Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
The town of Cherokee, NC is nothing like you’ve ever experienced before. Conveniently located at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and only 50 miles from Asheville, it is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation – one of only three Cherokee tribes that are recognized by the federal government. The reservation, which is called Qualla Boundary, is home to over 15,000 tribe members and spans a little more than 56,000 acres. However, even though it is a protected reservation, the Cherokee people are very welcoming and there are plenty of things for visitors to see and do here.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Try Your Luck at the Casino
Perhaps one of the biggest draws to the Cherokee area is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. Operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the casino has 150,000 square feet of gaming including blackjack, roulette, slots and craps, as well as eight retail shops and ten restaurants. No matter what your palette is, you’ll find something delicious to eat with choices like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Chef’s Stage Buffet – where chef specialties are prepared for you at interactive cooking stations. The Grand Rotunda area is grandiose to say the least, with two massive waterfalls, a 140-foot LED screen and even a stream that runs through where you can fish. If you want to stay for a couple nights, the property’s hotel offers four-star rooms that feature contemporary furniture, large bathrooms and 42-inch plasma televisions. The hotel is pet-friendly and also has a workout room, an arcade, indoor and outdoor pools with cabanas and a full-service spa that specializes in Balinese-inspired treatments with touches of Native American culture.
Learn the History of the Cherokee Indian
Although there are numerous places to learn about the Cherokee Indians in the city by the same name, one of the best is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Their mission is to “perpetuate the history, culture and stories of the Cherokee people” which they accomplish through a series of exhibits that contain artifacts, artwork, photographs, music, video, animation and life-size figures. One of the must-see exhibits, Story of the Cherokees: 13,000 Years, was voted one of the Top Ten Best Native American Experiences by USA Today. If you want to learn more, you can also sign up for additional programs through the museum including arts and crafts classes or a hike on the Cherokee Heritage Trail where you’ll hear stories and legends told by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee as you travel along.
Hike to Mingo Falls
Located about 10-15 minutes outside of Cherokee, is Mingo Falls – a beautiful hidden treasure tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These captivating waterfalls are about 200 feet tall, making them a breathtaking backdrop for a photo. Although there is a parking lot nearby and the trail to the falls is short, the hike up can be a little treacherous, with about 150 steps to climb to the top. But the view is well worth it!
Take Home a Handcrafted Piece of Art
You can’t visit Cherokee without picking up something to remember your visit by and there’s no better place to go for that then Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. In fact, it’s the largest home of authentic Cherokee arts and crafts east of the Mississippi! As the oldest and leading Native American Arts Cooperative in the United States, they have a literal treasure trove of beautiful goods here including hand-woven baskets, jewelry, hand-carved wooden masks and hand-sculpted jars and pottery. No two items are exactly alike, so you’re sure to find a unique souvenir or gift here.
Watch a Captivating Outdoor Drama
Another one of the most popular, must-see stops in Cherokee is the outdoor drama, Unto These Hills. Since it debuted in 1950, it has welcomed over 6 million people, telling the story of the Cherokee people from 1780 all the way up to the 21st century. The show is performed outside under the stars at the recently-renovated Mountainside Theatre, every night except Sunday, from June to August. So, be ready to get cozy under a blanket and settle in to learn about the beauty and courage of the Cherokee people through a production that will wow you with its drama, action and beautiful imagery.
Ride a Reindeer Roller Coaster
No matter what time of year you visit Cherokee, you’ll feel like a kid again when you visit Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo. Located just three miles north of Cherokee, this theme park has an endless amount of attractions for both kids and adults. There’s a zoo where you can see lots of animals including kangaroos, monkeys and bears, a magic show, game room and arcade, and rides including a roller coaster led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There are also several gift shops including Santa’s Christmas Shop and Frosty’s Shirt Shop, as well as tons of delicious food and treats like funnel cakes, snowcones and homemade fudge. But don’t forget the most important part of all – a visit with Santa where your kids (or you!) will receive their “good conduct diploma.”