Cherokee NC Travel Guide

Cherokee NC is a sovereign nation, home to the eastern band of the Cherokee natives. Cherokee is filled with history and culture that the tribe is working to preserve, keeping their ways as they once were.  Cherokee is a great place to visit in the Blue Ridge Mountains and provides a variety of things to do and see, especially given its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

When visiting Cherokee you  walk through historic museums, hike through the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, explore waterfalls, watch Cherokee historic plays, visit Harrah's Casino, fish, swim, dine, and more!

Let’s visit to Cherokee NC and all of the wonderful things it has to offer!

Where is Cherokee NC?

Heintooga Ridge Road Along the Creek

Cherokee NC is about 50 miles from Asheville, a little over an hour’s ride. The Oconaluftee River runs through it, as the town is in between the intersection of US Routes 19 and 441, and it’s also within the Qualla Boundary land trust.

Cherokee land includes portions of Swain and Jackson County's as well.  Cherokee is at 1,991 feet in elevation.  

Heading towards the Great Smoky Mountains Park, Cherokee is near the main entrance, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

History of Cherokee NC

The Cherokee tribe was once the largest of all the southern tribes, and the particular tribe, in what’s now known as western North Carolina, is known as the Eastern band of Cherokee natives.

In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was approved by President Andrew Jackson, and the plans to move the Native Americans to Oklahoma had begun. Around 17,000 Native Americans were removed from all over the land, one out of every four of them being led to their death on the Trail of Tears.

A smaller group in the East was one of the many natives that resisted the forced removal. They were known as the Oconaluftee Cherokees. Although many of them were killed in the attempt, they did not step down, refusing to take the blatant injustice.

Refugees who had fled from the removal were accepted into this land, and due to the death of a Cherokee hero, Tsali, they were allowed to stay.

This is the land in North Carolina that now belongs to the Cherokee.

Things to do in Cherokee NC

Cherokee has several different activities for you to choose from, whether it be visiting museums or taking a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, strolling through shops or kayaking down a river. Here are some of the top things to do that we’ve compiled together.

1 - Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino Resort

Harrah's Casino is one of the main attractions in Cherokee .  The casino is a four star, 21-story hotel and resort with over 1100 luxury rooms  for you and your family to stay overnight.   Harrah's is the very first casino in North Carolina and is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  The casino is operated by Caesars Entertainment.

Not only does Harrah's  provide lodging, but plenty of other amenities to enjoy, including:

  • Arcades
  • Workout areas
  • Special events where many famous people have performed.
  • Restaurants, including: Ruth Chris, Guy Fieri's, Gordon Ramsey's, Brio, and more.
  • A 24-land Bowling Alley
  • and of course the main attraction, the Casino.

Harrah's provides a unique, luxury, fun, and on the best getaways for those wanting to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the large Blue Ridge Mountains

2 - Mingo Falls

If you love waterfalls or if you're a photographer, Mingo Falls is  definitely a top choice for you and your family. The hike is fairly short, but there are lots of steps to climb.  But it's worth it!

The walk up isn't terribly steep and there are places on the way up to sit and take a break, but it’s enough to make your legs definitely feel the climb.

Mingo Falls is also a busy falls, and the best time to visit is early in the morning. There’s a bridge at the end for you to view the flowing cascades, and it’s a highly sought-after destination in Cherokee.

3 - Oconaluftee Indian Village

The Oconaluftee Indian Village is open to visitors and belongs to the Cherokee Indian Reservation.   The village is a replica of an 18th-century eastern Cherokee community   Your guide will take you on a tour through the village, demonstrating Cherokee crafting,  homes, and even sacred ritual sites.

The village is well-shaded and you can hear the sound of a creek as you walk through. There’s a “Living History” section where you can explore ancient replicas, lectures of Cherokee culture, and dance shows as well as time of war shows.

It’s a great place to visit, and an even better place to experience and learn the history of the Cherokee.

4 - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cherokee is just outside of the borers of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and serves as the main access point the largest NC entrance to the park.   The National Park offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails, scenic views, scenic drives, camping, horseback riding, waterfalls, historic buildings and much more. 

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the United States, and one of the largest.  The Park is spread between the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. The land once belonged to the Cherokee, who still live in parts of it to this day. 

For a long time, the national park was a place for logging until US citizens called on the government to start protecting the land instead.  In the 30s, it was made into a National Park to preserve the land, stop the logging, and provide a natural refuge for all.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth, and we highly recommend visiting.  Just be sure to Leave No Trace during your visit!

5 - Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indians is a unique and fascinating place that tells you the story of the Cherokee, of their culture, and their history.

Displays, sensory experiences, and videos are included in the tour, as well as other special effects. You’ll take a walk through several different time periods, and see as the tribe grows in strength and beauty.

This museum is open year round except for Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, and New Year’s Day, so come along and watch the amazing history of the Cherokee people. 

6 - Experience Unto These Hills

Whether you’re a history addict or you love theatre, this is a play that tells the amazing story of the Cherokee, from way back in time to the Trail of Tears to present day.

Starting from the arrival of Hernando DeSoto, the Spanish Conquistador, this play is bound to entice you from the very beginning.  Unto these hills is based purely off Cherokee values, their triumphs and their tragedies, all the lives that were lost.

The show takes place in the Mountainside Theater, outdoors in the starlight, and a popular attraction since 1950. Drama extras, backstage tours, and more are all additions that you can pay to enjoy.

Unto these Hills is an incredible story, that all should see and experience.

7 - Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is home to a few different activities to enjoy. The Mountain Farm Museum is right behind the main buildings, providing old buildings that had been spread out all along the National Park that have been collected in one place for visitors to tour.

In the visitor’s center you’ll find not only a gift shop, but an audio tour as well. If you head on back out, there is also the Oconaluftee River Trail right alongside the museum all the way to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the river runs with it. Dogs are allowed along this particular trail, as well.

And, of course, don’t forget to check the fields for any Elk that might be there.  The fields around the visitor center are a popular spot for them, especially in the mornings and late afternoon. 

8 - Oconaluftee Islands Park

The Oconaluftee Islands Park is a popular place for visitors. You cross a bridge that leads to a small island with picnic tables and swimming areas—as well as fishing, water rafting, and tubing—a perfect place to wind down and enjoy your day.

The Park is a very common place for families to bring their children, and let them play in the crisp, cool, and shallow waters of the Oconaluftee River.   On a warm summer day, you'll find many families here enjoying the water.

And if you like volleyball, a court is also right there to play. A bamboo forest is there for you to walk through, a great place to be in the shade.

The park is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, and there is no charge to visit. If you’re ever in need of a quick cool-down, then this is the place for you.

9- Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine

Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine has free admission and a host of gems for you to pan for. It’s Cherokee’s first and largest gem mine and a great attraction to visit with loads of fun for the family.

Emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, garnets, and topaz are some of the many gemstones available. You can have your gemstones identified for free as well as have them cut and polished and made into a beautiful gift for a loved one!

Groups/school buses are welcome, and all equipment is provided.  

The mine is located at: 971 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719

10 - Cherokee Rapids River Tubing

A favorite of many outdoor activities, Cherokee Rapids River Tubing is the largest and number one tubing outfitter in Cherokee. Not only do you have the option to go tubing, but kayaks are available for rent as well.

The water of the Oconaluftee River is clean and refreshing, and transportation is provided by the company along with the tubes and kayaks. The waters are relatively smooth, but hold on tight; there are a few rapids along the way.

If you’re looking for some excitement for the day, this is definitely the choice for you.

Where to stay in Cherokee NC

Cherokee NC is a quaint little place for you to stay however long your trip requires. They offer not only hotels, but cabin rentals and campgrounds as well. If you're looking for a cozy room inside or a refreshing night in the outdoors, plenty of options await you.

Cabins in Cherokee NC

There are many different cabin rentals in Cherokee NC. each of them beautiful and unique in their own way. From a woodsy feel to gorgeous views, you're bound to find a cabin that's just right for your stay at Cherokee NC.

Hotels in Cherokee NC

If you’re looking for good quality hotels and reasonable prices, here are some of the top options in Cherokee NC Hotels. They each come with their own amenities, and all of them are comfortable and worth the money.

Campgrounds in Cherokee NC

Camping is always fun, and Cherokee’s campgrounds don’t disappoint. Spend a night or two in the outdoors, watching the stars in the sky as you wait to fall asleep, surrounded by the beautiful vegetation. Here are some of the top choices we’ve picked.

Where to eat in Cherokee NC

Cherokee NC offers all sorts of restaurants, from Italian food to Asian cuisine. Whether you're looking for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner—depending on the time of the day—there’s bound to be something that you and your family can enjoy.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.

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