Cherokee is a town in the North Carolina Mountains within the Qualla Boundary, the proper name of the Cherokee Indian (Eastern Band) Reservation.


This is the center of Cherokee culture in North Carolina (and indeed the eastern United States). Many natives call this area home, the Cherokee language is also spoken by many in this area. The town was established by the Cherokee who stayed behind while the US Government forced them west in the Trail of Tears. Those who stayed behind hid in the mountains that now make up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Cherokee people are eastern Native Americans, do not ask them where the tipis are. Tipis were made by western Native Americans. The Cherokee people lived in houses made of woven grass covered with mud, and after the European settlers arrived, log cabins.

Cherokee is one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and its economy is mainly tourism based. There is no "downtown" to Cherokee; the entire built up area is mainly composed of hotels and tourist shops selling "Indian" themed merchandise.

Get in

Cherokee is only accessible by mountain roads. Most visitors will come from the direction of Knoxville or Asheville.

Get around

There is public transportation with different stops throughout the area and a pickup can be scheduled by contacting Cherokee Transit • phone 828-554-6300 • Text 828-269-5790 • Toll-free 866-388-6071 • TDD: 711. Many of the larger hotels have a shuttle service.


The town mainly exists because of its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and its other attraction is it's the traditional homeland of the Cherokee people. See the "Do" section below for other attractions.


Visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village ($15) and learn about Cherokee Native American culture. The tour takes you through various live demonstrations of Cherokee life, including two educational and informative talks. The description says it shows a "typical day in a Cherokee village", but that's stretching it. There are several small stands when you walk in, one shows a person forming clay pots, another weaving baskets, and another displaying arrowheads. There is a man burning wood to hollow out of log for a canoe. But to say this is an accurate description of a typical village is a lie. There are no children running around, no one is cooking food. You could easily see everything in 30 minutes, and it isn't really worth the cost of entry.

There is also The Museum of the Cherokee Indian ($9), which is a small, dimly lit affair mainly filled with arrow heads and pottery shards. Some of the displays are so poorly lit people were using mobile phones to read the descriptions.

A popular attraction in Cherokee is Harrah's Casino, which is owned by the local Cherokee tribe. There are a limited number of other attractions in the area, most of which are related either to Indian culture or natural landmarks.


The entire built-up area of Cherokee is tourist stores, almost all of which sell Indian-themed merchandise. There is a grocery store on the outskirts of town. If you stop at one of these tourist stores, you've pretty much stopped at all of them.

One stand-out is the Talking Leaves Native American Bookstore (Highway 441 & Highway 19 Intersection) which has a huge inventory of Native American books which would make any university library proud. They also sell clothing and Native American-made jewelry. Bookstore is owned and operated by a Native American woman.

If you really want to learn about the Cherokee people and other Native Americans, stop here and buy a few books. All you'll get in the tourist shops is cheap trinkets and fudge.


There are several locally owned restaurants offering typical American food, it is difficult to find authentic Native American cuisine, but it can be done if you know where to look. The town panders to it's primary tourist base who tend to be Southern Americans. There are also some franchises such as McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), of course.

If you are in the mood to gamble, the casino might be a great place to eat as well.


The town of Cherokee is dry. There is a convenience store 1/2 mile from Cherokee on highway 441 where you can get alcohol. You can also drink at the casino.


Cherokee has no shortage of hotels, motels and Inns. Best you just drive around and look before you leap, as quite a few appear to be on the verge of collapsing. If you want to support the locals, stay in a local-owned motel, not one of the large chains.

Go next

Routes through Cherokee

Asheville Maggie Valley  N  S  Andrews Atlanta
Knoxville Great Smoky Mountains N.P.  N  S  Clayton Athens

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