Are you planning a trip to The Tarheel State and wondering about the best things to do in Cherokee, NC with kids? We’ve got you covered! Cherokee is a beautiful mountain town with many things to do.
The history of the town is quite extraordinary. Today, some of the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are descendants of Trail of Tears survivors, while others are descendants of those who didn’t march, but managed to stay with the land they owned in North Carolina. The Cherokee do not live on a reservation, they live on the Qualla Boundary.
In the 1800s the tribespeople purchased 57,000 acres of land. This land sits next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and includes rivers, forests, and mountains. You can learn more about the town and its history on the town website!
There is plenty to explore in this beautiful mountain town. You can learn more about the Cherokee, see what life was like a hundred years ago in a living museum, eat delicious country cooking, relax in nature, and more! Which of these things to do in Cherokee NC with kids will you do first?
Museum Of The Cherokee Indian
The Museum of The Cherokee Indian is one of the best things to do in Cherokee NC with kids! This museum allows you to truly immerse yourself in Cherokee culture through art, stories of the past, artifacts, and other cultural displays. The museum is in the cultural district of Cherokee near the Oconalufteen Indian Village.
The museum has been praised for its immaculate design and people have even referred to it as a model for all other museums. USA Today has declared it to be one of the top Native American experiences in the country.
The Museum of The Cherokee Indian showcases more than 13,000 years of Cherokee history. You can follow the history from the time when mastodons were living in the southern Appalachian Mountains to the present day. This story is told via life-sized models, art, artifacts, computer animation, and special effects.
General admission tickets start at just $12 and a visit to the museum puts you in a great position to visit other nearby Cherokee attractions once you have explored the museum. If you find yourself visiting during rainy or unpleasant weather, this museum is one of the best indoor things to do in Cherokee.
Oconaluftee Indian Village
Visiting the Oconaluftee Indian Village is one of the best Cherokee NC attractions because it is a walk through history in the coolest way possible! This village is alive and well. This is one of the few places where you can experience history as if it were still happening. You can see various tasks that would have been performed years ago, see structures built with historical accuracy, and generally learn about the way of life of the Cherokee people.
The village is referred to as a living museum and is operated by the Cherokee Historical Association. Some of the coolest things to experience include watching traditional Cherokee dancing, watching craft demonstrations by award-winning artists, and learning about historical Cherokee people and what their life was like hundreds of years ago in the Tennessee mountains.
This is a great site for family travelers as children under five get free admission to the village. You will love walking through the lush green forest, listening to the sounds of the mountain stream, and learning about life in the 18th century.
By the way, if you are wondering what Oconaluftee means, it is an English interpretation of the Cherokee word, Egwanulti, which means near or beside the river.
Granny’s Kitchen is a casual and cozy diner in Cherokee. They have a sprawling buffet of country cooking served cafeteria-style. Visit for breakfast and enjoy a spread of fruit, biscuits and gravy, bacon, scrambled eggs, and more. There’s nothing like starting your day in Cherokee by eating a big breakfast from Granny’s Kitchen!
Of course, they have great lunch and dinner options as well. They have beans, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried fish, corn, and more! If you are tired from a long day exploring the town, you can grab takeout and enjoy it at your hotel or rental instead. You will find the restaurant on U.S. 19, just one mile east of Harrah’s Casino.
Keep in mind that they are closed on Mondays and during the off-season, which is December to mid-March.
Mountain Farm Museum
The Mountain Farm Museum is one of the best things to do in Cherokee NC with kids! The museum is a collection of historic log cabins in the Great Smoky Mountains. These buildings have been expertly preserved and include a house, barn, smokehouse, apple storage house, and others.
This is a super unique museum where visitors can explore some of the buildings, including a working blacksmith shop. Exploring these historic buildings gives visitors a sense of how the families lived in the area a hundred years ago.
A visit to the Mountain Farm Museum is nearby several other Cherokee attractions including the Oconaluftee River Trail and the Mingus Creek Trail. The museum is roughly thirty miles from the town of Gatlinburg and about fifty miles from Townsend.
Cherokee Veterens Park
The Veterans Park in northeastern Cherokee County is 149 acres of land and is one of the largest parks in the county’s parks system. The park is a monument that is dedicated to the service and the sacrifice of everyone who has served in the U.S. military.
The park has a beautiful design and is filled with information about the heroic acts of service members. There are specific areas in the park dedicated to those who remain missing in action and those who were held captive as prisoners of war.
There’s also a skate park, a pavilion for a picnic, two paved walking paths, and a playground in the park. If your little ones need to burn off some energy, the playground and walking paths can come in handy!
One of the best things to do in Cherokee NC with kids is to visit the beautiful Mingo Falls. If you love waterfalls, but don’t want to have to hike for miles to reach them, this is the waterfall for you! A short 0.4-mile hike will lead you to one of the most stunning waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains! You can find the falls just five miles from the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.
Although the trail to the waterfall is fairly short, it is ranked as moderate in difficulty. This is due to the fact that there are 161 steps that you have to climb to reach the falls. Be sure to keep this in mind when you are planning your Cherokee bucket list.
If you are wondering how the waterfall got its name, it comes from the Cherokee Language. Mingo means “big bear” in Cherokee. You may also hear the waterfall be referred to as Big Bear Falls.
Oconaluftee Island Park
This picturesque park is one of the most relaxing things to do in Cherokee NC with kids! This beautiful site runs along the river and is home to a bamboo forest, a beautiful footbridge, wooden boardwalks, and open fields perfect for letting little ones run around.
If you are visiting in the summer months, Oconaluftee Islands Park is a great place to launch an intertube and go tubing down the river. Then, in the winter months, you can find cool Christmas light displays. There are ducks to feed and benches along the water’s edge. The park is just generally one of the most serene places in Cherokee for those looking to slow down and relax.
Peter’s Pancakes And Waffles
If you are looking for good breakfast restaurants in Cherokee, you will want to visit Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles. This restaurant has been around for a long time and is very laid back. Located on the riverfront, this diner is something you are going to want to check out for yourself!
They serve up mouthwatering country breakfasts like the Country Boy Special and the Ranch Hadn’t Breakfast. You can grab yourself some biscuits and gravy, country ham, omelets, pancakes, waffles, french toast, and more!
Travel can be exhausting. If you need to sleep in, no worries! Peter’s is open until early afternoon for brunch as well. You can find the restaurant just south of the southern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you hop on the parkway after breakfast you can enjoy the Oconaluftee River, Ballhoot Scar, and Raven Fork overlooks, all of which are just down the road from the restaurant.
The Mingus Mill is one of the best things to do in Cherokee! It is an old 1886 grist mill in the Smoky Mountains that hold demonstrations of its turbine and other machinery. You can find the mill along U.S. 441 just a half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.
Watching a demonstration of corn being turned into cornmeal is a super cool experience to have while you are visiting Cherokee. They have some of the cornmeal available for purchase. This is such a unique way to keep a bit of your time spent in Cherokee alive as you can make your own mountain cornbread when you return home.
The Mingus Mill is a bit more interesting than it may appear to be at first glance. For example, did you know the mill was built for just $600? Also, you are going to want to keep your eye on the flume as you can occasionally spot a fish swimming around inside!
The mill was built by a member of the Mingus Family. They were one of the first families to settle in the river valley in 1790. It was common for wealthy families to own slaves at this time, so you will often see upside-down coins placed on rocks near the river. Why? Some say it is to pay the ferryman for safe passage of the souls to the afterlife. Others say it is because West African slaves believe that the afterlife is upside down of our world. Either way, leaving an upside-down coin is a way for your to show respect for the lives lost.
It’s not unusual to see deer and elk in the area surrounding the mill. So be sure to keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready. You may be able to spot elk grazing in the grass near the mill, in the field next to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, or walking along U.S. 441.
Mingus Creek Trail
While you are in Cherokee and paying a visit to the Mingus Creek Mill, you might as well check out the Mingus Creek Trail as well. The trail is 5.9 miles and is ranked as moderate in difficulty. The trail is very calming as it runs next to the creek which offers relaxing, trickling water sounds as you hike along the path.
A lot of people visit this area and have no idea that there is a slave cemetery nearby. Up on a hill near the trail, there is a small cemetery beneath the mountain tree canopy. There are rocks marking the head and feet of the graves, but they are not marked with names or dates.
The National Park Service recognizes this small cemetery as the Enloe Slave Graveyard. You may see upside coins placed on the rocks in the cemetery the same you do near the mill.
During your hike along the trail, you can expect to gain roughly 1,500 feet of elevation. The trail is an out and back trail and it is lightly trafficked. Hiking the Mingus Creek Trail is one of the best things to do in Cherokee NC with kids because it’s not something that everyone does. Enjoying the beauty along the trail and paying your respects at the graveyard are some of the most unique things you can do in the area.
Santa’s Land Fun Park And Zoo
Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo is located in Jackson County, North Carolina. If you are traveling with kids, this is one of the coolest things to do in Cherokee NC with kids as everything is tailored to little ones! They can sit on Santa’s lap, yes, even in the summer months. They can also enjoy a magic show or explore the zoo that has deer, birds, bears, kangaroos, and more.
This is one of the most fun things to do in Cherokee NC with kids and it is easy to see why. This attraction has been around since 1966 and they definitely know how to create fun memories for those traveling with kids. There are rides in the park including a Ferris wheel, an antique carousel, a roller coaster, and a train that goes around the park.
If rides aren’t your thing, no worries! They also have a game room an arcade where you can play classic arcade games like skeet ball and air hockey. When it comes to food, you are covered there as well as they have sandwiches, pizza, popcorn, and other savory dishes. When it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth you can try their homemade fudge, some candy, or a funnel cake.
Oh! And don’t forget, you’re also able to get a snow cone at Whitebeard’s Lake. At the lake, you can also feed the Koi fish while paddle boating! This is a super unique experience that your little ones are sure to love and remember for years to come.
Funnel Cakes Ice Cream Station
If there is one fun dessert that people in Appalachia love, it’s a funnel cake! On Big Cove Road in Cherokee, you can find Funnel Cakes Ice Cream Station. At this sweet shop, you can get loaded funnel cakes covered in fruits, whip cream, powdered, sugar, and other sweet toppings.
Of course, you can also get things like milkshakes, malts, banana splits, and ice cream cones. If you are visiting during the summer, stopping into this cool sweet shop is the perfect addition to a day spent exploring the town. You can grab a cold drink or yummy dessert before you continue on your way around the beautiful town of Cherokee.
Hike The Oconaluftee River Trail
Ready for a hike? Hiking the Oconaluftee River Trail is one of the best things to do in Cherokee NC with kids! The town is in such a beautiful part of North Carolina and as such, the hiking conditions are immaculate. The Oconaluftee River Trail is ranked as easy in difficulty and is a 3.1 miles out and back trail. If you are traveling with a dog, this trail will work for you as it is dog-friendly. This is wonderful because this is one of just two trails in the Smoky Mountains that allow dogs.
You can access the trail via the large paved parking lot near the visitors center. This trail is very well maintained. If you prefer to not have to climb over rocks and roots, you will love this trail. For moms traveling with young kids, this is a good trail because of its easy ranking, low elevation gain, and the fact that you can frequently see elk along the trail.
Kids love seeing animals out in the wild! Keep your eye out in the fields and along the tree line where the underbrush is to see if you can spot a resting elk. The trail will lead you along the river which is super calming and beautiful. You are going to love this Cherokee hiking trail!
As you can see, Cherokee is a town full of heartache, perseverance, and natural beauty. From the fantastic Museum of The Cherokee Indian and the Mingus Creek Mill to the Great Smoky Mountains and the delicious food at places like Granny’s Kitchen, you can find so much fun in this lovely mountain town. Which of these things to do in Cherokee NC with kids will you do first?
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