Depending on where you come from, when you get to Western North Carolina, Cherokee could be your point of entry. If your approach is through northwestern Georgia or southeastern Tennessee, you will arrive in Cherokee. In fact it is almost obligatory to pass through the town (or very near it) to get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cherokee is worth a stop for many reasons. As the name implies, Cherokee is a center of the Cherokee Indian Reservation and you can learn a lot about the particular history of the Cherokees and their culture as well as more in general about other native Americans. There is the excellent Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which has done much to revitalize and support Cherokee pottery, dance and dress traditions. It is home of a traveling exhibit about the Trail of Tears, when American Indians in the Southeast were forced to leave their homelands. During the summer, you can learn about this story by attending a performance of the outdoor drama, Unto These Hills, which tells the story of the Cherokee people.
For authentic arts and crafts and for a real appreciation of the skill and abilities of the Cherokee craftspeople, visit the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, which is the oldest Native American arts cooperative in the U.S. Also authentic is the replication of a 1750s Cherokee village at Ocanaluftee Indian Village of the Cherokee Historical Association, an reenactment that takes places from May through October.
Then there is the tackier and schlockier side of Cherokee, with the tourist shops that line the main drag of the town. There is also the relatively recent addition of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, a 21-story luxury hotel with 1100 rooms and a full-fledged gaming center. Yes, it has changed the nature of the beast on the Cherokee heartland.