See, Share, Savor, Shop and Stay
Simply Appalachian is an online magazine that touts itself as “celebrating all things Appalachian.” So within its virtual pages, you can learn about places to visit throughout a seven state region of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Some cities and towns — as well as state parks, national forests and historical destinations — go out of their way to attract tourists. Such is the subject of this month’s See, Share, Savor, Shop and Stay location.
Cherokee, North Carolina
During your journeys within the borders of the continental United States, you probably don’t expect to come across a sovereign nation. But that’s exactly how Cherokee, North Carolina, describes itself. Technically, it’s a county and a city, but it’s also a culture and people separate from the surrounding country. Cherokee is part reservation, part municipality and part cultural exchange program.
Nestled at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 50 miles west of Asheville and 30 miles south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Cherokee is the westernmost county in North Carolina. It sits in a valley carved by the Oconaluftee River. The reservation encompasses the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which ends without fanfare with a simple stop sign.
But Cherokee is much more than a tourist destination, although it surely is that as well. It is the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The land is their ancient birthright, which they had to reclaim after the tragic Trail of Tears. What that means to visitors is that Cherokee offers a passionate view of a foreign culture within our midst. It represents a learning opportunity, a pleasurable escape and an exciting weekend adventure. Here are things to see, activities to share, food to savor, stores to shop, and places to stay. Enjoy.
Cherokee County envelopes a pristine wilderness of mountains, streams and forests, so it offers a bounty of sights (and sites) to explore. Depending on your tastes and family preferences, you can find exciting or educational experiences. The attractions in Cherokee span a broad range. Some are well known; others are waiting for you to discover. Pick your favorites or see them all!
· The Oconaluftee Visitor Center, two miles north of town, is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park system. Don’t overlook the nearby Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill, an outdoor exhibit of historic buildings and grounds.
· For a live history lesson, stop by the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Step into a late 18th century working settlement, complete with dwellings, tools, canoes, artifacts and gardens of Cherokee life from the past. If you have kids, you must visit here to help their history lessons come alive.
· Just north town, past the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a beautiful waterfall few tourists find. Mingo Falls requires a short hike from Highway 441. Follow Pigeon Creek Trail, up a bunch of stairs and you’ll be rewarded with a superb view of the lovely falls.
· Catch the sight of wild elk north of Cherokee on the way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Reintroduced to the area in 2001, the elk herd has grown to about 140. Come find these magnificent wild animals in their natural habitat.
· A Cherokee bonfire rages every Friday and Saturday night until Labor Day from 7:00–9:00 PM. The event features native dancers and storytellers, and the marshmallows for roasting are provided free!
You can’t argue that the Cherokee have had a dramatic history. Fortunately for the rest of us, they enjoy retelling it. History plays an important role in the activities you’ll find in Cherokee:
· The live outdoor drama Unto These Hills has delighted audiences since 1950. Recently updated and upgraded, it’s a spectacle that tells the tale of the Cherokee people. But it runs only from May to August.
· A trip to Cherokee is incomplete without a visit to the grand Museum of the Cherokee Indian. It uses interactive presentations, historical displays and immersive exhibits to help you understand the Cherokee culture and history.
· If you want to get in or on the water, try tubing or kayaking on the Oconaluftee River at Cherokee Rapids Tube and Kayak Rentals. If you prefer wading to tubing, stop by Oconaluftee Islands Park, where you can stroll the grounds, picnic in the shade and wade in the shallow river.
· Since Cherokee lies in the midst of natural abundance, you can go fishing (a license is required), fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. And remember that the <>Great Smoky Mountains National Park is literally right up the road.
· For adults looking for fun, try Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. In addition to gambling games, the casino hosts concerts, comedy and more.
Cherokee has its share of fast-food restaurants, but you also can find local favorites serving American and Southern classics. In addition, you can choose from Mexican, Asian, deli, pizza, BBQ and even Indian food. We recommend:
· For a down-home breakfast, try Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles. Open 6:30 AM to 2:00 PM, this little place features “waffles to die for” and many other breakfast classics.
· Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café serves breakfast, lunch and even dinner — it remains open until 7:00 PM. The sandwiches come highly recommended, and the desserts can tempt anyone.
· A family owned and run restaurant since 1984, Granny’s Kitchen provides food your grandma would serve if she were cooking for 100 people. It’s a buffet-style place that specializes in Southern cooking.
· Harrah’s Cherokee Casino houses several noteworthy chain restaurants, such as Brio Tuscan Grille and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Before its renaissance in the 2000s, Cherokee had little more than bead stores and tourist traps. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore:
· Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. sells authentic Cherokee crafts and artwork for you to take home. The beautiful pieces you’ll find here are fine examples from local artists.
· For more art, be sure to stop by the Great Smokies Fine Arts Gallery and its affiliated shop, the Native American Craft Shop. Both sell selected high-quality work from local artists as well as from artists of other tribes.
· You still can buy real moccasins (and other attire) at MoccasinsDirect.com. The retail outlet on Tsali Boulevard offers you everything you can find on the website. The Internet is a brand New World.
· Some visitors stop in Cherokee on their way to ride the Tail of the Dragon, a magnet road for motorcyclists. If you’re one of them, consider visiting Cherokee Harley-Davidson. You don’t have to want a new bike to shop for clothing and accessories.
Cherokee has prepared for the ever-rising number of visitors with many, many choices for lodging. While you always can find a room in a budget motel, here are some of the better options:
· Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is in a class by itself, the only “resort” in town. It offers gaming, entertainment, your choice of several dining options, a pool and the Mandara Spa. Pamper yourself.
· The Cherokee Grand Hotel offers all the amenities you expect from a hotel with “Grand” in its name. Plus, it’s right down the street from the casino.
· The River’s Edge Motel is right downtown, but its biggest draw is that each room has a private balcony overlooking the river.
· Instead of paying for a room, treat yourself and your family to a cabin rental. Cherokee offers several locations, including Cherokee Cabin Rentals, Grandview Cabins, Ol’ Smoky Log Cabins and Panther Creek Resort.
Cherokee really deserves more than a day to explore its riches. Besides, it makes a terrific and well-placed base camp for excursions to Gatlinburg, Bryson City, Franklin and of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photo credits: hookersflyshop.com, brysoncitycabinrentals.com, native american craft shop