Just 50 miles from Asheville is Cherokee, located in Jackson County at the main North Carolina entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (via US Highway 441) and home to Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation and many things to do. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation is one of the only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. There are about 13,400 Eastern Band of Cherokee members, most of whom live on the Reservation. Properly called the Qualla Boundary, the Reservation is slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government. This is part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
Top things to do in Cherokee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
At the entrance to the Park at Cherokee is the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Mingus Mill and the Mountain Farm Museum, a beautiful setting of historic buildings. See our Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide for more. Drive up U.S. 441 to Newfound Gap and Clingman's Dome.
See more of our 25 Coolest NC Mountain Small Towns.
Learn the story of the Cherokee people from the Cherokee in several outstanding museums, a legendary outdoor drama and at several festivals. See our full page guides for the following:
- Museum of the Cherokee Indian & Qualla Arts
- Oconaluftee Indian Village
- Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama
- Cherokee Pow Wow
Browse the many shops, clustered in several areas of town. Stock up on your mocassins, plastic tomahawks and mini totem poles. Or fine quality Cherokee crafts such as Cherokee Indian pottery, baskets and beadwork; as well as other locally made gifts such as dream catchers, dolls and woodcrafts. Also find a variety of home furnishings and leather goods, including handbags, belts, backpacks, hats and wallets; as well as biker apparel such as vests, jackets and chaps.
As the Oconaluftee River passes through Cherokee, it is split by a beautiful, grassy island. It's home to the Oconaluftee Islands Park – sheltered by canopies of oak and sycamore. Beautiful walking bridges connect the island. Wade in the water, have a picnic, or sit by the relaxing river. Find is along U.S. Highway 441.
Go bear hunting. The town of Cherokee is being overrun by a collection of bears. But, don¹t worry these bears are completely harmless. Several Eastern Band of Cherokee artists have created a series of large, life-like fiberglass bears and painted them in bright vibrant colors and designs. Currently there are 15 painted bears completed, located in various spots around town.
Mingo Falls cascades 200 feet nearly straight down past granite boulders and rhododendrons schrubs. This beautiful waterfall is located just five miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains and just eight miles from Harrah's Casino. See our Mingo Falls Guide.
Nine miles on the other side of Cherokee (toward Maggie Valley) is another impressive waterfall, Soco Falls.
The impressive Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee and is open 24-hours-a-day. Harrah's Cherokee includes a 1,108 room hotel, conference center, a 3000-seat events center, the Essence Lounge, food court, and Chef's Stage Buffet. See our Harrah's Cherokee Casino Guide for more.
Cherokee Festivals & Events
Pow Wow: Three days of authentic Indian dancing, drumming and tribal regalia on the July 4th weekend. Dance competitions rock. See more photos and details.
Unto These Hills: America's most popular outdoor drama is the tragic and triumphant story of the Cherokee Indians. Since opening in 1950 it has been seen by over six million people. Runs late May through mid August. Read more.
Cherokee Voices Festival: Held in June at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian with traditional dancing, music, crafting, food and more. Free admission.
Southeastern Tribes Cultural Arts Celebration:Artists and craftspeople representing the Cherokee, Creek, Chicksaw, Seminole and Choctaw tribes present tribal dance, storytelling, crafts, contests and food. September.
Ramp It Up! Festival: The tourism season in Cherokee commences on the last Saturday in March at the Indian Fair Grounds with the annual Ramp It Up! Festival. This event highlights two mountain delicacies - trout and wild ramps, a garlic-like plant grown locally.
Sequoyah National Golf Course
Sequoyah National Golf Course is the newest attraction to the Cherokee area and is owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. The 18-hole golf course, open to the public, is designed by world renowned Robert Trent Jones II and has a state of the art irrigation system, along with each hole's unique and breathtaking views.
Cherokee is just 52 miles from Asheville via I-40 West to Exit 27, then U.S. 19 to U.S. 441 in Cherokee (Just over an hour's drive). Or you can take the more scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, but this could take three to four hours. A great day trip is to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee and return the faster way via I-40.