The Oconaluftee visitor center is located on Highway 441 on the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cherokee. Shortly before the visitor center, is the end point for the Blue Ridge Parkway as well.
If you're venturing into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll definitely want to stop here. There are restroom facilities, a museum/exhibit area, merchandise, trail maps, park maps, and friendly and helpful staff. The Visitor Center is open daily, 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The fully-accessible restroom facilities are open 24 hours a day.
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is also home to:
- The Mountain Farm Museum
- A popular "hang-out" location for Elk in the early morning and late evenings
- Trailhead for the Oconaluftee River Trail.
The Visitor Center
The main structure you see as you approach is the visitor center itself, with a large parking area out front. The building to the left houses the restroom facilities, that are always well cared for and clean. The building to the right is the Welcome Center which is staffed and contains the a number of exhibits that highlight the park, along with its history and wildlife. Both kids and adults will enjoy this.
Maps and information are also available. If you will be hiking, you'll want to pick up a park trail map. NEVER be out on the trails without a map. You'll also find a park map, and many different guides for things to see and do in the park.
Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum is located just behind the visitor center, and will take you along a short walk, and back in time. The Museum contains a number of old buildings that have been moved from various locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and placed in the museum for everyone to see and enjoy.
The trail to the left of the visitor center will take you through the Mountain Farm Museum, and signs along the way tell you about each building. There is also an audio tour available in the visitor center. The Mountain Farm Museum contains:
- Farm House and Outhouse
- Meat House
- Pig Pen
- Spring House
- Black Smith Shop
- Molasses Site
- Enloe Barn
- Apple House
- Corn Crib and more!
During the summer months, and in non-COVID restricted times, there are many different outdoor exhibits in and around the buildings, which demonstrate for visitors what times were like "back then".
Elk at Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Over the years, since their re-release into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Elk migrated from Cataloochee Valley and into Cherokee. They have grown fond of the areas around the Oconoluftee Visitor center, and can often be found in the large field to the right of the Visitor Center early in the morning, and especially late in the evening. The best times are shortly after sunrise, and 1-2 hours prior to sunset.
Here is a video we recorded of Elk Rut at Oconaluftee Visitor Center:
As a result of the Elk visiting the field, there is often an "Elk-jam" around the visitor center in the evenings. To be prepared for traffic. If you are visiting/viewing the Elk, please pull over so that other traffic can get around you. Rangers often block the right lane specifically for those wishing to view and watch the Elk.
While the Elk are used to people, do not enter the fields, and always remain at least 150 feet from the Elk at all times, to avoid possible fines. The rangers will also not so gently remind you.
To learn more about the Elk, see our Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains Guide.
Oconaluftee River Trail
The Oconaluftee River Trail is an easy and flat trail that runs from behind the Mountain Farm Museum, alongside the Oconaluftee River, and down to the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is one of the two trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where pets are allowed.
The trail is really nice, and perfect for a nice walk or family hike.
Here's our video on the trail: