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20 Best Places To Go When Visiting Cherokee, North Carolina in 2023

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Cherokee is the capital of the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that is located in Western North Carolina that hosts a major entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. This reservation town is relatively small but hosts a large amount of tourists each year.


Harrah's Cherokee Resort & Casino reports that it welcomes 3.6 Million visitors each year. The casino has always been the dominating feature within the borders of Cherokee, and it is even more so now with all of the major expansions and additions made to the resort. It has added a huge parking garage as well as other entertainment features including restaurants, bowling alley, sportsbook, etc. As popular as the casino is for Cherokee, there are other activities that can be enjoyed by solo travelers and families alike.


Where to go and What to do in Cherokee, NC


1) Great Smoky Mountains National Park



There couldn't possibly be a list made of things to do/places to see in Cherokee without starting with The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a mountain range within the Appalachian Mountains that run primarily through the North Carolina and Tennessee state borders. It was established into the National Park Service in 1934 and due in part to no entrance fee among other factors, is the most visited national park in the United States. (As of March 1, 2023 a daily parking tag is required for entrance into the National Park. Per vehicle price are Daily-$5, Weekly-$15, Annual-$40. The annual National Park Passes do not provide a discount or exemption for the parking tag.)


As beautiful as a majority of the national parks are in the United States, The 'Smokies' have a special place in my heart. I was born near them, spent plenty of time visiting them in my childhood, they were my inaugural experience of traveling in adulthood, and are my peaceful place that I retreat to in between work and international travel.


This National Park can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Simply driving the roads and stopping at the numerous lookout points will provide any visitor with spectacular views on most days. One could also take advantage of the hiking trails, campsites, picnic spots, and creeks located throughout the park.



The Oconaluftee Entrance of the National Park is accessed directly from Cherokee and visitors can simply hop on US 441, which cuts directly through downtown, and drive into the National Park. Just after leaving town you can pull off to the right and make a stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.


2) Oconaluftee Visitor Center


This visitor center is the perfect place to start your journey into The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parking lot can get quite crowded during the busy points of the season, especially in the summer, so plan accordingly as it gets busier in the later morning. There are toilets and vending machines outside if needed. Once you go inside of the building there is a large model of the park to examine, a small museum with interesting exhibits about the history in the smokies, a gift shop, and a desk where you can pick up trail maps as well as speak to a park ranger about recommendations such as which trails to hike. I am personally a big fan of the small museum inside, it contains quite a bit of information for how small it is. Behind the Visitor Center is another point of interest to check out.


3) Mountain Farm Museum


This open air museum can be accessed by a dirt trail directly behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and is a collection of various buildings that were built in the 1800's such as a log farmhouse, springhouse, blacksmith shop, barn, and apple house. These buildings were moved to their current location in the middle of the 1900's and paint a picture of what life was like for people in the area at the time. This is a perfect spot to spend an hour or 2 at if you are visiting the National Park for at least 2 days.


4) Mingus Mill



This is another site that can combo with the two previous entries on this list if you are interested in local history. Mingus Mill trail is only a half-mile up the road from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The trail is low difficulty and takes you to the Mingus Mill which is a still working historic gristmill and was built in 1886. If you visit from March-November it will be open to explore a bit more and you could see a miller demonstrate the process of grinding corn into cornmeal. There are also a few trails that branch off in the area so you can turn it into a longer hiking day from this spot.


5) Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome mountain is the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 6,643ft above sea level and its observation deck is located almost exactly at the border from North Carolina into Tennessee. The road to reach the paved trailhead is located off of US 441(open annually from April 1 through November 30) and after a winding drive of 7 miles you will reach the parking lot to begin your hike. The main path to take is a 1/2 mile hike that is paved all the way up to the 45-foot concrete observation deck. As you can see from the photo above, the weather can change very drastically during your hike and a clear blue sky can be replaced by a 'smokey' fog that limits the amazing view of the surrounding mountains quickly. On the way down from the observation tower you could walk the paved path that you walked up or can veer off the paved route and access a small section of the Appalachian Trail that passes immediately north of the tower. This route is quite enjoyable to head back down to the car park in foggy weather. It adds a eery and almost creepy feeling to the hike.


6) Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort

Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort is the main attraction that draws in many of the tourists that end up visiting and staying within Cherokee. Located just off of US19 this casino resort has changed quite drastically over the last decade. They have gone through various expansions and renovations that have turned it into an entire entertainment center for guests. The largest change that I have noticed between years is the parking garage that is adjacent to the casino. The resort is a 21-story, 4-star luxury hotel that consists of over 1,100 guest rooms that offers many discounts or deals in partnership with Caesars Entertainment. Guests of the hotel have access to complimentary valet parking, a bowling alley, a pool, and a spa. The casino itself has expanded as well with the addition of a Sportsbook near the poker tables. Other typical gaming includes a large variety of slots, blackjack, craps, and roulette. They host many different events such as WSOP tournaments, shows and concerts, and bar events. The dining options have also broadened with the Gordon Ramsay Food Market, Guy Fieri's Cherokee Kitchen & Bar, Noodle Bar, Wicked Weed Brewpub, on top of their other food spots.


7) Sequoyah National Golf Club


Without a doubt Sequoyah National Golf Club is my favorite destination to visit whenever I make a trip to Cherokee. This stunning mountain course is a Par 72 Robert Trent Jones II design that provides an incredibly scenic and challenging round of golf. The course is a 6 minute drive from the Casino and once you arrive you are greeted by, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful driving ranges. Each hole has a 180 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the golf carts will take you up and down some steep paths between holes. The elevated tee boxes offer the most beautiful views while also presenting the most accessible birdie opportunities while also demanding fairway precision with some unforgiving O.B. drop offs just beyond the rough. This course ranges in price depending on the season from $75-$120/round (golf cart included) and it is worth the price simply for the views alone.


8) Soco Falls


Soco Falls is one of the two best easily accessed waterfalls within a short drive of Cherokee. To reach it starting from the Casino you drive on US19 towards Maggie Valley for 10 miles and on the right at a turn there will be a pull off for cars to park on the side of the road. There is a rather sharp dirt path down to a wooden observation deck above the falls. For most people, the furthest they need to go to see the falls well enough. The most fun way to see the falls is to continue down though, there is a rope that is attached to some trees to help keep your balance while descending the uneven path below the observation deck. There are not any trails per se but there are a few small paths that you can spend some time walking around the immediate area.


9) Mingo Falls


This is the second waterfall that is near the Cherokee area that is absolutely worth a visit. The falls are at an elevation of over 120 feet and have a wooden bridge viewing point. The drive is only 8 miles to reach the trail head from the Casino. You can turn onto Big Cove Road (Road 1410) from town just near the Great Smokies Inn, from there you will continue driving before turning onto Sherill Cove Road (in Google Maps you can put in Mingo Falls Access Area). The trail is only about a 1/2 mile but is up 160 steps, so can be a bit strenuous, remember to bring some water and take breaks whenever needed. The path is almost completely under tree cover, so the sun shouldn't be an issue on sunny summer days. Pigeon Creek Trail also passes by the parking access area.


10) Museum of the Cherokee Indian


The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is located directly in town and presents the Cherokee Story 11,000 years in the making. Once you enter you are immersed in the various stories presented through beautiful wall murals, interactive videos, and historical artifact displays. This is the perfect way to spend a few hours particularly on a rainy day in the mountains. The stories are full of intrigue demonstrating the rich history the Cherokee People have and the devastating past they had to endure. Accompanying the permanent exhibitions and artifact collection, the museum also provides workshops, educational programs, and a museum store. This was also a great compliment to the 18 tee box signs at Sequoyah National Golf Course that included short excerpts of various Cherokee stories.


11) Cherokee Rapids River Tubing


Cherokee Rapids River Tubing is the perfect company to use for a fun day of floating on the Oconaluftee River. This is a wonderful activity to do on a hot summer day because the river water stays cold year-round and is a refreshing reprieve from the muggy weather that is most associated with the summer. They are situated right in town on Acquoni Road on the rivers edge in a small shed. The parking is shared with Saunookes Homemade Ice Cream. After arriving you pay the $14/person fee which includes the tube rental, bus transportation to the river drop off spot up the river, and a life jacket if requested. After you are dropped off you take your tube, hop into the water, sit down, and let the current start drifting you away. The river has a few spots that officially can be classified as rapids but are still very mild as they are all located in fairly shallow spots of the river. It should take you about 2 hours roughly to reach the exit point back to the shed that you paid at and where your car is parked.


12) Oconaluftee Island Park


The perfect combo to pair with the River Tubing is to spend a few more hours just down the road at Oconaluftee Island Park. Why not continue the relaxation on a warm sunny day? This park has activities for kids and adults alike. There are shaded picnic areas on both sides of the river that can be accessed with bridges, and plentiful space for kids to swim and splash while adults can do some trout fishing or simply relax on the edges. My favorite activity is to take a beach chair that I don't mind scratching up a little bit and placing it right into the river and letting the current provide a free massage.


13) Cherokee Gift Shops


Is it really a vacation if you don't spend unnecessary money on various souvenirs and knickknacks? The main road os US19 between the main part of town and the Casino is lined with various shops, motels, and little food stops. A few of the stores you can find throughout Cherokee include Pow Wow Gift Shop, Indian Store, Cherokee Rose, Ravenhawk Gifts & Collectibles, and Southwest Store among others. If you still have the shopping itch after visiting all of the stores within Cherokee, you could take the 25 minute drive along US19 to number 14 on this list, Maggie Valley.


14) Drive the short distance to Maggie Valley


Maggie Valley is another small mountain town nearby the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most memorable feature that Maggie Valley had for me growing up was the Wild-West Style theme park Ghost Town In The Sky which has since closed. It was located on top of Buck Mountain and was accessed by chair lift. It was opened in 1961 and remained operational until its first closure in 2002, where it then suffered a few failed re-openings and is currently not operational. Maggie Valley has a few gift shops that are nice to stop at when driving through such as Jelly Belly's Mountain Gift, Simply Soco, and Maggie's Best. There is also Gates Flea Market where you can pick up some odd treasures. Beside the Flea Market is Hillbilly Jack's Antiques & More which is worth a walk through to see. Finally, for any golf lover that wanted to add more to their itinerary after Sequoyah National can play a round at Maggie Valley Golf Club.


15) Take a ride on Bryson City's Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

Another short day trip location from Cherokee is Bryson City which is about a 10 mile drive. Bryson City has a few attractions such as white-water rafting on the Tuckasegee River, the Fly Fishing Museum, and the Smoky Mountains Train Museum. The main attraction of the city is undoubtedly the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad ride. This scenic train ride is absolutely stunning, especially during the Fall when the leaves change colors. You have the choice of riding on the cheaper Diesel trains or the slightly more expensive Steam Powered trains. They have different class tickets for various price points and the rides are usually for 4-5 hours through the mountains. They also have special events including their premier The Polar ExpressTM Train Ride. This is perfect for all age groups and is a memory waiting to happen!


16) The Queen House Gallery

The Queen House Gallery is a Cherokee Native American Art shop located across the street from the Dairy Queen on Tsali Blvd. Inside you will be greeted by an incredibly kind lady who will answer any questions for you as you browse the Cherokee Local made art pieces. It is a wonderful building and is filled by authentic art that is very different than any of the gift shops in the area. There are also two friendly cats named Lois & Thom that will soak up as much attention as you are willing to give.


17) Cherokee Welcome Center

This is a small tourist information building that has a friendly staff that will assist you with any extra information you need and provide some maps of the area. It is also a good starting point to look at all of the various bear statues that showcase the skills of talented artists that live within the Qualla Boundary.


18) The Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the final day of driving on this list and might very well be the pinnacle of beautiful drives you can take in the Cherokee area. The Parkway runs for 469 miles through the 2 states of Virginia and North Carolina and is the longest Linear Park in the United States. The Parkway entrance from US441 at Oconaluftee is entered heading North as that is the terminus of the Parkway heading South. It is a 2-lane expressway that has selective junctions to enter and exit. The speed limit is never higher than 45mph and sections of the road will close due to various weather patterns throughout the year. This is a road that to complete uninterrupted by section closures must be done in the summer and requires a great deal of luck with weather conditions. There are plenty of viewpoint pull offs along the roadway and various paths/trails that can be ventured on from the stopping points. My favorite way to enjoy this drive is to roll the windows down, turn on some peaceful music, and take as many stops as I need to be able to safely take in the views because there are a high abundance of sharp turns so attention on the road is a must.


19) Enjoy one of the Restaurants in Cherokee


There are a surprising number of restaurants in such a small area of Cherokee outside of the ones in the Casino. There are the ones in the Food Lion parking lot including Osaka Sushi Bar & Asian Cuisine and Rancho Viejo Mexican. There are also mainstays such as Paul's Family Restaurant and Granny's Kitchen. My top 2 favorite restaurants in Cherokee though are Wize Guyz Grille and All Fried Up. Wize Guyz has a good selection of burgers, pizza, and pasta with my favorite dish being the burger pictured above. All Fried Up is a relatively new restaurant in the area and my favorite dish they offered was Seafood Nachos as well as Lobster Bisque. There are also a number of breakfast restaurants all around, although I personally viewed them as a bit overpriced for what you get compared to The Waffle House in town, they are great local businesses to checkout if you wanted to eat out for breakfast.


20) Pick a Cozy Cabin with Space and Relax


There are plethora of cabins to rent from tiny houses all the way up to massive cabins that are scattered throughout any area of The Smokies. You can find plenty of reservation options on Booking.com or Airbnb.com at various price points.The cabin idea is a much more preferred option over one of the hotels or motels in the area for a family or a group of friends that are able to split the more expensive bill. Coming up to the mountains doesn't have to full go and filled with intense activities, simply sitting in a chair on the deck with a good book to read can refresh the mind, body and spirit.


Cherokee, North Carolina and the surrounding areas in the Great Smoky Mountains are a magical place and there is a reason that so many millions of people visit each year. I hope these tips can help you decide some things to do when you visit the area and if you have any specific questions or ideas I would be happy to receive an email at www.travelinggibson@gmail.com. Thank you for reading, have a wonderful day, and good luck in all of your travels!



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