful remnants of fascinating tribal history and early settlements. With a rich cultural history, plenty of outdoor activities, fun experiences, and more, Cherokee, NC is worth a visit.
We visit Cherokee every year, and we always find more to explore. We love the abundance of outdoor activities here, and the family-friendly atmosphere makes this area a must-visit for us.
Here are 15 things to do in Cherokee NC that we know you’re going to love.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHEROKEE NC
- Top Reviewed. Rivers Edge Motel is very well-reviewed but you wouldn’t know it by the price. It’s less than two miles from the casino in a scenic locations. Couples love this property.
- Best Budget Option. Quality Inn Cherokee in the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Features include an adjacent river walkway, free hot breakfast, and an outdoor pool with a sun terrace.
- Best for Families. Stonebrook Lodge is opposite Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and is 3.5 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Great for kiddos because of the pool and complimentary breakfast.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
To start exploring Cherokee, NC, you cannot choose a better place than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stretching for 800 square miles, wherever you turn your eyes here, you will see endless natural landscapes, in their pure unfiltered beauty.
You will find this place sitting on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, and it is easily accessible from Cherokee. You’ll find the Ocanaluftee Visitors Center just 8 minutes from the heart of Cherokee.
For an awesome day trip, you could drive through the winding roads of the park and discover its marvelous historic sites, enjoy the scenic views and outstanding forest features. There’s a complete range of activities for one to enjoy here, including fishing creeks, exhibitions, picnic spots, campgrounds, campsites, riding, hiking and biking trails.
We visit GSMNP often from Cherokee, and our top things to do on this side of the park are: Visiting Mingus Mill, hiking the Kephart Prong Trail, exploring the living history museum at Ocanaluftee Visitor Center (we often see elk here!), driving to and along Clingman’s Dome Road and enjoying the many awesome overlooks, climbing up to Clingman’s Dome, and hiking the Andrews Bald Trail.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY DRIVE
Cherokee is not only close to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but it’s also the gateway to the beginning (or end) of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Take a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and take in the magnificent views of the valleys, mountain peaks, and the clear blue skies. With breathtaking views, awesome hiking trails, and lovely picnic spots — the parkway is a dream drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway drive stretches for 469 miles on the southwest side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
You really cannot go wrong with any of the stops and overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we particularly love the Devil’s Courthouse Trail to the top (it’s steep…but short!), and the Art Loeb Trail to Black Balsam Knob hike. These are both amazing hikes with spectacular views, and both are easily accessible from Cherokee.
FIRE MOUNTAIN TRAILS
We mentioned that the overall atmosphere of Cherokee leans more towards the rural historical side, but that does not mean it lacks excitement and adventure. You are sure to find lots of both elements in the city, especially at the Fire Mountain Trails.
The trails are one of the topmost options for excitement here, and being multi-use, they provide visitors the chance to mountain bike or hike and even run as they please. You will find the hike trails close to the Oconaluftee Indian Village, which is another great place to explore in the city.
The best part of visiting the Fire Mountain Trails is that they connect with a series of other roads housing different features. Some of these include rock gardens, berms, easy elevation, tables, blinds and lots more.
Just 10 minutes from the center of Cherokee, you’ll find Mingo Falls — a popular waterfall viewing area that you won’t want to miss.
Take the stairs to the base of Mingo Falls, and feel the spray from the water while you get your pics! The falls stand at an impressive height of 120 feet, and are the tallest falls you’ll find in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
This isn’t really much of a hike…just a bunch of stairs and then a short, uneven trail will take you to the falls. When we visited in summer 2023, there were tons of kids playing in the water below the overlook.
We’ve visited Mingo Falls a few times, but every time I forget that my GPS leads me astray! If you use your GPS to get here, I recommend putting in the Cherokee/Great Smokies KOA Campground instead of Mingo Falls. Mingo Falls is just past the campground, so once your GPS takes you to the campground, just drive right on past it and you’ll see the signage for the falls.
But if you forget this advice, do not worry. The town of Cherokee knows this is a problem, and when your GPS has you make an incorrect turn, you will immediately see a city sign that says, “No access to Mingo Falls. Your GPS is wrong.” Ha! Just turn around, and you’ll see even more signs pointing you the right way. (Thanks, Cherokee!)
OCANALUFTEE INDIAN VILLAGE
We all know that Cherokees are one of the oldest settlers in history. Due to this fact alone, they have a rich historical and cultural background that is simply fascinating to explore and learn about. There cannot be a better living museum than Oconaluftee Indian Village, where you can learn about the 16th century Cherokee people and their lifestyle.
Plan a trip to this village where a cultural expert guides you through the interactive museum, introduces you to the community that the Cherokees occupied on this side of NC, and more. Explore lifelike structures resembling sacred sites, working areas and even the homes of those people.
Traditional craft making is quite interesting to learn too, such as canoe building, basket weaving, war reenactments with blowguns, and dancing.
MOUNTAIN FARM MUSEUM
The Mountain Farm Museum is one of the top exploration spots, in addition to being one of the most unique attractions of Cherokee. Here you will find quite an exquisite collection of building and farm structures right from the 1800s.
Located right inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Ocanaluftee Visitor Center, the Mountain Farm Museum will make you feel like you’re back in the throes of the early 19th century. Walk along the path and see the historic farm buildings that were gathered from different sites throughout the Smoky Mountains and brought here.
Here you’ll find a house, barn, applehouse, springhouse, and smokehouse — there’s also usually some pigs in their pen during the warmer months.
My kids love the Mountain Farm Museum. In addition to walking around and seeing all the old buildings and cabins, they love the pigs, love running through the apple orchard, and have even seen an authentic blacksmith exhibition here.
While you’re here, take time to hike along the Ocanaluftee River Trail. The 1.5-mile trail will take you right into Cherokee. Most trails within GSMNP do not allow pets, but this trail does. Our dogs love walking along this trail each time we come this way.
Tip: You can sometimes see elk roaming around the Mountain Farm Museum property. If they’re around, make sure you keep your distance and only observe them from afar.
QUALLA ARTS AND CRAFTS MUTUAL, INC.
Find authentic Cherokee handicrafts using techniques that have been passed down for generations at Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. This is the nation’s oldest Native American cooperative.
You’ll find wood and stone carvings, baskets, jewelry, and more here. It’s the perfect place to visit and take home one-of-a-kind treasures.
The most well-known handicraft here is their baskets. The Cherokee people make baskets from white oak, rivercane, and honeysuckle vines that are found in nature around Cherokee. How amazing is that?
SEQUOYAH NATIONAL GOLF CLUB
If you’re in the vicinity of Whittier Town, do visit the Sequoyah National Golf Club just three miles away from it. North Carolinians will tell you how this is a go-to place for all the locals.
A chance to see the magnificent talent of the esteemed Robert Trent Jones II, as well as his style, is enough to lure visitors here. Moreover, there’s a clever historical twist to see in each of the holes in the golf course here — all in part to the fascinating land here. There’s bent grass, bluegrass fairways and a terrain you don’t want to miss for anything else.
MUSEUM OF THE CHEROKEE INDIAN
Do you wish for a chance to explore the native Cherokee people, their history and artifacts spanning across thirteen thousand years? Here’s your chance to do so. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian houses all that and lots more for visitors to experience.
This amazing place has a rich historical treasure, containing scores of artwork, artifacts, photographs, videos, animation, music, life-size figures, and more.
Kids visiting this museum will especially have a grand time too, with the pop-up books, graphic panels, computer animations and effects that combine learning and fun. Don’t forget to take your picture with the large stone carving outside!
UNTO THESE HILLS
Unto These Hills has been a prime mountainside theater for visitors since 1950. If there’s a spectacular place that gives visitors the opportunity to learn a Cherokee story or attend outdoor dramas in a unique setting, it is this mountainside theater.
This is the very hotspot of NC where the drama department of the city’s university and the local tribe join hands to tell the ‘Trail of Tears’ tale to the public. The latter is a historical event that spans from the 1780s to the 21st century.
This was the period when scores of Native Americans had to relocate unwillingly to the west of the Mississippi River. The event is absolutely enthralling, what with dance and musical performances and more. Be sure to catch this outstanding production when visiting Cherokee NC.
HARRAH’S CHEROKEE CASINO RESORT
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is among the prime visitor locations and one of the best resorts of the country. Nestled in a picturesque mountain setting, there is an endless list of activities to enjoy. The casino resort houses more than 1,000 rooms spread across 21 floors.
Apart from the bustling casino itself, you can have a great time during your stay at the restaurants, shops, karaoke nights, swimming pools and occasional concerts too. There’s also a lovely golf course close to the casino’s property, where visitors can head to for a round of golf or two.
OCONALUFTEE ISLANDS PARK
There is nothing quite like the stunning natural landscape found at Oconaluftee Islands Park to lose yourself in for a day. Immerse yourself in the glory of this natural wonder, where benches line the park for visitors to gaze at the water and adore the geese and ducks wading by. The serenity and peace in the atmosphere is something you will barely find elsewhere.
The Islands Park is also a great backdrop for your photos, in addition to providing a beautiful waters edge for romantic and leisurely strolls.
It’s a great place to let the kids cool off in the summer months. You’ll find plenty of shallow waters here, for hours of fun water play. You’ll also find tons of great picnic spots — including picnic tables and pavilions.
If you come in the summer, bring a picnic and a beach or camping chair for yourself. Tons of parents sit their chairs right in the water so they can enjoy the water while watching their little ones. Tubes are also popular at this park in the summer, and we saw tons of kids in their innertubes just enjoying floating around.
We love Ocanaluftee Islands Park. You can find free parking along the road or in the grass lot right across the street. You’ll find bathrooms at the pedestrian bridge that takes you from parking to the other side of the river.
SMOKEMONT RIDING STABLES
Get ready to explore the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on horseback! The Smokemont Riding Stables are among the most popular Cherokee attractions, housing a collection of stunning horse breeds, a series of trails within the park, and scenic views everywhere.
If you haven’t had a chance to go horseback riding before, you can make that wish come true at the stables. The facility owns a number of friendly and well-trained horses that visitors can ride.
This is a popular spot, especially in the fall. We stay at Smokemont Campground each October, and this area is located nearby. I can assure you the horses are super friendly, and the changing leaves are a must-see!
CHEROKEE RAPIDS TUBE AND KAYAK RENTALS
If there’s one thing nobody misses out on when in Cherokee, it is the Cherokee Rapids Tube and Kayak Rentals. With this facility, you can have the best excursion of Oconaluftee River, as well as see the best side of beautiful North Carolina.
Nothing beats the thrill of tubing or kayaking through the waters here. You may even see elk as you float past!
DAY TRIP TO GATLINBURG
One of the great things about Cherokee, is its proximity to other awesome cities — and one of those is Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At only an hour away, Gatlinburg makes the perfect location for a day trip from Cherokee.
Drive through the Great Smoky National Park to Gatlinburg, and spend the day at this family-friendly city. With outdoor adventures, awesome restaurants, water sports, hiking, ziplining, and tourist attractions — Gatlinburg is filled with fun.
Make sure you take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram, and take in spectacular views of the city from above.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO NORTH CAROLINA
- YOUR NORTH CAROLINA VACATION
- NC BEACHES: 16 Sensational North Carolina Beaches You Need To Visit
- NC SKI RESORTS: 6 Best North Carolina Ski Resorts
- FAYETTEVILLE NC: 19 Things To Do In Fayetteville NC You’ll Love
- NC RESORTS: 24 Resorts In North Carolina That Will Have You Packing Your Bags Tonight
WHERE TO STAY IN CHEROKEE NC
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