20 Things To Do In Cherokee

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Cherokee, North Carolina, is a town within the Qualla Boundary Land Trust. This town is the capital of the sovereign nation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee that lives in Western North Carolina. This area’s natural resources, culture and history are unique and incomparable to anywhere else in North Carolina.

Cherokee has become a popular vacation destination, particularly for those interested in Native American culture. The vast amount of outdoor recreation also appeals to adventurers and families. Tourism comprises an important part of Cherokee’s economy. Cherokee is also known for hosting special events throughout each year that display the culture and arts of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee, North Carolina

Top 3 Tours

20 Things To Do In Cherokee

1- Go Fishing For trout

things to do in cherokee nc area Overhead view of three wild trout with fishing fly reel, landing net and assorted flies on wet river bed stones.
Going fishing is one of the fun things to do in Cherokee.

Cherokee is one of the region’s best places to go trout fishing.

The Cherokee Nation operates a fish hatchery that is used to stock four different trout species in 30 miles (48 km) of streams.

Brook, rainbow, brown and golden trout are distributed throughout the freestone streams that wind through the forest, along the roads and through town.

Trout season is open all year and the streams are well-stocked with fish.

Many stores in Cherokee sell fishing permits and all of the gear necessary for a successful fishing trip.

There are two types of stream sections within Cherokee, catch-and-keep or catch-and-release.

Catch-and-keep sections of streams are open all year except the two weeks before opening day in March.

Catch-and-release streams are open year-round and do not allow anglers to keep the trout they catch.

Rules are strictly enforced, so be aware of where you are fishing.

2- Visit Mingo Falls

free things to do in cherokee nc waterfall and greenery
Visiting Mingo Falls is one of the top things to do in Cherokee for nature lovers.

Mingo Falls, near Cherokee, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains.

Just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this popular spot attracts many visitors throughout the year.

Mingo Falls is about 120 feet high (36 m).

The spectacular force of the falls is awe-inspiring, especially after it rains, and the short hike to the waterfall can be challenging.

You need to walk down a steep set of 161 steps to get to the waterfall’s base and the viewing platform.

The steps can be slippery right after it rains or treacherous during the winter when they might be icy, so care should be taken when climbing.

The climb down and back up the steps can be tiring, but the effort is worth it.

Mingo Falls is at Eastern Cherokee Reservation, Cherokee, NC 28719.

3- Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

things to do in cherokee nc in january
Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the things to do near Cherokee.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a part of the Appalachian Mountains that spreads along the Tennessee and North Carolina border.

One of the entrances to this national park is right next to Cherokee.

These mountains contain the largest stand of old-growth forest east of the Mississippi River.

Millions of people travel to the Smoky Mountains each year because of its abundant natural resources, fascinating history and the Southern Appalachian culture unique to this area.

Hiking, biking, horseback riding and fishing are popular activities in the park or driving through the park to view the beautiful landscape, especially during the fall.

Several historical sites within the park have been preserved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Download this self-guided driving tour and use your smartphone to guide you. 

Join this five-hour guided tour led by an expert guide to fully explore waterfalls, streams, and forests and uncover hidden trails, graveyards and buildings. 

4- Drive The Blue Ridge Parkway

things to do in cherokee nc in october
Taking a drive and enjoying stunning views of the Smoky Mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the top things to do in Cherokee.

Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular National Parkway that winds through Virginia and North Carolina for nearly 500 miles (804 km), connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

The southern end of the parkway is at the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Nation.

Once on the parkway, you’ll see beautiful vistas as you drive or pull into overlooks along the road and there are many places to park, picnic and hike along marked trails.

Several historical and cultural sites can also be found along the road for visitors who want a closer look at the region’s history. Download this self-guided audio tour to your phone

5- Visit the Historic Oconaluftee Indian Village

cherokee american indian woman headress
Looking for things to do in Cherokee? The city has unique cultural attractions and plenty of nature to enjoy.

Oconaluftee Indian Village is a living museum where you’ll immediately feel you have been transported back to the 1700s.

Cherokee guides take visitors on an interactive tour to better understand how the Cherokee people lived.

A recreated village is full of life as people go about their daily activities cooking, weaving baskets, doing beadwork, crafting canoes and moulding pottery and masks.

Watch reenactments of war preparations and demonstrations on using weapons like a blowgun.

Rituals that involve dancing and ceremonial activities can be seen at this historic village, which is open from April through October.

Oconaluftee Indian Village is at 288 Drama Road, Cherokee, NC.

6- Check out the Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian contains a beautifully curated story about the 11,000-year history of the Cherokee Nation.

As you wander through the museum, you can interact with the history and culture of the Cherokee through videos and displays.

A variety of exhibits will give you the sense that you can feel the heart of the Cherokee Nation.

Their history is not peaceful, so be prepared for a moving story that encompasses the struggle to survive, the heartbreak of the people and their tremendous effort to overcome adversity.

The museum welcomes visitors year-round except for major holidays. Entry for children under five is free, ages 6 to 12 are $7, and adults are $12. Skip the line and pre-book your tickets here

Museum of the Cherokee Indian is at 589 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC.

7- See Artisanal Crafts at Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. is a showroom and an art gallery that displays various artisanal crafts created by more than 350 Cherokee artists who are members of this art collective.

The types of art showcased in the gallery include baskets, masks and pottery.

Each piece of artwork comes with a story of who the artist is.

Visitors can purchase art displayed in the showroom. Admission is free and opens every day except on major holidays.

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is at 645 Tsali Blvd., Cherokee, NC.

8- Enjoy An Outdoor Drama

Cherokee is home to an outdoor amphitheatre that seats 2,100 people, the Mountainside Theatre.

Since 1950, millions of visitors to Cherokee have gathered in this theatre to watch the outdoor drama “Unto These Hills.”

This production tells the story of the Cherokee Nation’s struggle to survive incredible adversity and persecution.

The performance offers visitors a glimpse of the history of the Cherokee Nation from 1780 through the 21st Century.

Significant historical events and heartbreaking stories are reenacted for patrons so they can feel as though they are witnessing these events for themselves.

The theatre is open every day except Sunday during the summer season. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for kids ages 6 to 12. Children aged five and under are free.

Mountainside Theatre is at 688 Drama Road, Cherokee, NC

9- Play Golf At Sequoyah National Golf Club

top things to do in cherokee nc Golf club and ball. Preparing to shot.
Playing golf is another thing to do in Cherokee.

Golfers visiting Cherokee should check out the Sequoyah National Golf Club, a public championship course providing an 18-hole mountain golf experience.

Robert Trent Jones II designed this course to incorporate sweeping mountain views of the Great Smoky Mountains on every hole.

This challenging par-72 course offers year-round golfing in this historic area.

Visitors to the golf club can also enjoy food and drinks in the restaurant overlooking the golf course.

In addition to the golf course, this club also has a driving range, practice putting green and practice chipping area.

A golf shop on the premises sells golf gear and clothing. Call ahead to schedule a tee time.

Sequoyah National Golf Club is at 79 Cahons Road, Whittier, NC

10- Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

things to do in cherokee, nc Female holding playing cards, playing poker at green table.
Haging a flutter is one of the fun things to do in Cherokee.

The Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is a luxury, four-star hotel and casino with blackjack, roulette, craps and poker at one of more than 160 tabletop game tables.

More than 3,000 different slots can also be found here.

Sportsbook betting is available and you can watch the sporting events on 90-foot screens in fan caves.

The event centre at the resort seats 3,000 and frequently hosts concerts by popular singers and musicians.

A spa, restaurants, shops, and two pools offer more fun and relaxing options for people during their stay.

This kid-friendly and pet-friendly resort provide visitors with a beautiful, luxurious place to sleep while exploring Cherokee and the surrounding area.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is at 777 Casino Dr, Cherokee, NC 28719.

11- Go Birdwatching

things to do in cherokee nc
Birdwatching is one of the things to do in Cherokee. Pictured here is a rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).

Birdwatching in Cherokee offers visitors to the area a way to enjoy nature and see amazing birds.

Many songbird species, resident and migratory, can be found in the mountains around Cherokee.

In summer, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Pine Siskin, Indigo Bunting and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flit throughout the forest and forest borders.

Kingfishers and other water birds fish in streams and rivers.

The National Park Service offers birders a checklist to help keep track of bird sightings while hiking.

Top trails for birders in the Cherokee area include the Nunadyeli Trail, Kituwah Mound Trail, Gentry Creek Falls, Backbone Falls Trail and Rich Knob.

12- Enjoy Stunning Views From The Fire Mountain Trails 

Fire Mountain Trails is a multi-use trail system that runs through Cherokee used by mountain bikers, runners and hikers. Dogs must be leashed.

Mountain bikers can enjoy 10.5 miles (17 km) of trails that range from beginner to advanced.

Some trails have been designed with berms and smooth tracks, adding to the excellent biking experience.

The trails are challenging, but the scenic views make it worthwhile.

The trailhead is near the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and the hikers and mountain bikers that access the trail can use the Village parking lot.

Fire Mountain Trails are free to access and open year-round.

The trailhead at Oconaluftee Indian Village is at 288 Drama Road, Cherokee, NC.

13- Listen To Stories At A Cherokee Bonfire

best things to do in cherokee nc Cropped shot of a group sitting around a bonfire on the beach at night.
Listening to amazing tales around a bonfire is one of the best things to do in Cherokee to learn more about local culture.

A Cherokee Bonfire is where storytellers gather people around a large fire in the evenings from 7 to 9 PM during the summer and tell stories.

Some Cherokee storytellers share stories, histories and legends, while others share the survival skills and tools once used by the Cherokee in their daily lives.

Some storytellers share stories combined with music, drums, and dance and the cultural traditions passed down from generation to generation.

The bonfire is open to everyone, admission is free, and you can sit on the benches around the fire or bring a blanket and relax on the ground.

Cherokee Bonfire – Intersection of 441 and Hwy 19 on Oconaluftee Island Park, Cherokee, NC

14- Go Horseback Riding in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

fun things to do in cherokee nc
A young bull elk (Cervus canadensis) in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Looking for wildlife is one of the things to do around Cherokee.

Smokemont Riding Stables in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers people an excellent way to explore Cherokee.

Horseback riding tours can be short, one-hour rides or day-long excursions to see waterfalls and other points of interest.

Smokemont also offers wagon rides through the countryside for those who prefer not to ride horses.

The horses are friendly and even-tempered, and riders can be sure they will find a mount that will fit their needs.

The guides take visitors on tours from March through November.

Horseback riders must be aged five and above, but wagon rides are available for all ages.

Smokemont Riding Stables is at 135 Smokemont Riding Stable Road, Cherokee, NC.

15- Go Tubing On The Oconaluftee River

Tubing on the Oconaluftee River is an exciting adventure where you drift along with the current on this beautiful, clear river while soaking in the sun and scenery.

The river has both class 1 and class 2 rapids, perfect for a bit of excitement.

Cherokee Rapids Tube and Kayak Rentals is open and available every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day as long as river conditions are safe.

This company is the only one with direct access to the Oconaluftee River but the nearby Tuckasegee River also provides excellent tubing opportunities.

Stop in at the Cherokee Visitor Center launch spots suggestions.

Cherokee Rapids Tube and Kayak Rentals is at 1681 Acquoni Rd., Cherokee, NC.

16- Visit The Mountain Farm Museum

Next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, just outside the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lies a group of historic log buildings collected from all over the national park area.

These buildings of the Mountain Farm Museum were built in the late 1800s and include a farmhouse, barn, springhouse, smokehouse, apple house and a blacksmith shop.

A short walk from the museum, an old grist mill built in the late 1800s called Mingus Mill still stands in its original location.

Cornmeal and other items are sold at the mill, and you can see demonstrations of the process from March through November.

Visitors to this site learn about how families once lived, how they gardened and the agricultural practices they used to grow enough food to survive.

Mountain Farm Museum – 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC.

17- Pan For Gold At Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine

Stop by the Gold and Ruby Mine and try your luck panning for gemstones and gold.

This family-friendly experience is a little different from many other Cherokee attractions.

For a fee, you can use the shop’s equipment to sift through dirt and mud to find gems and gold.

Unfortunately, not everyone’s experience “pans out” when searching for precious stones.

However, those lucky enough to find a gemstone can get it polished and cut at the store, then placed in a jewellery setting.

Employees are on hand to help with the proper panning technique and identifying the gemstones found.

This shop is open every day from March to November.

Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine is at 957 US Hwy. 441 North, Cherokee, NC.

18- Visit Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo

Santa’s Land is a family-friendly theme park based on Santa Claus.

Kids can visit Santa Claus year-round at his mountain home and receive proof of their good behaviour.

Part of this park features a zoo with various animals such as deer, bears, lemurs, monkeys, kangaroos and exotic birds.

Families enjoy watching the magic show where kids can volunteer to assist the magician.

Park rides include a roller coaster, carousel, Ferris wheel, train, and paddleboats.

An arcade, several restaurants, snack stands, and shops provide families with many things to do and places to eat.

This park operates between May and October, but visitors should check the website for specific days and times.

Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo is at 571 Wolfetown Rd., Cherokee, NC.

19- See The Animals At Cherokee Bear Zoo

Cherokee Bear Zoo is a small zoo devoted to caring for bears and other animals, such as tigers and lemurs.

This zoo houses black bears, which are native to the region, and grizzly bears.

Some of the black bears have the cinnamon fur colour variation, providing visitors with a glimpse of a subspecies of the black bear.

Watch the bears playing and eating in the enclosures.

This zoo is controversial because some think the bear enclosures are too small.

The zoo provides the opportunity to see bears up close and to pet and feed baby bears in the petting zoo.

Cherokee Bear Zoo is at 1204 Tsalagi Rd, Cherokee, NC.

20- Oconaluftee Islands Park

The Oconaluftee Islands Park is on the Oconaluftee River in a shallow and clear section, providing perfect spots to spread out a blanket, have a picnic and go wading in the cold water.

The slow current in this part of the river is an excellent place for children to play and splash around.

There are picnic tables, some shady areas, and plenty of space for people to spread out. Visitors can swim, go tubing, feed the ducks, and fish for trout in this park.

Amenities at the park include restrooms and parking. Paved walking trails in the park also provide plenty of places to sit and enjoy being outside. 

things to do in cherokee county nc
Enjoying nature and lovely scenery is one of the things to do near Cherokee. Here’s the Maggie Valley.
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Angie Grier is a spicy señora living in central Mexico with a penchant for freelance writing. Having spent most of her adult life writing as a scientist and then as a teacher, she now contributes articles on a wide variety of topics for print and online media. Originally from the US, she has lived in several different states on the US West and East coasts, the Gulf Coast, and the Upper Midwest. These days, when she’s not camping in the woods in a US national park or shopping in Tonalá or eating chilaquiles, she writes a travel blog detailing her life and adventures in Mexico at www.onaroadleadingsomewhere.com.