A Visitors Guide to Hiking Cherokee, NC | Cherokee, NC

How will Cherokee affect you?

A Visitors Guide to Hiking Cherokee, NC

(Photo above by AndreDPhotography)

Visiting Cherokee is like returning home to so many—a place of peace, calm, magic, and stunning natural beauty. Nestled just outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a region that’s world-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, Cherokee offers so many great places to get outside and enjoy nature, both in town and close by. Whether you’re planning a day trip, weekend getaway, or week-long vacation, you’ll definitely want to get outside and explore the beauty of these ancient mountains.

Choose your own adventure: waterfalls, scenic overlooks, creeks, streams, and wildflowers are all within reach! To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, we put together this guide of 13 hikes organized by driving distance. Depending on your comfort level, take note of how difficult each hike is rated. There’s a nice mix of easy hikes for the whole family, as well as some more moderate hikes if you’re looking for a challenge.

Many thanks to Livia Lambert for contributing her trail research to help us craft this guide.

Fire Mountain Trail System

Photo by wesharkins (August 13th, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: Located right in Cherokee, a hundred yards from the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

Difficulty: From easy to moderate, depending on which trail you choose.

Roundtrip length: Totalling 10.5 miles in total; longer loops are 5.2 miles, shorter ones are under 3 miles.

Features: A network of mixed-use trails for hiking and mountain biking, including single track and wider sections. For more info, see our blog on Fire Mountain Trail System.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead is located about 100 yards from the Oconaluftee Indian Village, 218 Drama Road, Cherokee, NC, 28719. Follow the signs to the trailhead.

Mingus Creek Trail

Photo by dee.great_one (Dec 3, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 10 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Roundtrip length: 5.8 miles

Features: Creek views by the historic Mingus Mill, built in 1886 and still in operation today. Further on the path there are footbridges, a new growth forest, and spring flowers.

Directions to Trailhead: The Mingus Creek Trailhead is at the far end of the parking area for the Mingus Mill, which is located about a half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side of the Smokies. Mingus Creek Trail, Cherokee, NC 28719.

Oconaluftee River Trail

Photo by trailwandering (October 30, 2016)

Driving time from Cherokee: 12 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 3 miles

Features: The Oconaluftee River Trail travels around the Mountain Farm Museum—a collection of log buildings built during the late 1800s and 1900s. The Oconaluftee River Trail is also one of two walking paths where visitors can ride bikes and walk dogs.

Directions to Trailhead: The Oconaluftee River Trail begins just behind the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, located about 2 miles north of Cherokee, NC on Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441).

Smokemont Loop

Photo by drjptaylor (October 16, 2016)

Driving time from Cherokee: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Roundtrip length: 6.5 miles

Features: Creekside views on a nice wide path, and wildflowers in the spring. As you descend, you’ll cross over the Bradley Fork on one of the longest footbridges in the park.

Directions to Trailhead: From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, drive 3.5 miles north along Newfound Gap Road to reach the turn-off for the Smokemont Campground. The parking area for this hike is located directly across the bridge as you turn into the campground. The trailhead provides access to the Bradley Fork Trail, which forms the eastern segment of the Smokemont Loop hike.

Indian Creek Falls

Photo by marcus_peace_love (June 24, 2013)

Driving time from Cherokee: 16 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 1.9 miles

Features: Waterfalls, wooden benches to admire the view, and abundant wildflowers.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead for Indian Creek Falls is located just north of Bryson City, North Carolina. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Rt. 441 and Rt. 19 in Cherokee, drive 10 miles south on Route 19 to Everett Street in Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and drive for 0.2 miles, and then turn right onto Depot Street. After a short distance turn left onto Ramseur Street, and then make an immediate right onto Deep Creek Road. Drive another 2.3 miles to the park entrance, and then from there another half-mile to the parking lot for the Indian Creek Falls trailhead.

Chasteen Creek Cascade

Photo by sprinkleshikes (September 28th, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 17 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 3.6 miles

Features: Scenic creek views, rhododendron, grasses, moss, and spring wildflowers. The hike begins by following the Bradley Fork Trail, an old road bed that parallels the Bradley Fork of the Oconaluftee River.

Directions to Trailhead: From the Smokemont Campground, make a left turn immediately after crossing the Oconaluftee River to continue into the campground. Drive all the way to the far end of the campground in Section D—the trailhead is located next to the parking lot. During the winter months, Sections C and D of the campground are closed, so hikers will have to park in Section B. The walk to the trailhead from this lot is roughly 0.35 miles.

Toms Branch Falls​

Photo by Lilblueboo (November 27th, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 17 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 0.6 miles

Features: The trail begins as a wide path as it traces Deep Creek upstream. The park service has provided several benches for visitors to admire these beautiful 80-foot falls, which spill down into the creek from the opposite bank.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead for Toms Branch Falls is located just north of Bryson City, North Carolina. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Rt. 441 and Rt. 19 in Cherokee, drive 10 miles south on Route 19 to Everett Street in Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and drive for 0.2 miles, and then turn right onto Depot Street. After a short distance turn left onto Ramseur Street, and then make an immediate right onto Deep Creek Road. Drive another 2.3 miles to the park entrance, and then from there another half-mile to the parking lot for the Toms Branch Falls trailhead.

Kephart Prong Trail

Photo by east_tn_hillbilly (June 25th, 2016)

Driving time from Cherokee: 18 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Roundtrip length: 4.2 miles

Features: Four footbridges, stream views, and Great Depression era remains of an old Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp including an old chimney, rock sign, and water fountain.

Directions to Trailhead: From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, drive 7.3 miles north on Newfound Gap Road to reach the parking area for the Kephart Prong Trail, located on your right, just off the side of the road.

Juney Whank Falls

Photo by mamagotmap (January 15th, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 19 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 0.5 miles

Features: A short hike leads to a footbridge with up-close views of the falls, cascading at 80 feet. If you want to hike more, you can continue on the Toms branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead for Juney Whank Falls is located just north of Bryson City, North Carolina. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Rt. 441 and Rt. 19 in Cherokee, drive 10 miles south on Route 19 to Everett Street in Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and drive for 0.2 miles, and then turn right onto Depot Street. After a short distance turn left onto Ramseur Street, and then make an immediate right onto Deep Creek Road. Drive another 2.3 miles to the park entrance, and then from there another half-mile to the parking lot for the Juney Whank Falls Trailhead.

Kanati Fork Trail

Photo by kellyvandellen (April 30, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 19 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Roundtrip length: 4 miles

Features: Small creek crossings, rhododendron and wildflowers. During the winter months the  stream is more visible from the trail. Both the creek and the trail are named after the mythical Cherokee hunter, Kanati

Directions to Trailhead: From Cherokee, drive north along Newfound Gap Road for almost 12 miles. The parking area will be on your right.

Lonesome Pine Overlook


Photo by ibstylinyo (May 28th, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 27 minutes

Difficulty: Strenuous

Roundtrip length: 6.7 miles

Features: Amazing views of the Nantahala Mountains across the Tuckasegee River Valley, with Bryson City below.

Directions to Trailhead: From Rt. 441 and Rt. 19 in Cherokee, drive 10 miles south on Route 19 to Everett Street in Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and drive for 0.2 miles, and then turn right onto Depot Street. After a short distance, take a left onto Ramseur Street, and then make an immediate right onto Deep Creek Road and drive another 2.3 miles to the park entrance. The Noland Divide Trailhead will be located on the left, across from the bridge into the Deep Creek Campground.

Deep Creek Loop​

Photo by cz_peacelovehiking (Oct 2, 2016)

Driving time from Cherokee: 28 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Roundtrip length: 4.6 miles

Features: If you take the entire loop, you’ll pass Toms Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls, all featured in this post. In the springtime, you can see abundant wildflowers.

Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead for the Deep Creek Loop hike is located just north of Bryson City, North Carolina. To reach the trailhead from the intersection of Rt. 441 and Rt. 19 in Cherokee, drive 10 miles south on Route 19 to Everett Street in Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and drive for 0.2 miles, and then turn right onto Depot Street. After a short distance turn left onto Ramseur Street, and then make an immediate right onto Deep Creek Road. Drive another 2.3 miles to the park entrance, and then from there another half-mile to the parking lot for the Deep Creek Trailhead.

Goldmine Loop Trail

Photo by leeann.huntley (August 3, 2017)

Driving time from Cherokee: 35 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Roundtrip length: 3.1 miles

Features: From the parking area, you can walk though Lakeview Drive Tunnel, which is almost a quarter mile long. When you make your way on Goldmine Branch Creek, you’ll pass an old homestead with remnants including a stone chimney.

Directions to Trailhead: From the intersection of U.S. 19 and Everett Street in Bryson City, NC, turn north to drive along Everett Street. Once through town the road becomes known as New Fontana Road. Continue on the same road until reaching the park boundary. Here the road becomes known as Lakeview Drive. In total, it's about 8.5 miles from Bryson City to the Lakeview Drive Tunnel.

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