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 experience, we put together this guide of 15 hikes organized by driving distance. So, how far do you want to go? You decide! Each hike is rated for difficulty, so you know what's ahead, although most fall in the "easy" or "moderate" categories, making them great options for the whole family.  

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

 

Fire Mountain Trail System

Photo by r.s.shelley

Driving time from Cherokee: Located right in Cherokee, NC,  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.

Mingo Falls

Photo by corleyroyal

Driving time from Cherokee: 9 minutes from downtown Cherokee

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The beautiful 1/4-mile hike to the waterfall along the rushing stream is short, but you must climb 161 steps. 

Roundtrip length: 1/2 mile

Features: Rising to over 120 feet, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the southern Appalachians.

Directions to Trailhead: From the Saunooke Village shopping area in downtown Cherokee, drive north on Big Cove Road approximately 5 miles (past the KOA Campground) to the Mingo Falls parking lot. 

Mingus Creek Trail

Photo by dee.great_one

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 

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).

Soco Falls 

Photo by barrysnapp

Driving time from Cherokee: 15-18 minutes.

Difficulty: Easy: Walk to the observation deck to view the 120-foot falls. Hard: For a closer view, continue down the steep trail from the deck to the base of the waterfall. Be careful, this section has some ropes to help with navigation as the path can be very slippery. 

Roundtrip length: .25 mile

Features: Soco Falls in Cherokee, NC, is a breathtaking double rainbow on the edge of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. 

Directions to Trailhead: Enjoy it from a platform via a short walk from US Highway 19, just 1.5 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway (at Soco Gap at Milepost 455.7).

Smokemont Loop

Photo by drjptaylor 

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 

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

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

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 

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 

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

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

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

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

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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