The small town of Cherokee is located in the Oconaluftee River Valley in North Carolina, close to the southern entrance of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The town is the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and as such offers several interesting cultural and historical sites. You can learn about the Cherokee tribe at the Museum of the Cherokee Indians and the Oconaluftee Indian Village, before setting off to enjoy a wide variety of restaurants, and outdoor activities both inside and adjoining Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
1.Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Encompassing over 800 square miles of stunning natural beauty and diversity, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the US, straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The best way to see a reasonable amount of the park is to set off on a scenic drive – there are over 300 miles of roads to explore that will lead you to a variety of view points and historic sites and through miles and miles of towering forests. There are dozens of hiking and biking trails, several campgrounds and campsites, horseback riding trails, and excellent opportunities for year-round fishing and brilliant wildlife watching. Downloading the Smoky Mountains App for your phone is a great way to plan your visit. Find more weekend getaways in NC
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Located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation close to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Mingo Falls are over 120 feet tall, making them the tallest and one of the most impressive waterfalls in the southern Appalachian Mountains. You can get to within half a mile of the falls by car along Big Cove Road, which leads to the Mingo Falls Campground. From there you will need to set off on foot along the Pigeon Creek Trail, which will take you to the viewing platform at the base of the waterfalls. Although the trail is less than a half a mile long, it is steep and there are 160 steps to climb; however, everyone agrees that seeing the falls are well worth the effort.
Mingo Falls, Eastern Cherokee Reservation, Cherokee, NC 28719
3.Mountain Farm Museum
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Located adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor's Center in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Mountain Farm Museum contains an historical collection of log buildings, including a house, barn, smokehouse, and more. Most of the structures were originally built in the 19th century and were brought to their present site from all over the national park. As you stroll around the outdoor museum, which includes a working blacksmith shop, you can get a glimpse of everyday life as it was 100 years ago. After touring the museum, you may like to get some exercise along two of the great hiking trails in the vicinity – the Oconaluftee Trail and the Mingus Trail.
4.Museum of the Cherokee Indian
© Museum of the Cherokee Indian
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian showcases over 13,000 years of the history of the Cherokee people using modern computer-generated animation and special effects to generate an entertaining and fascinating journey in the footsteps of the Cherokee tribe. To bring the history to life for younger visitors there are special pop-up books and graphic panels. The museum offers a series of workshops each year, where you can learn the traditional skills of pottery and basket making and informative lectures are regularly presented. The museum store stocks a wide range of books, clothing, and crafts, including an educational coloring book for children.
589 Tsali Boulevard, Cherokee NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-3481
5.Oconaluftee Indian Village
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You can cast aside pre-conceived ideas about stuffy museums as you step inside the Oconaluftee Indian Village to learn about the lifestyle of the Cherokee during the 16th century. A Cherokee cultural expert will take you on a fascinating interactive experience to learn all about Cherokee history and culture as you make your way through this life-like village where you can admire Cherokee homes, working areas, and even some of their sacred sites. You will be able to watch traditional cultural dancing, canoe building, basket weaving, and many other crafts. One of the highlights of the visit is watching a re-enactment of the tribe preparing for war, which includes a blowgun demonstration.
Oconaluftee Indian Village, 218 Drama Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-2111
6.Santa's Land Fun Park and Zoo
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Located just 3 miles from the southern entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Santa's Land Fun Park and Zoo has been delighting generations of families since 1966. The park is seasonal, so you need to plan your visit for some time between mid May and the end of October. Children (and adults) can enjoy a ride in Santa's sleigh on the Rudicoaster, ride the miniature train, and get to meet Santa in his very own mountain hideaway. There is a petting zoo where you can see several exotic animals from around the world and the kids will love being a part of the magic show.
Santa's Land Fun Park and Zoo, 571 Wolfetown Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-9191
7.Sassy Sunflowers Bakery and Cafe
© Sassy Sunflowers Bakery and Cafe
Sassy Sunflowers is one of Cherokee's most popular bakery/cafes, offering hungry visitors a delightful menu of delicious meals and snacks. The cafe has an interesting menu, featuring many traditional favorites with a distinctive “Sassy” twist. There are several healthy options, including soups and salads, and gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options are available. If you still have space, the deserts and cookies get very good reviews. Drinks include smoothies, juices, flavored teas, and coffee (but no sodas). On a good day you can sit outside while you enjoy your lunch, and there is parking right outside.
Sassy Sunflowers Bakery and Café, 655 Acquoni Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-2539
8.Smokemont Riding Stables
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Equestrians will be happy to know that the Smokemont Riding Stables offer a variety of horseback trail rides within lovely Great Smoky Mountain National Park, just 5 minutes north of Cherokee. The stables have a selection of well-trained friendly horses to suit all levels of riding ability, and even beginners will be saddled up and riding in no time at all. Most of the trails lead you through beautiful scenery along the banks of the Oconaluftee River, and vary in duration from 2 to 4 hours. Children have to be over 5 years old to ride, but families with younger children can go on a relaxing wagon ride instead.
Smokemont Riding Stables, 135 Smokemont Riding Stable Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-2373
9.Smokey Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine
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You can strike it rich as you follow in the footsteps of the pioneer gold miners at the Smokey Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine. Children can have hours of fun and excitement as they pan for gold or gemstones (and get wet and dirty for free). Everything you need to find your very own gemstones is supplied, and you can even take your precious stones to be identified and polished on site. Imagine taking home a lasting reminder of your Cherokee vacation – you can have your very own gemstone set into a lovely item of jewelry to take home with you. The on-site shop sells a variety of jewelry, gemstones, and panning equipment. Browse NC island getaways
Smokey Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine, Highway 441 North, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-6574
10.Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort
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Nestled in a beautiful mountain setting in western North Carolina, Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort is a great base for exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The resort encompasses over 1,000 guest rooms spread over 21 floors and boasts an impressive selection of facilities to ensure a relaxing stay. Besides enjoying the popular tables and gaming machines in the casino, guests can treat themselves to a pampering session at the spa, have a work-out in the on-site gym, or simply relax beside the indoor or outdoor swimming pools. The resort hosts regular concerts by big-name musicians and there are two golf courses in close proximity.
Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee, NC 28719, Phone: 828-497-7777
11.Cherokee Rapids Tube Rental
© Cherokee Rapids Tube Rental
Your visit to Cherokee would be incomplete without spending a few hours floating down the beautiful Oconaluftee River and swimming in the natural pools along the way. This family-fun activity (children must be over 5 years old) is a great way to spend a few hours admiring the beautiful landscape bordering the river as you float over gentle grade I/II rapids along a 2-mile section of the river. You can park your car near the Little Princess Restaurant, and the Cherokee Rapids team will transport you upstream by bus and kit you out with a lifejacket and tube. You can take as long as you like to float back downstream, stopping along the way to relax and swim.
1681 Acquoni Rd, Cherokee, NC, Phone: 828-736-4231
11 Best Things to Do in Cherokee, North Carolina
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Photo: Courtesy of aheflin - Fotolia.com
- Mingo Falls, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Mountain Farm Museum, Photo: Courtesy of jonbilous - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Photo: Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- Oconaluftee Indian Village, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Santa's Land Fun Park and Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of MidoSemsem - Fotolia.com
- Sassy Sunflowers Bakery and Cafe, Photo: Sassy Sunflowers Bakery and Cafe
- Smokemont Riding Stables, Photo: Courtesy of Jim Vallee - Fotolia.com
- Smokey Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine, Photo: Courtesy of hildeanna - Fotolia.com
- Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort, Photo: Courtesy of ktsdesign - Fotolia.com
- Cherokee Rapids Tube Rental, Photo: Cherokee Rapids Tube Rental
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com