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Nestled close to the Appalachian hiking trail and Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee North Carolina 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.
Best Things to Do In Cherokee NC
Without further delay, these are the absolute best things to do in Cherokee, NC on your next visit:
Go Back in Time: Visit an Authentic Indigenous Village
At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, you can get a feel for what life looked like in Cherokee Nation 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: Museum
While there are lots of venues to learn about Cherokee people in Cherokee, Museum of the Cherokee Indian is one of the best.
Its goal is to carry on the history, stories, and Cherokee culture, 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: Visit Mandara Spa
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: Harrahs Cherokee Casino Resort
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is arguably one of the biggest attractions in Cherokee (and Western North Carolina). 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.
This North Carolina 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: Mountainside Theater
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 people from the 1780s all the way to the present.
The show takes place outdoors at night at the recently-refurbished Mountainside Theater, 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: Smokemont Riding Stables
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 the scenic Smoky Mountain terrain. 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 (bear zoo, etc…) from all over the world and kids will especially feel lucky to be a part the magic spectacle.
Explore the Smokies: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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 this venerable Smoky Mountain range.
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 (namely the Cherokee Valley River). Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a fabulous spot to hike on a day trip or for several days.
Take Home a Handicraft: Qualla Arts & Crafts
You shouldn’t leave Cherokee NC 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 NC 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.
Location: 1681 Acquoni Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719
Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine
A great adventure, particularly for families with middle school aged kids.
The Smoky Mountain Gold & Ruby Mine provides hours of gem seeking entertainment (yes, you can “mine” your own). After collecting onsite, gems and stones can be identified afterwards & taken home, providing an educational experience for young minds (and probably some older ones, too).
You can even have these gems set onsite into jewelry to be worn as a fashionable keepsake.
Location: 971 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719
Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill
This historic farm and mill museum is located within Smoky Mountain National Park, making it an excellent combination visit and an inexpensive excursion. Also another complimentary trip in tandem with the Oconaluftee Indian Village site.
Visit the historic log buildings, including the Smokehouse, Barn, Applehouse, Springhouse, and authentic period house. All of the structures are made of rare American Chestnut, all close to extinguished in 1930s, and 1940s North Carolina blights.
Check out the historic agricultural practices and livestock for a live look at this place as it was in the history of the Cherokee people. Best of all, this museum can be combined with short 1.5 – 2.5 mile hikes / walks (I recommend the Oconaluftee River Trail) which is an easy amble through nature (and stroller accessible!).
Location: Mountain Farm Museum, Cherokee, NC 28719
Have Fun in Cherokee NC!
Cherokee is a city with plenty of outdoor adventure nestled in the Smoky Mountain range and rich North Carolina 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!
Further Reading on Nearby & Related Destinations: