Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Cherokee, NC

  • Published 2022/05/28

An exotic and quaint location in western North Carolina, Cherokee is a gem worth discovering.

Bursting with rich culture and history, the town has preserved the Cherokee lifestyle for ages.

Apart from its fascinating historical sites, Cherokee boasts countless attractions and activities that will make you fall in love with this charming destination.

It’s a place to explore beautiful waterfalls, float on scenic rivers, embark on horseback riding adventures, and plenty more.

Ready to start planning your visit to this remarkable town?

Here are the best things to do in Cherokee, North Carolina:

Learn from the Locals at Oconaluftee Indian Village

Landscape of Oconaluftee village

I, Brian Stansberry, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stepping into the Oconaluftee Indian Village is like going back in time.

This village allows visitors to experience what it was like to live in the 1700s.

You may take a walking tour throughout the village and enjoy its culture, heritage, history, rituals, and works.

Interact with the villagers and learn about their lifestyle.

Information board at Oconaluftee Indian Village

Nigel Hill /

In the village, you can also enjoy various cultural songs, dances, and plays.

Go behind the scenes and watch local artisans sculpt pottery, make beaded jewelry, weave baskets, and more.

You may also purchase these handmade items.

At night, enjoy a bonfire under the starry sky and listen to the Cherokee storytellers share tales of the tribe’s legacy, legends, and mysteries.

Hunting traps at Oconaluftee Indian Village

Nigel Hill /

Gaze at the Stunning Mingo Falls

Gorgeous Mingo Falls in Cherokee

Jill Lang /

Mingo Falls is the tallest and one of the most impressive waterfalls in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

You may avail of car services that drive you around half a mile along Big Cove Road, which leads to the Mingo Falls campgrounds.

Bottom part of Mingo Falls

Michael Shake /

The walk to the falls’ viewpoint is absolutely scenic.

In the morning, you may experience a light fog that adds to the falls’ magical and mysterious vibe.

There are designated areas where you can set up a picnic, so you may want to pack a lunch or some snacks.

Wooden stairs trail leading to Mingo Falls

Sharkshock /

Seek Adventure in the Blue Ridge Parkway

Mountain views from Blue Ridge Parkway

Gene from Aiken, SC, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A visit to Cherokee is never complete without having some fun at the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The National Park Service has beautifully preserved this piece of land off the highway that starts in Virginia and ends in Cherokee.

Hiking is an excellent option in this parkway, as there are a lot of trails suitable for hiking and mountain biking.

The exciting part is that most people don’t even know about them.

Scenic sunset at Blue Ridge Parkway

Dave Allen Photography /

Who knows?

You might even come across a hidden gem.

Bring your fishing rods here, for there are a lot of natural water bodies.

The parkway is also known to have some of the most mesmerizing waterfalls that freeze during the winter.

It’s a beautiful place to visit all year round.

Go Horseback Riding at Smokemont Riding Stables

When you are in Cherokee, it’s an absolute must to visit the Smokemont Riding stables and enjoy some fantastic horseback riding.

This place offers a variety of horses to ride within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Enjoy some breathtaking nature scenes while riding your horse.

You’ll also ride along the banks of the Oconaluftee River.

You can also opt for a peaceful wagon tour through the forest.

Go Back in Time at the Mountain Farm Museum

Wooden house at Mountain Farm Museum

Andrew Tuttle /

The Cherokee town is a prime place for a family vacation.

When you are here with your family, do not forget to take your kids to the Mountain Farm Museum.

The museum comprises preserved log buildings that include old barns, a spring house, a smokehouse, and an apple house—most of which date back over 100 years.

Moreover, the museum showcases over 13,000 years of the Cherokee people’s history, culture, and heritage.

Corn Sheller at Mountain Farm Museum

Jen Wolf /

There is also a digitally generated graphical demonstration of the tribe’s timeline.

Your kids can also enjoy pop-up books and graphically designed illustrations.

At the Mountain Farm Museum, you can also learn about what the farming processes looked like around 100 years ago.

Workshops are also available for visitors to attend.

Heirloom apple trees at Mountain Farm Museum

romarti /

Dig for Treasure in the Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine

Imagine having your very own mine where you can search for and collect gems and bring them home.

Does this sound like something you’d enjoy?

Cherokee has just the place for you to experience this.

The Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine allows visitors to find and chisel out their gems while being guided by professional miners.

Children can have an hour of exciting adventure here while finding gemstones and playing their favorite pirate games.

Not sure how to differentiate real gems from fakes?

The mine’s in-house professionals will be there to help you identify and polish your gems.

You can also have your gemstone set and take home a beautiful new piece of jewelry.

Watch Cherokee’s Famous Outdoor Historical Drama on a Starry Night

"Unto These Hills" performance at Mountainside Theatre

Jan Kronsell, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unto These Hills is quite an important drama to the people of Cherokee.

It was first performed in 1950 and has been going on since then.

Interpreting the history and lives of the people of Cherokee, this play has won a lot of hearts over the years.

Daytime performance of "Unto these Hills" at Mountainside Theatre

Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The drama is performed under the glazing stars at the Mountainside Theatre.

Unto These Hills features action, violence, bitter disappointments, and broken agreements.

While watching, you’ll learn a lot about the triumphs, tribulations, and hardships in Cherokee history.

This family-friendly production will keep you at the edge of your seats from start to finish.

Sit Back and Relax by the Oconaluftee River

The waters of Ocanaluftee River

JenelleRodriguez /

When in Cherokee, take the opportunity to relax and float around in the Oconaluftee River.

You can swim in the natural pools, too.

Downstream at Oconaluftee River

BJ Ray /

These tranquil elements are accompanied by scenic landscapes that border the river.

Want to do something more adventurous?

You can go kayaking, canoeing, or river tubing along the river.

Fishing derby at Oconaluftee River

Dee Browning /

Take the Kids to Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo

Cherokee is an excellent place to visit with your family.

Wondering where you can take the kids for a fun day out?

Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo is the perfect place to have some family fun.

There’s something for everyone at this park, which boasts enough attractions to keep every member of the family busy for a full day.

You can play a round of mini-golf or enjoy your favorite arcade games.

The park is open seasonally, so you’ll have to schedule your trip between May and October if you plan to visit.

As its name suggests, Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo has a fun Christmas vibe no matter what time of year it is.

Try Your Luck at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

Exterior of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Jared, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort may be known for its casino, but it also comprises various shops and restaurants.

Apart from the wide range of games offered at the casino, the resort’s guests can also enjoy live music and karaoke.

It’s a great place to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The resort guarantees a comfortable stay with tour and guide services.

Guests can take advantage of amenities that include a spa, gym, and swimming pool facilities.

Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stream at Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Danita Delimont /

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of Cherokee’s major tourist attractions.

The park lets you enjoy some of the most magnificent nature scenes, featuring deep green woods and moss-covered creeks.

Fall trees surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Teri Virbickis /

You can find an incredible variety of plants and wildlife throughout the park.

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors are welcome to go hiking along the trails, picnicking at designated areas, or floating in the rivers.

You can also opt for a scenic drive through the park and enjoy the true colors of nature.

Tom Branch Falls at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Photosbyjam /

Visit the Museum of Cherokee Indian

Name sign of Museum of Cherokee Indian

ehrlif /

Want to learn more about the culture of the native Cherokee people?

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the best places to do that.

Learn as much as you can about the Cherokee Indians through the museum’s various displays, including holographs and photographs of the native people.

Museum of Cherokee Indian's totem pole

ehrlif /

You can also watch several presentations, as there are plenty of short films on the origin and lifestyle of the Cherokee Indians.

This museum usually attracts a lot of crowds throughout the year and is one of the town’s major attractions.

Building sign of Museum of Cherokee Indian

Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy Oconaluftee Islands Park

Bamboo forest trail at Oconaluftee Islands Park

Wildnerdpix /

Oconaluftee Islands Park is one of the best places to spend the day in Cherokee.

Looking for something cool to do on a hot afternoon?

This is the place to go.

There are many things to do here, like have a picnic, play sports, or explore the area.

Oconaluftee Islands Park’s main attraction is the special bamboo garden where people enjoy going around and taking pictures.

You can also find a river here, which can be used for swimming purposes.

Visitors may also go fishing, tubing, or fishing here.

Go Hiking along the Scenic Oconaluftee River Trail

Waters of Ocanaluftee river trail

Jordan Kercheff /

Are you looking for a hiking trail that will take you through gorgeous natural sights?

Centered around a river, the Oconaluftee River Trail is one of the best trails in Cherokee.

Map sign of Oconaluftee River Trail

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 5-kilometer trail offers some of the best views in Cherokee.

All hikers, whether beginners or experts, are welcome here.

Pets are permitted here, too!

Blooming trees along Oconaluftee River Trail

Paul A Smith /

Stop by the Qualla Boundary

Thirty-mile-long ancient streams run across the Cherokee area marked by the Qualla Boundary.

In the Qualla Boundary, the Cherokee have fished the same streams for centuries.

About 40 stores that sell fishing permits may be found along the stream’s banks.

An easy-to-acquire permit at the border makes it possible for you to fish on a relaxing day.

You may also participate in high-stakes tournaments to win prizes during select seasons.

Unleash Your Creativity at Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual

Exterior of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual

Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A Native American cooperative, Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual Inc. Qualla Arts and Crafts is home to well-regarded Native American artworks.

Some of these even date back 10,000 years or more in some cases.

Pottery, basketry, bead-and-silversmithing, and other handicrafts are among these.

When it’s wet or freezing, why not check out the Cherokee people’s traditional crafts?

Don’t forget to help the museum’s efforts to preserve the ancient artifacts on display by purchasing a souvenir.

Ride the Rapids at Cherokee Rapids River Tubing

Floating down the Oconaluftee River and swimming in the natural pools along the way is an essential part of any trip to Cherokee.

This is a terrific way to spend a few hours with the family, but children must be at least five years old.

As you float down a 2-mile stretch of river, take in the stunning scenery surrounding it and experience mild grade I or II rapids.

You may leave your car at the Little Princess Restaurant and be picked up by the Cherokee Rapids crew, who will outfit you with a lifejacket and tube and take you upstream.

You may take as much time and rest or swim whenever you choose to return downstream.

Get Up Close with Wild Animals at Cherokee Bear Zoo and Exotic Animals

This North Carolina zoo may be a little specialized, but that makes it more enjoyable for its intended audience.

From grizzly bears to black bears, the area is home to many beautiful creatures.

Watch them play, eat, and go about their everyday routines.

In addition to bears, this zoo is home to various other creatures.

Lemurs and tigers are two of the other animals you might see while on safari.

You may get up close and personal with the animals in a safe and fun environment.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend a Lazy Morning Fishing at Fontana Lake

The waters of Fontana Lake

Upstateherd, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to go on a scenic day trip outside Cherokee?

Venture off to the beautiful Fontana Lake, which is a 45-minute drive outside the town.

Perfect for a relaxing nature retreat, the lake is ideal for a lot of outdoor recreational activities.

Kayaking on Fontana Lake

Alisha Bube /

You can go fishing, swimming, or boating here.

If you happen to visit during the winter, you can even go skiing.

The sunsets at Fontana Lake are breathtaking.

Embark on a sunset cruise and fall in love with some of the most beautiful views you’ll see on your trip.

Swing Your Clubs at Sequoyah National Golf Club

Landscape of Sequoyah National Golf Club

Rob Matey /

This golf course is located in Whittier, just seven minutes south of Cherokee.

Every hole at Sequoyah National Golf Club offers stunning views, lovely scenery, and a fun mountain golfing adventure.

If you’re done playing, you may also catch local tournaments here.

After a fun-filled day in the mountains, try your hand at golf at Sequoyah National Golf Club.

If you’re in the mood for fast food, they provide snacks, lunch meals, and nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages.

Final Thoughts

When you visit this community, treat yourself to the 13,000-year-old natural vistas that the Cherokee people have enjoyed for so long.

When you visit the tribe’s ancestral territories, you can expect to encounter indigenous peoples, learn about their creative traditions, see historical monuments, and see a world-class recreation of their hardships.

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