Cherokee, North Carolina is located in the heart of the Cherokee ancestral homeland. Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest, the town offers gorgeous views of the lush countryside, as well as a wide array of attractions. When you book a Cherokee vacation rental, look forward to effortlessly spending your time exploring the great outdoors, and uncovering the ancient culture of the Native Americans. Here are some of the top things to do while in town.

1. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With Cherokee being nearly surrounded by national parks and forests, it’s a no-brainer to visit one of the most well-known of them all: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While you can hike or bike along a myriad of trails, consider exploring the beauty of the park in a new way. For instance, tour historic buildings or burial mounds. There are over 90 preserved buildings from old schools to cabins. If you have kids, book one of the ranger-led programs so that they can learn about the world around them or you can inspire yourself with a not-so-junior ranger program.

2. Explore the Oconaluftee Indian Village

If you’re into history or culture, explore the Oconaluftee Indian Village, perfect for any age. The 1760-era village is a blast from the past with traditional Cherokee buildings where the Natives lived, participated in rituals, and made pottery and beadwork. The blowgun demonstration shows how Natives used this simple tool to bring down food and protect themselves. Children can enjoy the arts and crafts classes that are available six days a week.

3. Visit the Cherokee Bear Zoo

The Cherokee Bear Zoo is an attraction that focuses on different species of bears found in the area from the grizzly to the black bear; although, there are some other species like tigers and albino groundhogs to view. The entire family can feed baby animals, such as deer, in the petting zoo portion of the zoo, fun for adults and children.

4. Ride the Oconaluftee River

Thanks to Cherokee Rapids and Smoky Mountain Tubing, you can experience the river up close. Cherokee Rapids offers both tube and kayak rentals and transportation up the river for a two-hour trip down. You can get out and rest on the rocks, enjoy the rope swing, and play in the natural swimming holes. Smoky Mountain Tubing has both tubing and rafting trips from which to choose.

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5. Go to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian explores 13,000 years of Cherokee history with exhibits depicting life during ancient history when man shared land with mastodons. There are exhibits harkening back to the year 1762 when Native American representatives traveled to England to meet the king. Make sure to watch the Warriors of AniKituhwa’s War Dance, a cultural tradition that the locals keep alive.

6. Go on a Horseback Riding Tour

Go native, and take in Cherokee on horseback. Both Smokemount Riding Stables and End of the Trail Horseback Riding take you to see the local beauty as it’s been seen for hundreds of years. The Smokemount Riding Stable has several riding options. You can ride up to the waterfall, a 2.5-hour round trip or really explore the countryside and Oconaluftee River with the four-hour ride. End of the Trail Horseback Riding does trail rides for views of waterfalls and Clingman’s Dome.

7. Visit the Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine

Try your hand at the mining business, at least for a day, at the Smoky Mountain Gold and Ruby Mine. The mine provides you all the equipment you need to search for those gemstones. It even identifies your finds, and cuts and polishes them for you. If you don’t find what you want, you can always stop at the gift shop for a few souvenirs.

8. See Mountain Farm

The Mountain Farm is a historic collection of farm buildings that once housed all the necessities of civilization. Now it’s used to educate people on life in the 19th century. There’s even a working blacksmith where you can see how horseshoes were repaired back in the day and crops were gathered and stored. Among the buildings is Mingus Mill used to grind grain into flour and a demonstration of the laborious process.

9. Watch a Cherokee Performance

Unto These Hills is an outdoor play by the Cherokee Mountainside Theatre Group that explores centuries of Cherokee history in song, dance, and drama. The popular performance debuted in 1950 and has been updated over the decades to immerse patrons in a story of clashing cultures, tribulation, and strength.

10. Have Fun at Santa’s Land

Santa’s Land is an old-fashioned theme park perfect for families. There are paddle boats, roller coasters, and even a magic show. The small petting zoo is perfect for introducing children to the wonders of animals.

11. Indulge in Some Shopping

Indulge in shopping while experiencing a different culture at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. These genuine Cherokee crafts range from wood carvings to basket weaving. Pick up some high-quality items for your home that have a Native American flare to them. You can also go to Saunooke Village for some authentic Cherokee crafts.

12. Follow the Fire Mountain Trails

If you want to get that adrenaline pumping, head to Fire Mountain Trails, multi-use paths where you can mountain bike, run, or even hike. With the surrounding trees and rocks, it’s a great way to explore nature and get in some exercise. You can stop at Tsali Cycles for some bike rentals to really enjoy the trails.

13. Go Golfing

Whether you want to hit a few balls with your friends or spend time putting with the kids, Cherokee offers plenty of golfing options like the Sequoyah National Golf Club. The 18-hole course is nestled amongst trees and hills for a peaceful setting. For a more kid-friendly experience, head to Cherokee Fun Park where there’s a miniature golf course perfect for the little ones.

14. Summit Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls might be one of the most popular things to do in Cherokee. The 200-foot waterfall offers idyllic views and plenty of natural beauty. The hike is an easy half-mile; perfect for children, elderly members of the family, and those wanting to go on an easy stroll.

15. Do Some Fishing

Don’t head home without reeling out a line and waiting for the fish to nibble. With 30 miles of rivers, streams, and creeks, there’s plenty of fish, especially the prevalent trout. All you need is a Tribal Permit, which you can get in the reservation, and tackle. The Tuckaseegee Fly Shop, American Spirit, and Rivers Edge Outfitters all have the equipment you need. The latter also offers guided trips for the ultimate fishing experience.

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