Last Updated on January 24, 2023
Last Updated on January 24, 2023
Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee is a Western NC town with lots of history and plenty to see, do, and explore! We’ve been coming here for years and have created this guide to share the best things to do in Cherokee, North Carolina, and nearby.
Whether you’re a new NC resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Cherokee area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this travel guide will help you out!
Here is how we’ve organized the guide:
- Where is Cherokee, North Carolina?
- The History of Cherokee
- Visiting Today
- Where to Stay in Cherokee
- Annual Events
- Things to Do in Cherokee Any Weekend
- Mingo Falls
- Soco Falls
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- The Best Things to Do in Cherokee (Our Top 5)
- Things to Do Near Cherokee
- More Things to Do in Cherokee (NC Travel Guides)
You can skip ahead to any section or keep reading more about Cherokee’s location and history.
Where is Cherokee, NC?
Cherokee is a town within the Qualla Boundary land trust and is the capital of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Boundary extends into both Jackson and Swain counties.
- Bryson City (20 minutes away)
- Sylva (25 minutes away)
- Maggie Valley (30 minutes away)
- Asheville (1 hour and 10 minutes away)
- Black Mountain (1 hour and 20 minutes away)
- Hendersonville (1 hour and 20 minutes away)
- Brevard (1 hour and 35 minutes away)
- Burnsville (1 hour and 40 minutes away)
- Marion (1 hour and 45 minutes away)
- Morganton (2 hours away)
The History of Cherokee
Before reading about our favorite Cherokee NC things to do, it’s important to understand the history of the people and places you’re visiting.
Here’s a quick breakdown of Cherokee’s history:
- Native Americans had lived on the land we know as “North Carolina” for thousands of years before European arrival.
- In fact, archaeologists have traced their presence back as far as 12,000 years ago.
- When Europeans first arrived in the mid-1500s, an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 Tuscarora, Catawba, and Cherokee lived in this area.
- A series of trade networks thrived throughout this area, predating many of today’s NC industries with similar crafts and practices.
- Disease, violence, and forced removal by the American government led to a sharp decline in population, especially of the Catawba and Tuscarora people.
- During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee joined the British hoping for post-war protection from further settlement.
- Unfortunately, for the Cherokee, the British lost the war.
- Thus, any hope of favorable treatment by the new American government was gone, too.
- Many Cherokee people were eventually forced to leave during the tragic “Trail of Tears.” Some stayed behind and either fought for their land or evaded removal efforts.
- These Cherokee joined the Oconaluftee Cherokee who were allowed to stay in North Carolina.
- Today, the reservation known as the “Qualla Boundary” is where many Cherokee descendants live.
Visiting Cherokee, North Carolina Today
Visit Cherokee today, and you’ll find signs that use English and the Cherokee alphabet. You’ll also find a town packed with shops, great places to eat, cultural attractions, and beautiful mountain surroundings.
Of course, you’ll need somewhere to stay.
Where to Stay in Cherokee
There are many RV campgrounds, outdoor campgrounds, motels, and hotels in the area. We’ve also enjoyed a few rentals in Maggie Valley, just over the Qualla Boundary.
The most entertaining and connected place to stay in Cherokee is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, a hotel, casino, and entertainment center all rolled into one.
The resort has a few different towers you can choose from when planning your stay.
Creek Tower, Soco Tower, and Mountain Tower are on the resort side of the property, each with its own type of room and amenities. The Cherokee Tower is the newest addition to the resort, with stunning views of the Smoky Mountains.
There are so many things to do in Cherokee NC all year, but we think you should pay extra attention to these events.
Unto These Hills
“Unto These Hills” is an outdoor drama performed at the Mountainside Theatre each summer.
The Cherokee-centered story is magnificent to watch, with the choreography, plot, and cast coming together to bring it to life.
If you’re visiting Cherokee in the summer, watching a performance of “Unto These Hills” is a must!
More Cherokee Events
- Fishing Tournaments (March to October): The official “opening day” and the Qualla Country Trout Tournament are two shining examples of Cherokee’s fishing opportunities.
- Cherokee Customer Celebration (May): The Cherokee Welcome Center invites visitors to a “Sgi” (thank you) celebration with Cherokee craftspeople, music, authentic storytelling, and more.
- Strawberry Festival (May): Cherokee’s free admission Strawberry Festival features fresh berries, delicious recipes, strawberry products, fun activities, and more fun.
- Cherokee Summer Carnival: The free-to-enter Cherokee Summer Carnival is a huge celebration with vendors, food, games, and dozens of carnival rides.
- River Tubing: On hot summer days, a tube on the calm river is in order. Cherokee Rapids and Smoky Mountain Tube & Raft are a couple of outfitters who can help you get out on the water.
Things to Do in Cherokee NC All Year (and This Weekend)
No matter when you visit, these are THE things to do in Cherokee, North Carolina. Also, we will supply addresses to these attractions when available.
Cherokee is surrounded by a plethora of beautiful waterfalls.
- Mingo Falls: Start your morning with the easily accessible Mingo Falls, which translates to “Big Bear” in Cherokee. The climb to this 160-foot waterfall is only about 160 steps. You’ll then reach a bridge where you can look at the rushing falls.
- Soco Falls: Another somewhat-easy-to-access waterfall is Soco Falls, just eleven miles east of Cherokee. What makes Soco unique is the merging of two waterfalls that creates a truly stunning scene. The hike to Soco Falls is about 0.2 miles roundtrip, but you can also go down a more strenuous path to the bottom of the falls.
You can’t go wrong with either waterfall! Both are among the best in North Carolina and have a relatively leisurely hike for a casual afternoon.
Fishing in Cherokee
We mentioned fishing tournaments but you can also fish without being tempted by a huge prize.
Cherokee is surrounded by 30 miles of rivers and streams that make for great fishing opportunities. The nearby waters are stocked with trout.
Grab your line and bait and get fishing at one of the many accessible fishing piers around the town. River’s Edge Outfitters (61 Big Cove Rd) is a solid outfitter that has just about everything an angler would need.
Fire Mountain Trails
Fire Mountain Trails are an exciting way to explore Cherokee. The multi-use trail system caters to bikers, runners, and hikers alike.
Spanning over 10.5 miles, the Fire Mountain Trails flows through several obstacles and sights, like tables and rock gardens, as well as difficulty levels, from smooth sections to uphill.
Fire Mountain Trails is a cool and exhilarating activity for adventure-seekers. The trailhead begins about 100 yards from the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee.
Motion Makers (516 Tsali Blvd) is a great local bike shop if you forgot anything or need your bike serviced.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a sweeping expanse of forest and mountains outside Cherokee. The Park has trails, waterfalls, and many landmarks.
Here are a few of them we think you can’t miss.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is another popular landmark in the Smokies. The drive to the mountain is somewhat lengthy, but the walk to the Observation Tower itself is relatively short. The views are absolutely stunning from up high in the Tower.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Address: 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC
Oconaluftee Visitor Center is near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and serves as a base for learning about Cherokee culture and the surrounding mountains. Stop by for maps, guides, exhibits, and more to start your exploration of the Smokies.
Additionally, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is an elk crossing. There’s usually quite a bit of elk in the large field next to the Center in the early morning or sunset hours. You’ll be able to see them pretty up close but exercise care and caution.
The Oconaluftee River Trail also starts at the Visitor Center and takes you 1.5 miles one-way to the town’s outskirts. As the name suggests, the River Trail crosses through the river, providing stunning views.
Mingus Mill is a historic grist mill just a few minutes’ drive from Oconaluftee Visitor Center. You can walk the mill length and see how these facilities operate. It is a working piece of history that should not be missed!
It was one of the most advanced mills in the Smoky Mountains due to its use of a steel turbine design and was completed in 1886.
More Cherokee NC Things to Do
Great Smoky Mountains National Park and those two amazing waterfalls are popular attractions, but there are plenty of other things to do in Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary!
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
Address: 777 Casino Dr, Cherokee, NC
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort was North Carolina’s first casino and is one of the top things to do in Cherokee today. This 21-and-up facility has a casino, multi-tainment center featuring bowling lanes, an arcade, and restaurants.
There are also shops where you can grab gifts and souvenirs, a pool, spa, fitness center, and so much more! The building also doubles as a hotel, which we mentioned as a great place to stay in Cherokee.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Address: 589 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian recounts over 13,000 years of Cherokee history. Its numerous exhibits take visitors from the early tribes to the Cherokee people today.
While in Cherokee, you must spend an afternoon at this museum and learn about the rich culture of those who call the area home.
Oconaluftee Island Park
Visits to Cherokee in the spring or summer are not complete without some time splashing at Oconaluftee Island Park.
The natural play area right near downtown comprises a slow river, grassy island, and picnic. Take the kids out for some family fun!
Oconaluftee Indian Village
Live and breathe Cherokee history when you step into the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The Village is a reconstruction of an 18th-century Cherokee community complete with cabins, ritual sites, and villagers working on various tasks, from weaving baskets to creating pottery.
Walk around the site and nearby Oconaluftee River and soak in the simplicity of Cherokee life.
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
Address: 645 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is an art gallery and shop dedicated to the celebration and preservation of Cherokee artistry and craftsmanship.
Qualla Arts & Crafts is made up of over 350 Cherokee artists who create and sell everything from carvings, to hand-woven baskets, and jewelry. If you’re an art lover or looking for gifts to take back with you, Qualla is the place to visit!
Sequoyah National Golf Club
Address: 79 Cahon’s Mt Rd, Whittier, NC
Sequoyah National Golf Club in Cherokee is surrounded by beautiful oak and fir forests. Visitors can play a round (or two!) of golf and soak in the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
Shops in Cherokee
There are tons of souvenir shops in Cherokee, packed with things for you to take home. Shops line US 441 in Cherokee and if you’re looking for a quick gift or lengthy shopping excursion, this is the place for you.
Eat at These Restaurants in Cherokee
If you’re wondering about where to eat in Cherokee, here are a few of our favorite places to grab food:
- Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort: For some of the best dining options in Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is once again the one-stop shop for a variety of cuisines. Harrah’s has top-rated restaurants such as Guy Fieri’s Cherokee Kitchen + Bar, Gordon Ramsay’s, and the yummy Northern Italian restaurant Brio.
- Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles (1384 Tsali Blvd) is the place to go for the best breakfast in Cherokee.
- Paul’s Family Restaurant (1111 Tsali Blvd) is great for a meal at any time of the day.
- Wize Guyz Grille (68 Big Cove Rd #8) has great pizzas, wings, and plenty of outdoor seating.
Drink Craft Beer in Cherokee
You can enjoy NC craft beer at many Cherokee restaurants, but these two have taprooms worth checking out:
- Native Brews Tap & Grill (1897 Tsali Blvd): Native Brews brings together craft beer and tasty food. There is plenty of seating inside and outside, but we still suggest you arrive in advance of the time that you want to grab a table. This place gets busy!
- Wicked Weed at Harrah’s: I know Wicked Weed is technically an Asheville brewery, but their taproom inside Harrah’s is a nice spot. You can sample any of their yummy beers and/or sours.
The Best Things to Do in Cherokee, North Carolina (Our Top 5)
We made some tough decisions when picking the most fun things to do in Cherokee NC. Nevertheless, here’s what we think are the best of the best:
- Mingo Falls
- Soco Falls
- Mingus Mill
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Read More: The Best of NC 2022 Award Winners
Ready for These Cherokee NC Things to Do?
We love spending time in the Smoky Mountains and revisiting our favorite things to do in Cherokee, North Carolina.
This is the perfect escape for everyone, including couples, families, and outdoor lovers. We hope you’re able to enjoy it really soon and when you do, we want to hear about it!
Have you ever visited this awesome part of the state? What are your places to go in the area? If you haven’t been yet, we’d love to know what you’re doing first.
Things to Do Near Cherokee NC
We mentioned earlier that Cherokee was within a day trip from quite a few mountain towns. Here are the closest neighbors and things to do near Cherokee.
Bryson City is definitely one of our favorite Cherokee neighbors!
Read more: Fun Things to do in Bryson City, NC
Sylva is one of the most interesting and quaint NC mountain towns you’ll find. It’s bustling with incredible restaurants, breweries, local shops, and an iconic former courthouse (now a library) on a hill.
Fly fishing is a popular thing to do in Sylva. In fact, the town is home to the only fly fishing trail in the United States.
One of our absolute favorite North Carolina mountain towns is Maggie Valley.
Sip on creekside beers at BearWaters Brewing, dance at Stompin’ Ground, and zoom through the iconic Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum. Downtown, you’ll find vintage motels, lots of motorcyclists, and the best pancakes of your life at Joey’s Pancake House!
Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends (or begins, depending on which way you look at it) near Cherokee. Milepost 469, the final stop on the Parkway, ends near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, a spot known for elk sightings. There are a number of popular stops along the Parkway near Cherokee.
- Waterrock Knob Trail (MP 451): This spot is known for its majestic sunsets, visible even from the parking lot. For the best views, climb the 0.6-mile trail and gain 412 feet in elevation to reach the top of the summit.
Read more: Our Favorite Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
- Richland Balsam Overlook (MP 431.4): Reaching 6,047 feet, this is the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hike the summit of the overlook via the 1.5-mile loop.
- Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422.4): Devil’s Courthouse comprises a short trail that takes you up to a rock overlook reaching 5,720 feet. The ominous name comes from the legend that the devil holds his court in one of the caves in the mountain. The real drawing point is the cool flora and stunning views.
More Cherokee NC Things to Do (Travel Guides)
We’ve mentioned things to do in Cherokee and covered them in more detail in these NC travel guides.