With a backdrop as stunning as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee is one of the top places to visit in North Carolina. The Cherokee, NC casino complex is one of only two in the state and is home to a range of popular Cherokee, NC restaurants. It also happens to host the best Cherokee, NC upcoming events in its state-of-the-art Event Center.
Head to downtown Cherokee, NC for the best indoor things to do in Cherokee, NC, like visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. To learn more about the area’s Cherokee history, you can also visit Oconaluftee Indian Village. As for kid-friendly things to do in Cherokee, NC, head to Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo. Here are more things to do in Cherokee, NC.
1. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is one of only two casinos in North Carolina. Owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and operated by Caesars Entertainment, the casino features 150,000 square feet of gaming options, including live and digital table games, video poker, slot machines, and Asian gaming. The complex is also home to three hotel towers with over 1000 guestrooms in total, the 3000-seat Event Center, and everything from casual to fine dining establishments.
2. Museum of the Cherokee Indian
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is dedicated to preserving the Cherokee people’s extensive history, culture, and traditional stories. It houses the world’s largest collection of Cherokee artifacts, which are displayed in permanent exhibits like Story of the Cherokees: 13,000 Years and Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee and British Delegations. The museum, which is one of the country’s most important native sites, promises a full sensory experience, with interactive videos and intriguing displays.
3. Oconaluftee Visitor Center
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is located at the southern entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Although the green-certified building has rangers and staff on-hand to answer any questions regarding the town or national park, it’s also home to interactive museum displays focusing on the region’s history and culture. Then there’s the Great Smoky Mountains Association store, where visitors can purchase maps, guidebooks, and souvenirs. Head to the visitor center for all the local insights.
4. Oconaluftee Island Park
One of the most family-friendly things to do in Cherokee, NC is to visit Oconaluftee Island Park. The park is indeed a grassy island, bordered by the Oconaluftee River and a narrow creek. The outdoor oasis is known for its bamboo forest, picturesque bridges, sand volleyball court, and nature trails. Local families tend to flock here on warm summer days to enjoy a shaded picnic lunch and to go swimming, river tubing, and pier fishing.
5. Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum is next door to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The living history museum features a collection of late 19th-century historic log buildings gathered from across the Smoky Mountains region. The collection includes the Davis House, a barn, an apple house, and a blacksmith shop. You can pick up a self-guided booklet from the adjacent visitor center for more information. While in the area, why not enjoy one of its two walking trails?
6. Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill is an 1886 grist mill located on Mingus Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Surrounded by some of the region’s best walking trails, the mill uses a water-powered turbine to power its machinery and there’s a miller onsite daily (from mid-March to mid-November) to demonstrate the ancient art of grinding corn into cornmeal. Don’t miss a visit to Mingus Mill – it’s one of the most historic things to do in Cherokee, NC.
7. Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo
Don’t let the name fool you, as this Santa-themed amusement park is only open from mid-May to October. Head here to meet Santa, see the daily magic show, visit the numerous gift shops, play arcade games, ride attractions like the Rudicoaster (named after a certain popular reindeer), and explore the zoo – home to deer, kangaroos, monkeys, and more. Get set to celebrate Christmas in July this summer at Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo.
8. Mingo Falls
If natural attractions are more your thing, head to Mingo Falls. The 120-ft waterfall cascades down granite boulders and is located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Qualla Boundary) on the outskirts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Known as Big Bear Falls in the Cherokee language, Mingo Falls is accessed via the Pigeon Creek Trail. However, be aware that there are 161 steps between you and the viewing platform at the foot of the falls.
9. Oconaluftee Indian Village
Another living history museum you must visit in the area is the Oconaluftee Indian Village, which resembles a 1760s Cherokee village. On a guided tour led by cultural experts (many of them local high students), visitors get to see traditional buildings and demonstrators doing tasks like hulling a canoe, creating pottery, and weaving baskets. Open from April to November, Oconaluftee Indian Village also puts on traditional dance performances, hands-on children art classes, and blowgun demonstrations.
10. Cherokee Indian Reservation
The Cherokee Indian Reservation (also known as Qualla or the Qualla Boundary) is a 56,000-acre area held in trust by the federal government. It’s home to over 10,000 Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, who have lived in the region for centuries. Bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, learn more about the rich history and culture of Cherokee Indians at two aforementioned attractions: the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Oconaluftee Indian Village.
11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the North Carolina and Tennessee border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s most-visited national park, with over nine million annual visitors. It’s known for its incredible landscape, which includes wildflowers, lush forests, rivers, and waterfalls. Top things to do within the portion of the national park located near the township include visiting Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill, checking out the view from Clingmans Dome, and hiking part of the Appalachian Trail.
12. Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine
Another one of the most family-friendly things to do in Cherokee, NC is to visit Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine. It just so happens to be the town’s first and largest gem mine, where kids can pan for an array of gemstones, including emeralds, rubies, sapphires, garnets, topaz, and amethysts. There’s also an onsite gift, jewelry, and rock shop, where you can get your treasure cut, polished, and placed into a fine jewelry setting.
13. Cherokee Rapids
Cherokee Rapids Riving Tubing is the town’s number-one tubing outfitter. Open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend, the tube rental company takes you two miles up the Oconaluftee River and you float back to their premise on the Big Cove Route, which features picturesque scenery, numerous swimming holes, an infamous rope swing, and fun type I and II rapids. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Cherokee, NC every summer.
14. Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre
Unto These Hills is an outdoor drama performed every summer at Mountainside Theater. Organized by the Cherokee Historical Association, more than six million people have seen Unto These Hills since its debut in 1950. The performance tells the rich story of the Cherokees, from 1780 to the present day. Featuring both triumph and tribulation, Unto These Hills is a performance that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final curtain call.