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Cherokee, North Carolina - Smoky Mountain Travel

Updated on June 2, 2013
Mingo Falls
Mingo Falls | Source
Elk at Oconaluftee Visitor Center
Elk at Oconaluftee Visitor Center | Source

Where to Go

It's time to visit Cherokee!

Just on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the small town of Cherokee. A mecca of trinket shops for tourists, there are also wonderful, historic places to visit if you're in the area.

Indian Tacos

Plan to eat at Paul's Diner at 1111 Tsali Blvd. It's a remodeled house on the main road with a large eating area on the front porch, as well as ample seating inside. The menu is nothing fancy but the prices are good and it's a nice change from the numerous fast food dives in town. Try the Indian taco. It's basically Indian fry bread (a flat, doughy taco) topped with taco fixins'. The buffalo burger is also good.

Mingo Falls

Off the beaten path and technically on the Qualla Indian Reservation, you shouldn't miss a trip to Mingo Falls. Known as "Big Bear" in Cherokee, Mingo Falls may be reached by turning left on Soco Rd. just inside Cherokee from the Park. Turn left again onto Big Cove Road at the Saunooke Village Shopping Center. Drive about five miles and look for the small sign that says "Mingo Falls Campground" on your right. Across the bridge, there is a tiny lot for parking. Climb all 160 or so steps, walk a few yards down the path and a spectacular waterfall awaits. If there's been a lot of rain, the 200 foot falls is breathtaking.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum

Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum are definitely worth a stop. Groundbreaking for a new 7,000 foot Visitor Center was held in June 2009. It is a welcome change from the tiny 1,100 center that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1940s. Oconaluftee Visitor Center highlights Southern Appalachian culture. Both places are adjacent to one another on US 441 at the Park entrance in Cherokee.

The Mountain Farm Museum has several historic log buildings from the early 1900s that were relocated from all over the Great Smoky Mountains in the 1950s. A barn and springhouse are among the featured structures. There are seasonal demonstrations and a working farm is attached. In the fields beyond the farm, you can sometimes see elk in the early morning or evening. Deer are frequent visitors.

Mingus Mill, one of two working grist mills in the park, is located one half mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The water-powered turbine mill was built on site in 1886. Corn meal is ground daily and is for sale at the mill. Miller demonstrations are very informational.

Cherokee Indian History

Since 1950, the outdoor dramatic production, "Unto These Hills," has been performed every summer. In story, music and dance, it showcases the Trail of Tears, where the Cherokee Indians were forced to leave the Smokies for Oklahoma in the 1800s. The amphitheatre is located on Drama Rd.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, at the junction of Tsali and Drama Roads, houses an informative display of Native American artifacts that chronicle more than 11,000 years of documented Cherokee history. This is the place for you if you are interested in Native American history.

On US 441, the Oconaluftee Indian Village is an authentic replication of Native American village life in 1750. There are demonstrations such as beading and blowgun and pottery-making throughout the guided tour that also includes a Council House.

If you want to get away from the typical "tourist trap" experience in the highly popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park area, I highly recommend visiting Cherokee, North Carolina. It's a neat place to gain insight on the past, present and future of the Native American people.


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