A hidden gem amongst the Great Smoky Mountains, offering unlimited opportunities to soak up the untapped history of Native Americans.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Cherokee (NC)
1. The Great Smoky Mountains
When you first arrive in Cherokee, it’s going to seem any direction you start walking in is bound to lead to the most amazing natural beauty you have ever witnessed. The Great Smoky Mountains offer more than 850 miles of jaw-dropping trails, with the widest variety of historical buildings from early European settlers in the Smokies, Cades Cove is our favorite.
From here you can take a leisurely stroll through the 5-mile Abrams Falls loop, smelling the 1500+ wildflowers growing year-round. For the more experienced hikers, the 14-mile Thunderhead Mountain trail offers rolling mountain plains as far as the eye can see, with a maximum elevation of 5500 feet.
While you are walking amongst some of the best views America has to offer, you are going to need some energy to keep spirits high. Why not take a history lesson whilst fueling up for your day with Peter’s reasonably priced plates of Americana.
We have yet to come across a plate of Blueberry Pancakes that can top Peter’s! Open from 6:30am to 2pm, Peter’s have perfected every American breakfast essential from Biscuits and Gravy to Strawberry Waffles. Educate yourself on the history of American breakfast food – the right way.
3. Museum of the Cherokee Indian
There’s over 13,000 years of history behind the people that first called Cherokee home. With a 20-foot hand-carved statue of the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet greeting visitors. Using a revolutionary blend of cutting-edge animations, life-sized holograms, and priceless artifacts to bring ancient Cherokee myths to life.
Feel the craftsmanship of historical pottery, witness hundreds of photos and archival footage of the history of the Cherokee people, and make your own traditional clay jewelry. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy a delicious traditional Cherokee meal, prepared inside the museum by members of the local Native American Women’s Association (remember to book ahead).
4. Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo
Every day from mid May to the end of October, Santa’s Land provides an ideal getaway or families with everything you need to keep the kids smiling. Feed the black bears, ride as many of their attractions as you like, and sample a selection of carnival treats such as Funnel Cake.
Thrill-seekers may be a little disappointed by the range of rides, but for families with small children, this park has everything to keep the youngsters happy. Of course, as the name suggests, patrons can get their photo with Santa and his Elves or just sample the Christmas festivities year-round. Children under 2 get in free and adult tickets start at $23.
5. Oconaluftee Islands Park
The Oconaluftee Islands Park offers a unique scenic experience for Cherokee, with plenty of space to dip your toes in the river or enjoy a book on the riverbank.
However, alongside these is a bamboo forest, farmers markets, and Native American theater space often featuring tribal dancing. Situated in the heart of town off US-441 S, this is the perfect place to enjoy your lunch and take a much-needed break amongst a day of museums and hiking.
The best part of Granny’s Kitchen is the lunch buffet, with a salad bar filled with more than 25 options from roast turkey to baked Alaskan cod, plenty of vegetables, sides such as pickled beets, and dessert too.
All these options are amazing but even better is the price at only $12.50 for all this food, including their famous popcorn shrimp. Granny’s is open from 11 till 8 most of the week, with breakfast from 7 on weekends, keep in mind they are closed on Mondays.
7. Mingo Falls
The 200 feet of Mingo Falls remain an untouched hidden gem in the Smoky Mountains, with only a quarter-mile hike to reach it. While the 161 steps to the top will do a number on your legs, the climb is well worth it with the viewing areas rarely crowded even in peak tourism seasons.
If you brave the winter cold, you will be treated to a very rare sight of a frozen Mingo Falls, frozen in time mid-cascade. With native animals always surrounding the area, don’t forget your camera, this might be the most photogenic waterfall in the Smokies.
8. Mountain Farm Museum
Dating back to the late 1800s, this free museum showcases farming structures, tools, and family life at the dawn of modern society. Giving you a chance to see and feel relics from the lives of early farmers.
Taking in the craftsmanship of the Davis House made from chestnut wood is a true highlight, with this wood now extinct. Local wildlife usually accompanies the views of these structures with wild elk and mooses tracking through the nearby water streams and fields. Open all year from 9 to 6 with reduced hours during the colder months.
9. Ghost Town Village
Located 14 miles east of Cherokee is Maggie Valley, a place that feels like stepping into a time capsule of the 1970s. This area is home to the now-abandoned Ghost Town in the Sky theme park, which is open for the public to explore.
With saloons, tumbleweeds and overgrowth where rides once were, the park gives you a sense of living in your own cowboy fantasy. There is also a fantastic lookout space with binoculars available for viewing the nearby Eastern Cherokee Reservation. The park closed in 2002 but has been used for movie production since.
10. Front Porch Cakery & Deli
Front Porch is the ultimate spot for cheap decadent eating, for around $8 you can get any of their amazing sandwiches in a lunch deal with chips and a pickle. With new flavor combinations such as ‘sweet and spicy ham and pineapple’ coming out monthly, you will be spoiled for choice.
You might want to keep some of the sandwich for later though because their sweets are sought after even more than their sandwiches. For as little as $2 you can get a huge cinnamon roll or red velvet brownie. Doors are open from 10 to 5 most days, closed Sundays.
11. Smoky Mountains Helicopter Tour
If you are sick of hiking the many mountains of Cherokee or want to cover as much of the Smokies as possible, a helicopter tour is a great way to spend an afternoon. The best value tour is the 30-minute Fontana Special tour which sets you back $180 per person.
This gives you enough time to cover the entire Smoky Mountain area and its rich history, all amongst the glow of a sunset. The best part is they never close, from 9 am to sunset the team are happy to fire up the chopper and set off on a tour.
12. Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians
A short 15-minute drive from the heart of Cherokee (or a 3-hour hike) is the humble town of Bryson City, home to a truly unique museum focused on fly fishing. While learning about such a humble activity might seem mundane, the giant fish statues outside the museum suggest otherwise.
Walk through the halls of legendary fishermen and their gear, along with a hand-built drift boat. Iconic tools are on display from famous reel and rod makers with a full workshop on display. Take home a locally made lure from the gift shop after looking through this free museum, open from 8 to 4 most of the year.
13. Oconaluftee Indian Village
It’s all well and good hearing about the history of the Cherokee Indians and seeing their way of life documented in museums. However, a visit to Oconaluftee Indian Village gives you a true slice of Cherokee culture. You’ll weave baskets, hull canoes, learn traditional dances and watch blowgun and wartime demonstrations.
Tour guides frequently offer guided tours through the nearby forest, giving a full history of local fauna and old structures. Open from 10 to 4, Monday to Saturday, tickets start at $10.50 for children and $18.50 for adults with combo tickets available for nearby attractions.
14. Paul’s Family Restaurant
The undoubted highlight of Pauls’s is their Indian tacos with a puffy base of traditional fry bread for only $7.99. Their eye for traditional Indian specialties is like nowhere else in Cherokee with Elk Burgers and Pheasant Breast offering a unique taste of the region.
Not to mention plenty of options for sweet and savory fry bread recipes including fry bread and blueberries. Their quaint outdoor seating is the perfect place to unwind after a day amongst the local wildlife. You can be assured Pauls will always be there for you, open from 11 to 8:30 every day.
15. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
Sometimes you need a break from the never-ending natural beauty on offer in Cherokee, thankfully Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is like a city in itself. With 11 restaurants on offer serving everything from Tuscan pasta to British sandwiches, you are spoiled for choice. You are going to need the energy with bowling, billiards, karaoke, and a smorgasbord of arcade games.
While this sounds like more a kid’s affair, there are also some of the best cocktails in Cherokee available with a breathtaking view of the Smokies to match. Relaxation is going to always be your priority at this resort with the resident spa offering massages for as little as $130 per hour.
16. Wize Guyz Grille
For those of us on the go, Wize Guyz Grille is a godsend, with lightning-fast service, a huge menu, and even bigger portions. From pizza to nachos to Nathans’s famous hot dogs to chicken wings, America’s finest is on offer from 11 am to 9 pm all week, closed on Sundays.
Burgers start from $4.29 for a Chief Burger with the works and a side of fries will only set you back $1.99. The biggest surprise about this humble family takeaway joint isn’t how exhaustive their menu is, but their vegan options available with the impossible burger on offer.
Lots of Cherokee will make you feel like you are stepping back in time but nowhere more so than the Saunooke Mill. Still operational today, the mill dates back further than the 1970s, in fact, it’s so old no one can trace just how far back it goes. The hot interior is home to a variety of freshly milled foods of which the range is expanding by the week. You can see how staff are finding new uses for the mill amongst a range of local gifts from 9 am to 8 pm most of the year, closing earlier in Winter. The mill might seem a bit touristy for some of us, but it’s the number one spot for local Cherokee goods to take home from your trip.
18. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
Taking its name ‘Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest’ from a local poet, best known for the poem ‘Trees’, the two-mile hike through this forest showcases every native tree of the area, some of which are over 400 years old. Standing as one of the largest areas of growth for contiguous trees in the Eastern United States, a walk amongst this 3,800-acre forest is guaranteed to clear your mind. With two trails on offer of around two miles each, you can see some of the biggest poplar, oak, and sycamore trees in the entire country on display.
19. Qualla Arts and Crafts
Qualla Arts and Crafts is the oldest cooperative in the area, opening in 1946, this building is full of a history of preserving local artists’ work. With so many years of prestige, this has become the best place to go when you want to see or purchase authentic Native American craftsmanship.
Located near the Cherokee Museum, this is a great stop after you have learned all about the history of local art, giving you a chance to see a wide range of modern art and maybe even take some home. The prices are not as cheap as most tourism stores in the area, but the authenticity more than makes up for it. Get in between 8 and 4:30 any day of the week.
20. Cherokee Roots
Being surrounded by the culture of the Cherokee people and witnessing the wonders of their art, you might be left wanting to know more than what you can learn from a tour or the museum. Cherokee Roots is home to the largest collection of research materials on the Cherokee people, open year-round from 8 to 5 every day of the week.
Store owner Bob Blankenship will also help you out with researching to find out if you have any links to the Cherokee Indians, providing a full research service for less than $150.
21. BJ’s Diner
The folks at BJ’s Diner like to gloat about having the “best burgers in town” and we can’t help but agree. For less than $8 you can get possibly the most indulgent burger in North Carolina, the Buddy burger.
With almost a pound of beef stuffed with peppers, onions, bacon, and cheese sat amongst all the salad and sauce you could ask for in a warm sesame bun. Get in for a late lunch before a food coma nap from 11 to 4 any day of the week or until 6 on Friday and Saturday.
22. Mingus Mill
While there seems to be an unlimited number of mills throughout Cherokee, the Mingus Mill remains the oldest functioning mill in the area, dating back to 1886. With interest in historic machinery like this dwindling in modern times, you are assured to get a wonderful history of not only the milling process but Cherokee as a whole from the passionate staff.
Unlike other more touristy mills as well, the Mingus Mill is located right next to a number of hikes as well as a well-known slave graveyard dating back to 1790. You can absorb plenty of local history then get yourself some freshly milled corn from the mill after your hike.
23. Cherokee Rapids River Tubing
When the sun is beaming down so hard all you want to do is lie in a cold pool of water all day, the team at Cherokee Rapids River Tubing is there to save you.
From Memorial Day weekend to Labour Day weekend you can float your troubles away for as little as $12. Providing everything you need, including a life jacket for weak swimmers and a bus ride to the top of the rapids.
Contrary to the name, this isn’t the crazy rapids of New Zealand, it’s more of a leisurely float downstream. There are still plenty of activities along the way for thrill-seekers, such as a rope swing.
24. Sassy Sunflower Bakery and Cafe
Hidden away from the city center, Sassy Sunflower offers a healthy alternative to most restaurants in Cherokee. Hearty soups, earthy salads, and light sandwiches will keep your belly filled but won’t leave you bloated.
The highlight of the menu is The Hamlet, a luxurious grilled ham and cheese on a croissant roll with artisanal peppers, salad, and adobo sauce all for $7.90. While well-known for its healthy light meals, they are not averse to spectacular baked goods to pair with one of their many coffee varieties, the lemon turnovers are something special. Open from 9 till 4 every weekday.
25. Sequoyah National Golf Club
It’s not every day you get to play on a course as difficult as it is beautiful but Sequoyah delivers on both. Their 18 holes are nestled amongst the Smoky Mountains, providing a tough mountain terrain that will put even the PGA amateurs amongst us to the test.
For rookie players, there is a huge practice area with PGA professionals on hand to fit your golf club. Setting you back less than $54 for a full round including caddy hire, it’s worth playing two rounds to take in the 6,600 yards of scenery.