Nestled close to the Appalachian hiking trail and Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee is a charming, old-fashioned city in North Carolina with friendly locals, breathtaking views, and lots of restaurants and shops to go to.
If you’ve never been to Cherokee, now’s the best time to visit. There are lots of amazing things to see and do here, so you’ll want to get the most out of your trip.
Whether you’re packing light for a day’s trip to the city, going away for a golf or fishing weekend, or bringing your entire family for a fun and adventure-filled vacation, here are some of the best things to do in this quaint town.
Go Back in Time
At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, you can get a feel for what life looked like in Cherokee in the 1760s. Walk through this living history interactive village in which you can check out the Cherokee Indian crafts and sacred ritual areas. Watch the different cultural dances and engage with villagers while they hull canoes, weave baskets, sculpt pottery, and make beaded jewelry.
Children are wowed by the blowgun shows and love watching the village prepare for war. Take home handmade items like souvenirs, and wait for the night bonfire, where Cherokee storytellers recount the tale of the legends and myths of the tribe.
Learn about Cherokee’s History
While there are lots of venues to learn about Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the best. Its goal is to carry on the history, stories, and culture of Cherokee Indians, through a series of displays that contain artwork, artifacts, photographs, animation, music, video, and life-size figures.
Cultural specialists known as Cherokee Friends are usually close by to answer your questions and explain Cherokee traditions to greatly enrich your experience. You can find the Cherokee Friends outside during sunny days or in the lobby.
Lie Back and Loosen Up
If you’re the sort that wants to take it easy on holiday, then you’re in for a treat with Cherokee. At Mandara Spa within Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, you can enjoy wholesome pampering and relaxation. Enjoy a whole menu of body and face treatments that’ll revitalize you physically and emotionally.
For a much slower pace, relax on the deck of one of the city’s great cottage or cabin rentals, gape at the mountains while you have your breakfast, watch birds fly around in the afternoon, and marvel at the glittering stars at night.
Gamble at the Casino
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is arguably one of the biggest attractions in Cherokee. The casino measures 150,000 square feet and features games like roulette, blackjack, craps, and slots, as well as 10 restaurants and 8 retail shops.
No matter your taste, you’ll always find something yummy to eat at places like Chef’s Stage Buffet and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse—where chefs make their specials at interactive cooking areas.
The Grand Rotunda is an incredibly grandiose property, with a 140-foot TV screen, two giant waterfalls, and even a small stream for you to fish. If you wish to stay on for a few nights, the hotel on the property offers 4-star rooms that contain modern furniture, 42-inch plasma TVs, and large bathrooms.
The hotel is friendly to pets and also boasts an arcade, exercise room, outdoor and indoor pools with cabanas, as well as a full-service spa specializing in Balinese-inspired treatments that have a touch of Native American way of life.
Explore Mingo Falls
This amazing 200-foot waterfall is ideal for family photos. Located around 15 minutes outside of the city, on Cherokee Indian Reservation, Mingo Falls is an eye-catching hidden treasure tucked deep inside the Great Smoky Mountains.
You might encounter a slight fog in the morning that enhances the area’s mystique and magical feeling. Bring all the necessary ingredients for a barbecue, or have a picnic nearby.
Watch an Enticing Outdoor Drama
Unto These Hills is one of the must-see attractions in Cherokee. Since its inception in 1950, this outdoor drama has played host to more than 6 million souls, narrating the story of Cherokee Indians from the 1780s all the way to the present.
The show takes place outdoors at night at the recently-refurbished Mountainside Theatre, between June and August, every night bar Sunday. So settle in under a cozy blanket and learn about the courage and brilliance of the Cherokee community through a production that’ll intrigue you with its action, drama, and stunning imagery.
Go Horseback Riding
Equestrians will be pleased to know that Smokemont Riding Stables provide many different horseback rides within the amazing Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Smokemont Riding Stables have a range of friendly, well-trained horses to suit every level of riding ability. What’s more, even newbies will find themselves saddled up and ready to ride.
Most of the horseback trail rides lead you through picturesque scenery along the Oconaluftee River banks, and take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Kids must be over age 5 to ride, but you can opt for a peaceful wagon ride if you have younger children.
Discover Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo
Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo has been wowing generations since its inauguration in 1966. The beautiful park is seasonal, meaning that you have to plan your trip for some time in mid May to late October.
Adults and kids can hitch a ride on Rudicoaster’s Santa sleigh, ride the mini train, and meet up with Santa in his own mountain hideout. There’s a petting zoo in which you can gaze at various exotic animals from all over the world and kids will especially feel lucky to be a part the magic spectacle.
Explore the Smokies
With moss-covered creeks and deep green woods, Great Smoky Mountains National Park absolutely stands out. There are also remarkably diverse animals and plants throughout these old mountains.
Inside, the park features expansive hiking trails, both difficult and easy. There also displays and picnic spots, as well as rivers and streams to float on. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a fabulous spot to hike on a day trip or for several days.
Take Home a Handicraft
You shouldn’t leave Cherokee without taking something with which to remember your visit, and there’s no better way to do that than to get it from Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, Inc—the biggest home for genuine Cherokee arts and crafts.
As America’s oldest and most important cooperative for Native American arts, Qualla is an absolute treasure trove of gorgeous items, including jewelry, hand-woven baskets, hand-sculpted pottery and jars, as well as hand-carved wooden masks.
Cherokee Rapids Tube Rental
No trip to Cherokee is complete without spending some time floating down the magnificent Oconaluftee River as well as swimming in the pools along the river.
This fun family activity (kids must be over age 5) is a brilliant way to spend several hours admiring the gorgeous landscape along the river while you float over calm grade 1 and 2 rapids along a short section of the river.
The rapids are enjoyable rather than scary, so be sure to hold on tight. Bring your sunscreen, hat, snacks, and water bottles for a great time on the water.
Cherokee is a city with plenty of outdoor adventure and rich history. It’s got plenty to keep you and your family busy and entertained. Make your visit to Cherokee, North Carolina a truly unforgettable experience!
Haron Omaita is a freelance writer from Nakuru, Kenya, who specializes in ghostwriting, guest blogging, copywriting, proofreading, and editing. As a keen traveler and whole foods aficionado, he also contributes insightful travel and tourism articles to Better Wander. He’s mad about road trips, soccer, and reading.