The nation’s most-visited national park – Great Smoky Mountains ( www.nps.gov/grsm) – and Eastern America’s largest Indian reservation, are just a few of the most superlative excuses for visiting Cherokee ( www.visitcherokeenc.com). There’s nothing more elemental than a walk in the Smokies’ woods, the ancestral home of the Cherokee. If the rich lore and traditions of the tribe are your focus, the town’s museums, outdoor drama, and living history displays offer cultural insight. There’s golf at the tribe’s championship Sequoyah National Golf Club ( www.sequoyahnational.com), and entertainment and gaming at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort ( www.harrahscherokee.com).
The pageantry of a Native American pow wow is a high point of summer in Cherokee. The 39th Annual Cherokee Indian Pow Wow will be on the Fourth of July, after 10 years on another date. There’s a massive fireworks display. 2014 will be the first year for the Growing Ones Cherokee Youth Pow Wow over Memorial Day: No adult dance categories in this event. The sole emphasis on young dancers will be unique.
Cherokee’s popular Seven Clans Professional Rodeo is Sept. 5-6, and this year, a new event takes place the same days at an adjacent venue – the Cherokee Barbecue Festival. The event will feature bluegrass music.
The Great Smoky Mountains start where Cherokee stops. Spring and early summer are full of the park’s special events. The new, green Oconaluftee Visitor Center just outside Cherokee features old-time music and dance from the 1930s and ’40s in a round-robin performance by local musicians the first and third Saturday of every month (1-3 pm). The beginning of June, Smokemont campground near Cherokee is a viewing area for the park’s spectacular firefly display. And the third Saturday in June, a “Women’s Work” program at the Mountain Farm Museum features costumed living historians making soap, cooking on open hearths and doing other tasks in historic cabins. Ranger-led programs ( http://1.usa.gov/1kCVfsh) occur often in April, May and all summer.
Tribal management of Cherokee waters permits year-round fishing ( http://bit.ly/1lcxR20) in the miles and miles of streams that flow down from the Great Smoky Mountains. The tribe has a long and spectacular stretch of the dancing Oconaluftee River and the Oconaluftee Islands Park in the heart of Cherokee is a favorite fishing site. There are trout tournaments throughout the summer, and the annual Talking Trees Trout Derby for ages 3-11 is something special. This year the free event is Aug. 2. Bring your own gear – or don’t: Fishing equipment, breakfast, lunch, t-shirts and more are provided at no cost to the participants. There’s also entertainment and fishing demonstrations.
You won’t go hungry if you head to Cherokee for the ultimate indoor experience – a marathon session at Harrah’s gaming tables. There are 10 eateries ( http://bit.ly/1qg6ism), among them premium names like Ruth’s Chris and Pizzeria Uno, a Chicago deep dish pizza tradition.