Great Smoky mountains national park

A middle-aged couple, walking together on a forest trail

A sight for sore eyes and relief for stressed minds.

America’s most beloved park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its magnificent diversity of plant and animal life. An adventure into the park might feel like the missing vitamin you need. Nature like this serves as a healing tonic in our hectic modern existence. But this is nothing new for the Cherokee people. They have honored this powerful land for centuries. Now it’s time for you to discover this secret garden.

family hiking in the smoky mountains

Vacation in the Smokies for a wealth of outdoor fun.

Countless ridges and valleys of opulent forest make up the vast expanse of the park, beckoning you to come and enjoy its riches.

Take advantage of the hiking, swimming, biking, and kayaking opportunities in the park. Visit the high peak on the western border of Swain County where Cherokee legend tells of the Great Rabbit who was as large as a deer and all the little rabbits who were his subjects. Then, when you’re all worn out from stories and play, find a comfy Cherokee hotel where you can recharge for another day of adventure.

Wildlife Wonders: Exploring Cherokee’s Natural Treasures

Discover the rich diversity of wildlife awaiting exploration in Cherokee, where each step along the trail holds the potential for encountering nature’s marvels. From majestic elk grazing in meadows to elusive black bears roaming through the forest, the possibilities are endless. Keep your senses keen as you traverse the wilderness, for you may catch sight of these fascinating creatures.

Always Remember to respect their natural habitats and observe from a safe distance, allowing them to thrive undisturbed.

Cherokee records include many different types of warblers, including American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Norther Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Yellow-throated Warbler, to name a few. The Black-and-white Warbler is unique in that it nests on the ground, at the base of a tree.

Learn more about birding in Cherokee.

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(Photo by Bill Chitty)

Just North of Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears live in the wild—around 1,500 to 1,600 of them! Rules in the Smokies state that “willfully approaching within 50 yards of a bear or within any distance that results in their disturbance or displacement is prohibited.” It’s not good for you or the bears. Same goes for seeing bears in and around Cherokee. Keep a safe distance, and let them be.​

Want to see even more bears? Check out the Cherokee Bears Project.

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(Photo by AndrewK24)

Elk can be viewed everywhere, from lower elevations in town to high mountain tops in tribal reserve forests near Mile High Campground. The animals, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, were a native species to Western North Carolina. Habitat loss and overhunting led to their extinction in the mountains 200 years ago. Elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 and 2002.

In Cherokee, elk are often spotted in the fields that surround the Oconaluftee Visitors Center and can sometimes be seen crossing the Oconaluftee River. Learn more.

(Photo by AndrewK24)

Hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America, and they can reach lengths of up to 24 inches! These ancient nocturnal amphibians often hide under the same rock for their entire adult life span—up to 30 years. At night, they cruise the river beds to feed on crayfish. Hellbenders are reclusive creatures that play an important role in keeping the ecological balance of our mountain streams intact.

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(Photo by cmh4529)

From 1990–1995, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission released 49 river otters in the western part of the state in order to restore the river otter to its former range. River otters were also released in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to these restoration efforts, the otter population is now fully restored in North Carolina and considered abundant throughout the state.

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(Photo by Nathan Rupert)

In Cherokee, turkeys were known as “gvna” (or sometimes “duleji”), which means “kernels” — a reference to the bird’s red throat appendage, which has a kernel-like texture. In ceremonies, the wild turkey held an important place. Turkey meat was consumed during annual religious festivals, and large fans of turkey feathers were waved over each new chief during the inauguration ceremony. Beautiful capes were made from turkey feathers sewn onto leather or cloth. An excellent example of this type of garment is on display at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee.​

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(Photo by Jeffrey Pott)
A vibrant scarlet tanager perched on a slender branch, with lush green foliage in the background, framed within a red diamond border.

Stay and play

Each place you visit in Cherokee pulses with the stories and significance of a people whose roots run deep and whose ancient wisdom is fascinating to uncover. Nestled in the lush landscapes of Western North Carolina, Cherokee invites you to smell the wood smoke and open your ears. If you listen closely, maybe you can hear the chanting of the little Nunnehi people of the mountain peaks. No need to resist Cherokee’s invitations to dive right in. Fire off a blowgun if you dare, but make sure your spouse is in the clear. As you cast your line into the trout-filled rivers or wash your face in the sweet spray of a waterfall, let the powerful feelings of Cherokee carry you. Even if it’s just for a day or two.

Fire Mountain Trails
fire mountain

Fire Mountain Trails

Oconaluftee Indian Village
Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc.
Sequoyah National Golf Club
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
River Tubing

River Tubing

Oconaluftee Islands Park
Fire Mountain Disc Golf
entrance fmdgs (1)

Fire Mountain Disc Golf

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Cherokee Awaits.