History and Nature Unite in Cherokee
If Cherokee had a bumper sticker, it would read: Cherokee, NC – Come for the fresh air, stay for the culture. This gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is bursting with back-to-nature activities like fishing, kayaking, and hiking, while being at the centre of the ancient beginnings and colourful customs of the Cherokee Indian people. With the gentle waters of the Oconaluftee River flowing in the distance, don’t be surprised if you get swept away by Mother Nature’s beauty. From campgrounds tucked away in the pines, a quaint motel on the water’s edge, or one of the larger chain hotels, don’t plan on spending a lot of time in your room – North Carolina and the great outdoors are calling.
Festivals Offer Something for Everyone
When the weather warms up, it’s festival season in Cherokee. There is an interesting event to attend every month in the spring and summer, and visitors can often find more than one festival that coincides with their vacation. Family-friendly festivals include the mouth-watering Strawberry Festival, followed closely by the equally delicious Blueberry Festival. April is the month to watch out for the Young Children’s Fair, and May is a good time for exercise enthusiasts to visit for the Mother’s Day 5 km Walk and Run. Perhaps one of the most unique events is the Cherokee Gourd Artists’ Gathering. You’ll never look at a squash the same way again after seeing the intricate carving, drawing and painting that turns an everyday vegetable into a work of art, and these unique creations are also available for sale. If fishing is more your cup of tea, you’re in luck, and anglers will delight in the number of tournaments and events that foster some good old-fashioned competition, all the while giving them a chance to catch the big one. Start the season with the Cherokee KOA Spring Fishing Tournament, or test your skills at a fly fishing festival or during the popular Memorial Day Trout Tournament. For an action-packed summer time celebration, take your pick of the lively Bluegrass Festival held every June, the Fourth of July Pow Wow, Cherokee Summer Carnival or the Clans Rodeo, each of which is guaranteed to be a good time.
The Cherokee Way of Life
Open year-round, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is a good place to start for history and insight into the Cherokee people and their customs. Visitors get to learn about the 11,000 year-old Cherokee story through interactive displays, video, and other engaging exhibits that defy the conventional idea of a museum. From there, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc. showcases a fascinating variety of art, and boasts the distinction of being the oldest North American cooperative in the United States, with over 350 artists displayed in one space. Cherokee history is also alive and well at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Traditional dwellings and spiritual sites depict Cherokee life as it used to be, and you could easily spend all day walking around observing basket weavers, canoe carvers and bead makers, not to mention witnessing live re-enactments of a village preparing for war. When day turns to night, the monthly Cherokee Bonfire delivers a special experience in the form of traditional story telling under the stars, and the must-see outdoor drama Unto These Hills is an acclaimed production that has all of the elements to rival the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Fresh Air Awaits
One of the best places to immerse yourself in the beauty of the region is at the Oconaluftee River Trail. No matter what the season, it would be hard not to be impressed by the pristine forest and picture-perfect riverside setting, and maybe you’ll even see a few of the over 200 species of birds that call the area home, or catch a herd of elk in their natural environment. Nature is also at its finest at Oconaluftee Islands Park. This family-friendly oasis has nature trails and water shallow enough for little ones to splash the day away, making this a great place to take a break. If you’re the type that needs a destination at the end of your hike, pack your walking sticks for the trail leading to Judaculla Rock to see the ancient Petroglyphs, or plan your route to observe the breathtaking Soco or Mingo falls. If hitting the greens is more your idea of getting some vitamin D, Sequoyah National Golf Club has mountain views so striking that you might find it hard to concentrate on your game. No matter what your outdoor pursuits, even the most avid outdoorsman needs a comfy place to put their feet up at night, and one of Cherokee’s most luxurious options is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. This 21-story Vegas-style hotel brings a bit of glamour to the wilderness, and after a day of being at one with nature, the spa will be calling your name.