Cherokee, North Carolina is an amazing place for a couple of reasons. Not only is it only about an hour west of Asheville, but its full of history, arts, crafts, and is welcoming to visitors. This is also a great time of year to visit Cherokee, unless the weather is icy.
Fortunately the day I decided to drive to Cherokee the sky was clear and the sun was bright. I took Highway 23 west from Candler because I wanted to take in the sights in Canton and Clyde. If I’d been pressed for time I would’ve taken I-40 West and taken the Waynesville exit just west of Canton. There is another way to get to Cherokee, but we’ll discuss that later.
When you get to Cherokee turn right at the Food Lion shopping center. This will take you right into the main part of Cherokee. You’ll drive past several shops and I’m recommending you make a right hand turn before you cross the river. This will take you past a beautiful recreation area on islands in the river. Just past the recreation area you can turn left across a bridge into the heart of Cherokee but I’m going to recommend you continue straight ahead.
If you do you’ll come to a very special area of Cherokee since this is where my mother and her family would come when they visited Cherokee back in the sixties. There are several interesting shops, attractions, and restaurants here which merit your time and attention.
At this point you’ll cross a bridge. Turn left on Tsali Boulevard and you’ll follow the river back toward Highway 19. Here you see some older tourist attractions and motels. After a mile or two you will reach downtown Cherokee.
One thing you should start looking for here are the bears. There are several around town and the critters are worthy of your attention. They make a great photo op, especially if you have small children. Each appears to be decorated by local artist, who have done a really good job.
The route I’ve described will bring you right in front of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Even though I was just passing through town, the museum still made a big impression. Its architecturally impressive, with the distinct geometric lines.
The stonework is worth noting and the sculpture in front is equally noteworthy. Take a look at the light posts and the carving of a spider — a creature significant in Cherokee mythology— beside the museum’s main entrance.
There’s a gazebo across from the Museum that attracted my attention. It’s in front of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. Notice the woven work along the top and the woodwork in the floor.
If you continue up the road in front of the Museum you’ll come to the site of the outdoor drama Unto These Hills and, just behind it, the Oconoluftee Indian Village. Both were closed the day I went but I thought the architecture was impressive. It will also be easier to find when I decide to go back and visit them when they’re open. I’m going to suggest you click here and read my article about what our correspondent Mike had to say about his visit to the Unto These Hills drama.
One thing you have to take a look at are the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds, located right behind the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. I found two things of particular interest here. The first was the amazing canopy over the seats on the fairgrounds. The view from Drama Road, right above them, gives a feel for the technology and craft that went into its design.
The second thing you should check out is the Fairground’s Ticket Booth. The pillars around the booth hold carvings of the seven Cherokee clans. Each of these are accompanied by a banner on a post next to it. Noticing these will make your experience in Cherokee even deeper and help connect you to the deep culture that is there.
Of course I can’t discuss visiting Cherokee without mentioning Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. It’s one of the biggest economic engines in the region and whether you gamble or not, it’s worth checking out. Here are one or two photos I thought you’d enjoy.
After I drove past the casino I decided to take Highway 19 back to Maggie Valley. This is actually the other way to Cherokee I wanted to discuss. It takes you along a beautiful wooded road and then up across a very big mountain through Soco Gap. This is the way my mother and her family traveled to Cherokee years ago. Along the way I saw shops and attractions which reminded me of that time in the American past. Our correspondant Mike said this is his favorite way to go to Cherokee because he enjoys seeing these sights.
I would show you some photos of the road, but it was dark and my hands were gripping my steering wheel. This is a good road, with a great guardrail, but it’s still a mountain road that needs a guardrail. The temperature at the top of the mountain was literally five degrees lower than the temperature once I reach Maggie Valley.
This route takes you to Maggie Valley where you can see more motels and shops that folks would stop at on their way to Cherokee. My mother remembers her brothers stopping at the Wheels Through Time Museum and the Soco Zoo. It’s a great route but it does take you over the mountain.
Cherokee, North Carolina is a great place to visit in season or out of season. I went in January and had a very relaxed, quiet afternoon. I’ll return during the summer and have a busier visit that will also be enjoyable.