24 Hours in Cherokee: Essentials for Those Short on Time

With only 24 hours in Cherokee, every moment is precious. This guide is tailored to showcase the essence of Cherokee, North Carolina, from the popular Mingo Falls hike to the history and culture of the Cherokee people. When time is limited, use this itinerary to experience the best of Cherokee in a day.

Key things to know: quick weekend trip to Cherokee, North Carolina

  • Mingo Falls Hike: Experience one of the tallest waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains. Ensure you have written directions for reliability.
  • Cherokee Cultural District: Dive into local culture through museums, authentic handcrafts, and souvenir shopping.
  • Where to Stay: Stonebrook Lodge is a recommended option for its proximity to dining and attractions.
Sign in English and Cherokee that says Cultural District.
When spending a day in Cherokee, North Carolina, don’t miss the cultural district. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

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Things to do during your day in Cherokee, North Carolina

When visiting Cherokee, North Carolina, for one day you’ll find a lot of things you can choose from to fill your day. Below are my top picks plus some other suggestions.

Hike to Mingo Falls

Don’t miss the hike to Mingo Falls. It’s a popular choice among visitors for a reason. It’s a short hike and then you get to see one of the tallest waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains.

A word of caution: for directions to the Mingo Falls trailhead, don’t solely rely on your GPS. Google Maps tried to steer us in the wrong direction, so I was glad that I had written directions also.

From U.S. 441 in Cherokee turn onto Acquoni Road. Keep going till you hit the Saunooke Village shopping center, and then swing right onto Big Cove Road. From there, it’s about five miles to the trailhead parking. Keep an eye out for signs, and you’ll find parking spots on your right. 

Parking at the trailhead is limited so plan to get there early in the day if you’re doing the hike on the weekend during peak travel times.

Although it’s only about half a mile roundtrip, the trail is considered moderately strenuous since there are about 160 stairs to climb. Of course, on the way back, you’ll just be going down, so it will seem really easy!

Photo of the author in front of Mingo Falls.
At Mingo Falls in Cherokee, stop on the bridge to take a photo. Photo: David Vierow.

Museum of the Cherokee People

The Museum of the Cherokee People is a must-do during a visit to Cherokee, NC, especially if it’s your first time there. The museum is a treasure trove of history and culture.

The museum showcases a beautiful blend of interactive displays, artifacts, contemporary artworks, and poignant stories that paint a vivid picture of the resilience, traditions, and contributions of the Cherokee people.

Sadly, during our museum visit, most multimedia displays didn’t work. We missed hearing firsthand accounts from key Cherokee figures. Another reason to plan a return visit!

Sign that says Museum of the Cherokee Indian in front of a larger grey buidling.
During a day in Cherokee, the Museum of the Cherokee People is an essential stop. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Enjoy a picnic lunch

By now you’ll surely be ready for some lunch. We chose to pack a lunch and enjoy the beautiful fall weather in Cherokee. There are a number of places where you can nab a picnic spot on the Oconaluftee River.

Explore the Cultural District

We spent the rest of the afternoon (before checking into our hotel) exploring the town, particularly the Cultural District. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is poke through all of the tourist area souvenir shops looking for the best refrigerator magnet souvenirs. We often pick up new Christmas tree ornaments on our travels as well.

Other things to do in Cherokee’s Cultural District include

  • Visit Oconaluftee Islands Park
  • Stop in at the Cherokee Welcome Center
  • Buy authentic Cherokee handcrafts at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual
  • Grab an ice cream cone at Sugar Bear’s Ice Cream and Coffee


We enjoyed a lovely dinner at Brio inside Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. They offered Hubby some solid gluten-friendly options and provided great service. Plus we loved that we could walk there from our hotel.

Breakfast at Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles

During our quick weekend in Cherokee, we opted to eat breakfast out rather than the free continental breakfast at our hotel (a little more on that below). Hubby and I love diner breakfasts, so of course we had to try Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles. It’s a popular place, so if you’re there on a weekend you may want to try to get there early.

We absolutely loved it. The people there are great, and the food was quite tasty. I had the French toast and potatoes. Hubby had the steak and eggs.

Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles is right on the river, so you’ll also find it to be a nice spot to take a little break before or after you eat.

Yellow building with white trim. Sign reads Peter's Pancakes & Waffles.
Enjoy a tasty breakfast at Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles in Cherokee. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Other things you could do in Cherokee

Even though we had a relaxed 24 hours in Cherokee, there were many other activities we could have added.

  • Visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village (seasonal)
  • Unto These Hills outdoor drama (seasonal)
  • Oconaluftee River Trail

Other activities in the Cherokee area

Consider exploring outside of Cherokee if you have more time. 

  • Hike to Soco Falls
  • Enjoy a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City)
  • Explore some of the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Take some time in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is in Cherokee)

Where to stay in Cherokee

We enjoyed our stay at Stonebrook Lodge. While the room was not particularly large, it was nice and clean. And the bed was quite comfortable. Even though the hotel was fully booked during our stay, we found it very quiet.

Stonebrook Lodge does offer a free breakfast, but we chose not to eat there because of the limited options and low quality of the food offered. The hotel is directly across the street from the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort making it convenient to walk to dinner and other dining options.

Hotel with stone pillars in front. Sign says Stonebrook Lodge.
If you stay overnight in Cherokee, North Carolina, the Stonebrook Lodge is a solid option. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

Other popular places to stay in Cherokee include:

  • Great Smokies Inn: Just minutes from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Rivers Edge Motel: A highly rated and affordable option on the Oconaluftee River and minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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