The Oconaluftee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located on the North Carolina side of the park. The Oconaluftee River valley widens form Smokemont to the Oconaluftee area. The river is part of the reason that this area has been so vital to the history of the North Carolina side of the park. People settled in this valley early on and in modern times it became the perfect place to have a visitors center for the People entering the GSMNP from the NC side of the mountains.
The Cherokee people are only known to have had one village inside the park boundaries. It is believed to have been near the current boundaries of the National Park itself. The Ocnaluftee area was used as a hunting ground for the Cherokee. The word Oconaluftee comes from the Cherokee word for river. As the early settlers moved into the area the found a valley that was easy to farm and had a ready supply of water available from the river. John Mingus came to the area in the 1790s and was the first European settler in the Oconaluftee area.
In the present day Oconaluftee area there are several historic sites that you can visit. One of the most interesting of these locations is Mingus Mill. This mill was built in 1886 and named for John Mingus and his family that was still in the area up until the time of the creation of the GSMNP. Instead of being the overshot water wheel like you see on other mills around the park (Cable’s Mill in Cades Cove). Mingus Mill is turbine driven which though it is not nearly as iconic as the overshot wheels, it was much, more efficient and therefore more profitable. This mill has been restored and you can walk around it and see how this early industrial tool worked for the people that live din the area.
Also, in the Oconaluftee area, there is a visitors center. Including a small museum, a mountain farm museum and access to park rangers, the visitors center at Oconaluftee allows you to plan your excursion into the national park. Talk to the rangers, make reservations for the various camping spots around the park, walk through the museum and learn more about the creation of the national park and the people that used to call this area home or maybe you want to head outside. Behind the visitors center is a replica of a small mountain farm. The early communities of the mountains lived in clusters of small farms. The people would have enough livestock and farm land to support their families during the year and have a little left over to trade with their neighbors as the bartered for the goods they needed.
The Oconaluftee area of the GSMNP is the entrance for most people coming to the park from the North Carolina side. As you pass through this beautiful area realize that you are passing through an area rich in history and amenities. Stop at the visitors center, speak to the park rangers and explore the museum inside. When you are done head outside and explore the mountain farm exhibit and then head into the park to Mingus Mill. Explore the Oconaluftee area and see everything that it has to offer.