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Drive Through the Smokies

Visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited of all of America’s beloved national parks, can be accessed from both Tennessee and North Carolina. The community of Cherokee, NC, ancestral home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is the Park’s southern gateway.

Coming from the west, (from Knoxville on I-40,) turn south at exit 407 to Sevierville. Turn right off the exit ramp onto Highway 66 (Winfield Dunn Parkway) and continue straight through the intersection with Main Street in Sevierville, where the road becomes U.S. Hwy. 441/71. Stay straight on U.S. 441, which becomes 441/321/73/71, through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg to pick up maps and other information about what to see and do in the Park. Then plan to take your time as you travel along U.S. 441 over the crest of the Great Smoky Mountains and into Cherokee, stopping at overlooks for the awesome views. (Note: Even in summer, the higher elevations can be surprisingly cool-bring a sweater.)

Another Visitor Center is located just two miles north of Cherokee. At the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, you can explore the Mountain Farm Museum-a collection of historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains and preserved on a single site. Two excellent walking trails start nearby.

Cherokee

The Southern Appalachian Mountains are the ancestral home of the Cherokee people, whose forebears have lived here for more than 11,000 years. When much of the tribe was removed to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1838, a handful escaped and remained in the mountains. Others later returned from Oklahoma to their native land.

In the community of Cherokee, just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, learn the fascinating history and experience the culture of the Cherokee people by visiting:

Museum of the Cherokee Indian-A wonderful place to begin your visit, the Museum of the Cherokee Indians is a state-of-the-art museum with exhibits that tell the Cherokee story, from ancient times until today.

Oconoluftee Indian Village-A living history experience for young and young-at-heart, the Village shows what Cherokee life was like in the 1750s here in the Southern Appalachians. Self-guided tours allow visitors to interact with the craft demonstrators and other villagers in the traditional attire of the era.

Qualla Arts & Crafts-In this museum and sales/showroom you will learn about the ancient Cherokee crafts of basketmaking, pottery, carving and more. Founded in 1946 with the purpose of preserving and advancing Cherokee arts and crafts, the Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, Inc., is today the oldest and leading Native American Arts cooperative in the United States.

Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama-One of the longest running outdoor dramas in the U.S. “Unto These Hills” portrays the unique story of the Cherokee from a historical perspective. The newly reconcepted play traces the Cherokee people through the aeons, through the zenith of their power, through the heartbreak of the Trail of Tears, finally ending, appropriately, in the present day. Open during the summer only.

From the east and south:

To reach Cherokee from Asheville, take I-40 east to the 23/74 turnoff to Waynesville. There are two routes to choose from: the first will be via Lake Junaluska and Maggie Valley on US 19. This is an interesting drive, but takes you over Soco Gap, so be prepared for winding roads. The other alternative is to stay on 23/74 to Sylva, then take US 441 N to Cherokee.

US441 is also the best route into the region from the south, particularly from Atlanta.

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The Regions of the Blue Ridge

In planning the best use of your NC mountains vacation days, know that the region can be divided into three sub-regions for ease of exploration:

Far West

  • Cherokee
  • The Nantahala Gorge
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Central

  • Asheville
  • Hendersonville
  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • The waterfalls of Transylvania County
  • Many more highlights

High Country

  • Grandfather Mountain
  • Linville Falls
  • Boone
  • Blowing Rock
  • High northern mountains

Foothills

  • Mt. Airy
  • Lenoir
  • Elkin
In light of COVID-19 precautions, some sites may be closed or events canceled. Please check directly with the sites listed for the latest information.