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 Inidans and many things to do. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation is one of the only three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. There are about 15,300 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.
They welcome all visitors with many free things to do and see. Learn the story of the Cherokee people at outstanding museums, a legendary outdoor drama and at festivals like the annual Pow Wow.
Browse the many shops, clustered along two main roads, Tsali Blvd (US Highway 441) and Tsalagi Road (US Highway 19). Stock up on your mocassins and other Native American souvenirs. Or buy fine quality crafts such as Cherokee Indian pottery, baskets and beadwork; as well as other locally made gifts such as dream catchers, dolls and woodcrafts. Top pick for authentic local crafts and art hand-made with natural materials is Qualla Arts and Crafts Co-op (645 Tsali Blvd), next door to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
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. Walking bridges connect the island. Wade in the water, have a picnic, or sit by the relaxing river. Find it along US Highway 441. Go bear hunting throughout the town with a series of large, life-like fiberglass bears and painted in bright vibrant colors and designs.
Cherokee Lights & Legends Christmas
December 2 & 3, 9 & 10, 16 & 17, 30 & 31, 2016
Experience a Cherokee Christmas with interactive displays, ice skating, 40-ft. Christmas tree, lights, games, caroling competition and more. Four sculptures with interactive displays tell ancient Cherokee legends: The Welcome Legend, The Legend of the Seven Clans, Those Who Stayed Awake, and How the Bear Lost His Tail. Open free to the public on Fridays and Saturdays in December, except Christmas weekend, at the Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds, 545 Tsali Blvd. Watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve at 10 PM. Enjoy carnival games ($1 each), ice skating ($5), and buy local crafts. 5-10 PM.
The impressive Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee. See our Harrah's Cherokee Casino Guide.
Cherokee Things to Do
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) via Maggie Valley. 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.