Cherokee, North Carolina, home of the Cherokee Indians, is one of five gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and sits up against the southeastern boundary of the Park. Unlike it’s counterpart Tennessee city, Gatlinburg, it is much quieter. Where Gatlinburg TN—at the northern border of the Park—is very fast-paced with lots of lights, with a constant flow of improvements and investment, Cherokee NC is still stuck in the 1950s, because the tribal members own all the land within the Cherokee boundary and have not encouraged outside investment. If you visit both towns, you’ll get a good idea of the contrast that exists between the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the Park.
But understand that Cherokee NC has a lot to offer the mountain traveler. The southern approaches to the town (via US 441 through the Park or north from Atlanta) or US Hwy 19 (from Bryson City) will bring you quickly to the downtown area of Cherokee. If you’ve ever visited Cherokee at anytime since the mid 1950s, you’ll quickly recognize the souvenir stands and the stuffed bear shops. You can still locate the “Chiefs” in full colorful regalia as they stand in front of tepees waiting for their pictures to be taken–expect to leave a tip for the privilege.
In an area of Cherokee that features the old government buildings from the 1930s and 1940s, you’ll find The Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The Cherokee craft cooperative, the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and the Cherokee Historical Association’s production of “Unto These Hills”, an outdoor presentation with more than 100 actors who present the history of the Cherokee are also in this area.
Lodging in Cherokee consists of either a cabin or a motel (nearly 2,600 rooms in all). There are some newer franchise motels here, but if you want a quality lodge, you might try The Swag in nearby Waynesville, NC, or the Cataloochee Ranch or a bed and breakfast in nearby Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Moreover, dining leaves a bit to be desired as well. We suggest you plan your meals around visits to nearby towns such as the Lomo Grill in Waynesville or some of the independently-owned restaurants in nearby Maggie Valley or Bryson City NC.
If you want to leave your hard-earned money in Cherokee, visit the local Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. There are no live games however; only video games and the machine. Better yet, drive a short distance into the National Park and enjoy the picnicking, nature walks, hiking, fishing, or horseback riding at the Park’s Smokemont horseback riding stables. A short drive further into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and you can visit Mingus Mill, which is a 19th century gristmill that is still in operation and you can buy fresh-ground corn meal.
When you leave Cherokee NC, pass through the towns of Waynesville NC and several other high-mountain resort towns in western North Carolina for some fine dining, resort golf, delightful shops and galleries.