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Mountain Heritage Center / Western Carolina University

The fibers of an inspirational heritage

The galleries of the Mountain Heritage Center bring mountain history and culture onto the main stage of who we are as a people and what’s at stake right now in these coves and hilltops we love to call home.  Through gallery, school and outreach programs, the center delivers textured educational programs, covering a myriad of topics from the myths and legends of the Cherokee, through to the intellectual and imaginative footprints of Horace Kephart and William Bartram.

Officially showcasing “mountain societies and the natural world,” the center serves as a hothouse for recognizing and nurturing heritage crafts, from blacksmithing to quilt making, and often reaches out to other communities through traveling exhibits.

Each fall, the Center presents Mountain Heritage Day, recently named one of the Top 20 festivals in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. Always held on the last Saturday in September, this free celebration of southern Appalachian music, arts, dance and culture has something for everyone, with demonstrations of traditional mountain crafts and skills, Cherokee stickball games, over 100 arts & crafts vendors, and numerous children’s activities. For music lovers, the performances are non-stop, with shape-note singing, bluegrass, old-time string bands, ballads, gospel music and clogging on stages and tents throughout the day.

The Mountain Heritage Center publishes books, produces musical recordings, and hosts educational programs for local public school children and university students. Its collection of over 10,000 artifacts includes woodworking tools, quilts, coverlets, and early transportation equipment. Some of the Mountain Heritage Center’s programming has been used by The Smithsonian Institution and the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

For hours and news of current exhibits, visit the website.



Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama

For over 50 years, Cherokee players have performed Unto These Hills, the second longest running outdoor drama in the United States. Under the stars on summer nights, the story of the Cherokee in North Carolina unfolds in dazzling sights and sounds.

Music and dance traditions are woven into the play, as are the rich stories of Cherokee legends. The historical production portrays the arrival of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540, the participation of the Cherokee in the Battle of Horsehoe Bend, and the removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands on the Trail of Tears in 1838. Unto These Hills honors some of the most revered Cherokee heroes, including Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee alphabet, Junaluska, the wise leader, and Tsali, the brave warrior who gave his life for his people.

A large cast and technical staff recreate the pageantry of traditional festivals, a Cherokee wedding, and the world-famous Eagle Dance. Unto These Hills is set in the Mountainside Theater, an outdoor theater that seats 2,800.

Unto These Hills was first presented in 1950. The cast of Unto These Hills is drawn from local Cherokee people and students of the drama department at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Each year’s production adds new elements.

The Eternal Flame burns at the entrance to the Mountainside Theater. The Cherokee believe that as long as the fire burns, they will survive as a people. The flame was carried to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears and was brought back to Cherokee from Oklahoma in 1951. The flame still burns.

Hours of Operation

Unto These Hills is performed nightly, except Sundays, from early June through mid-August. Showtime is 8:00 pm. Pre-show performances of music and dance start by 7:30 pm.

Admission Fees

Tickets for Unto These Hills can be purchased on-line, by phone, at the Mountainside Theater box office and at the Cherokee Historical Association office at US Highway 441 and Drama Road.

General admission is $18 for adults, $8 for children ages 12 and under. Family Pack: 2 free tickets for children ages 6-12 with purchase of 1 adult ticket. Call for pricing. Reserved seats are $22 for adults and $10 for children ages 12 and under.
Group rates are available.

Hours of operation and fees are subject to change. Contact directly for most current information.


The Mountainside Theater and Cherokee Historical Association office are located on Drama Road, off US 441.

Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama
PO Box 398
Cherokee, NC 28719
(828) 497-2111
(866) 554-4557 (toll-free)

Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center

Built of native rock, a historic schoolhouse offering native crafts

Growing from an abandoned school building just a few short years ago to the vibrant center of the community today, Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center now offers over 20 programs to approximately 10,000 people annually. Located near Robbinsville and the Cherokee tribal community of Snowbird, the center brings music to the mountains through the summer performing arts series An Appalachian Evening, as well as the Annual Harvest Festival and other events.

The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center is housed in the old Stecoah School building, which was built of native rock with the skill and labor of local community members. The school and its students were photographed on the dedication day ceremony in 1926. That panoramic photograph is now reproduced in an 18-foot mural overlooking the historic auditorium.

The Center is home to the Stecoah Artisans Gallery & Guild, a regional artists gallery featuring a variety of original artworks and fine crafts, the Stecoah Valley Food Ventures culinary co-op, and the Stecoah Textile Studio, which offers classes year round. It is also the starting point for the Stecoah Drive-About Tour and home to the Courtyard of the Cherokee.

The school building houses a “Cherokee in Stecoah Valley” exhibit devoted to the heritage of local Cherokee families. The name Stecoah comes from the Cherokee language. The term “Usdi Gohi,” meaning “little place” was applied to many places by the Cherokee, but here the words became “Stecoah” and the name stuck.

For hours, events and other news, visit the website.

Listen to a Living Traditions Moment about Stecoah and Graham County’s rich history. 

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual

Sample crafts at nation’s oldest Native American cooperative

Brought to life in 1946, Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is the nation’s oldest and foremost Native American cooperative.  You would expect, perhaps, some fine Cherokee art and functional craft pieces; what you get on the whole is wondrous.

Within Qualla’s airy and well-appointed space, you’ll find river cane, split oak and honeysuckle vine baskets of Smithsonian quality, along with ceremonial masks, low-fired pottery, wood carvings, bead work, stone carving and pipes for coming to peace with life in general and calling forth the abiding spirit of rivers and mountains.

You’re invited to witness the stories and artistry of generational artists, some who recall having to learn English in boarding school or officiating stickball games; all of whom are conversant in the language of Cherokee heritage and art.  For profiles of “elders” and other master craftsmen, visit www.cherokeeheritagetrails.org/artistdir.

Coop members have worked with the University of Tennessee to establish blight-resistant butternut trees (similar in fate to chestnut trees), valued as a natural dye source, as wood for Cherokee flutes and carvings and for their nuts, a key ingredient in traditional recipes.  A grove is now thriving in the “mother town” of Kituwah.

Cherokee History in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Western North Carolina have a rich history and a strong heritage that is being passed down to the younger generations even today. Despite hardship and a history full of uncertain outcomes and a trail of tears, the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina have built a vibrant and successful tribal community in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Explore our webiste and learn more about Cherokee craftsCherokee history and Cherokee heritage.

 For hours, check out the website at www.quallaartsandcrafts.com


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in America. Covering more than half a million acres in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee, the Park attracts nature-lovers, hikers, campers, fishermen, photographers, and other travelers looking for beauty, refreshment, and renewal of spirit.

Created in 1934, the Park and its mountains take the name “Smoky” because of the soft, blue haze that hovers over the Great Smoky Mountains range, especially in summer. 

An International Biosphere in NC Blue Ridge Mountains

Because of its remarkable biodiversity, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1983. No other area of similar size and climate has as many documented species of plants, animals and invertebrates. Scientists have recorded more than 10,000 species, but believe there to be nine times as many.

Two hundred bird species, including red-eyed vireos, peregrine falcons and more than 30 kinds of warblers can be spotted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Great Smoky Mountains are also home to 30 species of salamanders, a distinction that makes this the “salamander capital” of the United States.

Click  below to hear a Living Traditions Moment about Biodiversity in Western North Carolina

This video of Deep Creek Waterfalls and Wildflowers from Great Smokey Mountains Association was made possible by a Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Grant.

Ancient Mountains and Old Growth Forests

The Great Smoky Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. An unbroken, 36-mile chain of ridges over 5,000 feet in elevation runs the length of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views from the highest peak, Clingman’s Dome, at an elevation of 6,642 feet.  Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the third highest point in the east of the Mississippi, and provides one of the most scenic viewpoints in the United States.

Nearly a quarter of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is old-growth forest. The Park protects one of the largest blocks of deciduous, temperate, old-growth forest remaining on the continent.

The following video project from Great Smoky Mountains Association was made possible by a grant from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.  The video takes you on a journey through one of the most interesting mountain ecosystems in the country.  The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

© GSMA 2012. All rights reserved

A Place of Cultural Preservation

In addition to its natural attractions, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place of cultural preservation, featuring some 77 historic structures which provide a window into how early inhabitants once lived in the area.

The Park’s Mountain Farm Museum is an outstanding collection of historic log structures which includes a farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse and a working blacksmith shop.

At the nearby 1886 Mingus Mill, a miller demonstrates the process of grinding corn using a water-powered turbine rather than a water wheel.

Within the picturesque Cataloochee Valley, the Park preserves remnant buildings from a once large and prosperous settlement.  Cataloochee is a beautiful, fairly remote valley nestled on the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Elk have been re-introduced into this part of the Park and can often be seen from the roadside.  Learn more in this video from Great Smoky Mountains Association and the Blue Ridge National Heritage area.

New Oconaluftee Visitor Center

In April 2011, a new 6,300 square foot visitor center was opened at the Park entrance near Cherokee.  In addition to offering visitor information and orientation, the center also has museum-quality interpretive exhibits of the history of the park’s land, from pre-historic times through the 20th century.

The Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a collection of historic structures from throughout the park gathered and preserved as an outdoor living museum.

Hours of Operation

The Park is open year-round. Visitor Centers located at Oconaluftee, Sugarlands, and Cades Cove are open all year, except Christmas Day. Hours of operation vary throughout the year and can be found on the Park’s website.

Admission Fees

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not charge an entrance fee.

For those seeking to enjoy the backcountry camping opoutunies within the Park there is now a $4 per person per night fee. Permits and reservations are required for backcountry camping and can be obtained online, and anytime 30 days in advance.


Several major highways lead to the Park. The following routes provide access to the three main entrances.

Cherokee, NC entrance: From I-40, take US Route 19 West through Maggie Valley. Proceed to US-441 North at Cherokee into the Park.

From Atlanta and points south: Follow US-441 and 23 North. US-441 leads to the Park.

Gatlinburg, TN entrance: From interstate highway I-40, take Exit 407 (Sevierville) to TN Route 66 South, and continue to US-441 South. Follow US-441 to the Park.

Townsend, TN entrance: From interstate highway I-40 in Knoxville, take exit 386B US-129 South to Alcoa/Maryville. At Maryville, proceed on US-321 North through Townsend. Continue straight on TN Highway 73 into the Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Visitor Information Recorded Message: (865) 436-1200

Cherokee Welcome Center
498 Tsali Boulevard
Cherokee, NC 28719


John C. Campbell Folk School

 It may be higher learning but this folk school is seated in the soul

John C. Campbell Folk school at Brasstown may be the only place on earth where you can jump into a course called “Hand-planed bamboo fly rod” and follow up with “Hammering a tune on the hammered dulcimer.”  Founded in 1925, the basic curricula of making things that matter as much to the heart as to anything else hasn’t really changed all that much.

John and Olive Dame Campbell had come to the mountains of the South in 1908, as humanitarians, to study the region, collect ballads and contemporary handcrafts.  After John died in 1919, Olive and her friend Marguerite Butler voyaged to Europe to look at Danish “schools for life.”  They returned wanting to offer the same kind of “learning and living” opportunity in the Appalachian Mountains.

Today, true to its original zeitgeist, Campbell School offers weekend or week-long classes in traditional and present-day arts and crafts, cooking, gardening and nature studies.  There’s also a generous helping of song, dance and wonderful vittles, if you’re so inclined–basically enough community and headlong fun to fill several crates of memories.

Viewing Doris Ulmann’s photographs from the early 1930s and works from the school’s folklore archives make the trip to Brasstown well worth the time, even if you decide to postpone sculpting a tear-drop fiddle til next year.

A destination unto itself, the Craft Shop at the Folk School offers carvings from the renowned Brasstown Carvers and a wide variety of craft items for sale from over 300 regional and national artists. Visitors are also welcome to stop by the school’s craft studios and its History Center, which features exhibits on twentieth century Appalachian culture.

The campus features a variety of easy nature trails, including the Rivercane Walk, a quarter-mile creekside loop trail with sculptures from area artists honoring the local Cherokee heritage. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds during daylight hours, check out the Craft Shop, peek in at the classes in session, and stroll the nature trails.

Find out about the great plethora of Campbell classes taught by celebrated masters by visiting www.folkschool.org



Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Learning about the heart and soul of a civilization

Welcome to a sweeping history of the Cherokee Nation, engaging and oftimes heart-rending, from ice age beginnings to present day life and culture.  In the brushstrokes of this fascinating heritage, you’ll discover the warp and weft of treaties, the roots of a naturalistic language, artifacts of particular periods, great figures and heroes and entrancing stories of a civilization along with the Cherokee’s distinctive values and ways of being in the world before and after “the Trail of Tears.”

The museum offers courses and workshops that combine scholarly content with voices of Cherokee people and experiences on the Qualla Boundary.

A perfect place to begin exploration of Cherokee heritage and traditions is the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. Visitors are greeted at the entrance by a 20-foot hand-carved statue of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet.

An interpretive site for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, this state-of-the-art facility traces the story of the Cherokee from the earliest inhabitants of the area 11,000 years ago to the present. An extensive exhibit of artifacts and photos is enhanced with computer generated holograms and other imagery, sound, and special effects that leave a lasting and haunting impression on the visitor.

The museum gift shop is rich in Cherokee tradition. Locally created baskets, pottery, wood carvings, decorated gourds and beadwork are among the art available for sale. Books on Cherokee history, culture, language, and genealogy line the shelves, along with audio CDs and tapes by local musicians and storytellers.

For hours and fees, check out the website

Oconaluftee Indian Village

Step back in time into 18th century Cherokee village

Before Alexander Hamilton ever met Aaron Burr, there was an Oconaluftee Indian Village and, thanks to the dedication of many present-day Cherokee historians, you can easily travel back to that time and place for an interactive 1750 experience led by Cherokee guides and mentors.

You’ll follow these cultural experts through winding paths, flanked with traditional Cherokee dwellings, work areas, sacred ritual sites and traditional dance performances.  You’ll also look in on villagers as they hull canoes, hand build pottery and masks, weave baskets and fashion beadwork.  And, should negotiations take a turn for the worse, you’ll be on hand as the community gears for war. 

Dive into a history you can see and feel.  At the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, you can step inside the world of an 18th century Cherokee village and see a dugout canoe under construction, pottery and baskets being crafted, and a blow gun demonstrated. Tours are led by guides, many of them Cherokee High School students, whose interpretation of Cherokee culture is based on both scholarly research and  oral tradition.

The living exhibits demonstrate how the Cherokee were responsible stewards of the beloved land of their ancestors and used it wisely. There was little waste of natural resources used in producing items needed for daily living, and reciprocity (giving back when something was used) was the custom.

The Oconaluftee Indian Village is presented by the non-profit Cherokee Historical Association which also produces the Unto These Hills outdoor drama.

For hours and fees, visit the website