Cherokee, North Carolina

Cherokee, North Carolina

Home to North Carolina's past, present and future

August 30th, 2015 by Mark Wiedmer in Glimpse 2015

Play by day (or night) in Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Discover why the Museum of the Cherokee Indian made USA Todays 10 Best Readers Choice Award.

Photo by Bear Allison

It might be difficult to view a town as historically significant when its chief economy is a Harrah's casino, but Cherokee unquestionably fits the bill.

From street signs written in both English and Cherokee syllabary (Cherokee = , for instance), to the long-running outdoor drama "Unto These Hills" (now 65 years and counting), to numerous authentic Cherokee arts and crafts shops, the quaint community originally known as "Yellow Hill" is the best place east of the Mississippi to study the history of the Cherokee Nation, which is the United States' largest Native American tribe.

Beyond that, the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary land trust — which contains Cherokee — was set aside for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, whose ancestors heroically resisted the government's desire to move them to Oklahoma during the 1830s' infamous "Trail of Tears."

So whether you choose to visit the Cherokee Botanical Garden, roast marshmellows with the kids at Island Park during the summer months as you learn the Cherokee Friendship Dance, or merely soak up the area's vast history, Cherokee is certainly worth the 150-mile drive from Chattanooga.

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Flowers and ferns

With more than 150 varieties of plants, trees and flowers, the Cherokee Botanical Garden and Nature Trail located along the slopes of Mount Noble and beside the Oconaluftee Indian Village off U.S. Route 441 is a smorgasbord for sights and smells. It even has an herb garden along its half-mile walking trail. Find out more at ncpedia.org/cherokee-botanical-garden.

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go forth ‘unto these hills’

Having already entertained and educated more than six million people since the outdoor drama first opened in 1950, the performances are done for 2015, but will begin anew in May 2016, when it will again take over the 2,100-seat, recently renovated Mountainside Theatre on all summer nights except Sundays. Shows start at 8 p.m., blankets are encouraged to better enjoy cool evenings in the mountains, and parking is free.

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Hollywood and Cherokee

Scenes from movies such as “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier,” “Digging to China,” “Forces of Nature,” “The Fugitive,” and “Stroszek” were all shot in Cherokee.

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Just like grandma used to make

For a family lunch or dinner treat, hit the buffet line at Granny’s Kitchen, which has been serving up fried chicken and a host of other Southern delights since 1984. In an area dominated by casino-attached restaurants and national fast-food chains, Granny’s is a stand-alone, home-grown tribute to comfort food. Find out more at grannys kitchencherokee.com.

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Elk lodge?

First reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 after what was believed to have been a 200-year absence, at least 140 elk now call the park and the surrounding area home. Two of the most popular spots to view them are the fields near the Oconnaluftee Visitor Center and at Cataloochee, north of Waynesville.