Paula Deen’s Kitchen

Paula Deen’s Kitchen in Harrah’s Cherokee Casino closed in 2013. Information below is maintained for historical purposes.

Cherokee stepped up its reputation in the eyes of foodies in 2011 by adding a restaurant named after Food Network Star: Paula Deen.  Since that time, Paula Deen’s Kitchen in Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has become THE place to eat when you visit Cherokee, NC.  Her signature take on traditional southern food styles is causing ripples in the culinary minds of tourists and locals alike.

The food is the main reason that you visit a restaurant, so we will start with the menu.  Deen chose dishes that fit every taste when she picked the menu for this restaurant.  From lowland favorites like Shrimp and Grits to seafood feasts from the boiler, the variety will fit every taste.  The portion sizes are not small, so make sure that you bring an appetite.  For instance, this restaurant produces one of the largest and best tasting chicken pot pies that you will ever have.  The pot pie is topped off by a huge puff pastry that, when soaked in the juice from the chicken pot pie, is amazing. The boiler pots of seafood are also huge and prepared to perfection.

Paula DeenThe food is paired amazingly with décor and the atmosphere.  The way the restaurant has been designed, it is quite and you feel as if you are the only people seated in the huge dining room.  And if the décor and the atmosphere is amazing, you will be floored by the service. Polite, pleasant and professional are the catchwords for the day.  Firstly, they allow you to make reservations.  As one of the hot spots in the Smokies, the tables fill up fast.  Secondly, they are nice.  The wait staff treats you like you are the only person in the restaurant and your experience is their only concern.

Of course, the fact that it is located in the home of gaming in the Smokies doesn’t hurt either.  Harrah’s is an ever expanding project in Cherokee, NC.  They have added lots of shopping, lots of dining experiences and of course with the addition of Paula Deen’s Kitchen they have added an upscale dining establishment that is still rising like a shooting star in the culinary scene of Western North Carolina.  Located in the casino itself, you are mere feet from a great meal when you are playing cards or trying your hand at one of the many video gaming machines.

Paul a Deen's KitchenCheck out Paula Deen’s Kitchen at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.  If you are looking for a memorable meal that will make you wish you had more room in your belly and more time in your schedule, this is the only place you need to eat while you are in the Smokies.  Go in and try Paula Deen’s take on southern tradition.

Kermit Hunter

Kermit Hunter is a well known American playwright.  But, he is also known in the history of the Smokies due to the fact that he wrote Unto These Hills, the second longest running outdoor drama in the US and one of the highlights to any visit to Cherokee, NC.  He also wrote the outdoor drama, Horn in the West which is performed each season in Boone, NC.

kermit hunter1Kermit Hunter was born in West Virginia.  After a time in the US Army in World War II, he went on to manage the North Carolina Symphony.  Over time, working with various theatrical companies, Hunter went on to his graduate studies program in Dramatic Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  While he was there several of his plays would be produced by the Carolina Playmaker’s.  At this same time, the city of Cherokee started to look for someone to write a dramatic interpretation of the Cherokee people to be performed at an outdoor site in Cherokee.

Hunter jumped on this project and began to transform the information and the vision of the Cherokee Historical Association into a script and then into a production.  Hunters draft won the submission contest and his most famous play, Unto These Hills was first performed in 1950.  Though the play has been changed over the years and the current version has little resemblance to the original Kermit Hunter play it is still his vision that put this outdoor drama on the map.  Hunter parlayed the success with Unto These Hills into scripting the play that would be performed by the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma until the mid-90s – The Trail of Tears.

Hunter’s other legacy is the play Horn in the West which is performed in Boone, NC during season each year.  This play tells the story of the people that founded the city of Boone and the Western north Carolina mountains.  Horn of the West features such American heroes as Daniel Boone and the story of a very dramatic and at times tragic time in American history.  This outdoor drama, while not as long running as Unto These Hills is still a part of the history and cultural scene in the Smokies.

In all, Kermit Hunter wrote more then 40 historical plays.  He is still known for his work in the Smokies and the people that are performing those works today in the same theaters and venues owe the tales the tell to Kermit Hunter.

Harrah’s Cherokee

hcc2There is only one place to go if you are looking for world class gaming in the Smoky Mountains and that is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, NC.  This casino and hotel opened in November of 1997 and it has become a desination unto itself in theyears since its opening.  The casino boasta hotel that contains 1,108 rooms and 107 suites.  The gaming area started with only electronic games but now it also has actual dealers for some games of chance.  Along with the hotel and casino, they have shopping world class dining and they bring in shows and celebrities throughout the year.

Over the years, Cherokee, NC has been trying to find ways to reinvent their town and bring in more and more visitors into their area.  With the addition of Harrah’s Cherokee, they have finally gotten a lock on the tourism market and they have used the new found draw to make continued improvements to Cherokee and offer more and more to the tourists and locals alike.  The casino provides jobs and is now the only gambling location in North Carolina and it boats the largest hotel in North Carolina as well.  The hotel, connected to the casino, is well maintained, beautiful and has amenities that you only find in huge resort areas.  Guests staying at Harrah’s Cherokee are treated to service that is beyond compare in rooms that are clean and well decorated.  Also, if you are there to game, you never have to leave the casino. You simply walk to the gaming floor, and get your game on.

hcc1And speaking of gaming, Harrah’s Cherokee has games to fit every taste.  State of the art video slot machines line all of the walls and most of the floor pace but their are also computerized versions of many of the game sof chance that you see in Las Vegas.  As of 2012, after attaining approval from the North Carolina legislature, Harrah’s Cherokee now has traditional hand dealt Blackjack, Roulette and Craps tables.  This live gaming, with live dealers, has taken Harrah’s Cherokee to the next level and brought in gamers that are looking for a more Vegas-style experience.  Whether you are into video gaming or live gaming, Harrah’s Cherokee has what you are looking for and has thousands of vsiitors each year.

But, let’s face it, you can’t game 24 hours a day and you are going to get hungry – Harrah’s Cherokee has you covered on that front as well.  Paula Deen’s Kitchen opening in the last few years, a Ruth Cris Steak House is also located inside the grounds of Harrah’s Cherokee, add to that an amazing buffet and lots of other culinary choices and you have more food than you can shake a steak at (pun intended).  There is also shopping located all around the casino so if you have a loved one that is spending a lot of time inside the casino there is plenty for you to do without even leaving the hotel.

Harrah’s Cherokee is a world class venue tucked into the shadows of the Smokies.  From gorgeous hotel rooms to world class gaming, dining and shopping – this stop on your trip tot he Smokies is more then memorable, it is unforgettable.

Harrah’s Cherokee
777 Casino Drive
Cherokee, NC

Teepees in Cherokee

I remember as a child, when we were vacationing in the Smokies, the signs in Cherokee, NC advertising “real live indians” always intrigued me.  Now that I am an adult, I realize that at that time, the people of Cherokee were giving the people that visited the mountains what they expected.  They were giving the tourist a ‘real’ indian, not a real cherokee experience but the indian experience that they expected, full of teepees and tomahawks.  Looking back on this now, it was kind of sad how exciting that prospect was.  Here is th good news though, these roadside attractions are still around but they have changed.

Nowadays when you visit the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, NC, you can still sit on the benches under a small tent.  You can still get your picture taken with a ‘real live’ Indian but the show has changed. Now you will get to see traditional Cherokee dancing.  You will get to hear stories about the Cherokee, about the proud people that settled this land thousands of years before the European settlers go to the Southern Appalachians.  You will hear the true tongue of the Cherokee, you will be able to understand more about their language and their culture.  And of course, the best part is that they are not the cheesy roadside stands of many years ago.  These offer a more modern look at the Cherokee.  No longer are they doing this to make a little income.

Now these Native Americans are using this darker part of their past when these roadside stands were frowned upon and making them an interactive attraction.  They are making these an educational opportunity.  Now, you can sit down and here Cherokee stories and be taught songs about the Cherokee people, you can also see authentic Cherokee dances.  Yes, the teepees are still there, and though they are out of place (the Cherokee never lived in teepees) they are a reminder of the past and great way to bring in the crowds to learn more about the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Cherokee, NC

Cherokee is first and foremost a reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.  This community has turned their proximity to the Smokies, the number of people traveling to the area and the fact that they were allowed to open a casino into a thriving tourism industry making Cherokee a destination in the Smokies.

“Trails of Legends and Adventures”

The Cherokee people have lived in the Smoky Mountains for thousands of years.  They were the first people to settle in this area and they had a highly developed culture at the time of the arrival of the first European settlers.  As the European settlers increased in number and started to take over the Cherokee land, the Cherokee contracted their territory and at times had physical confrontations with these trespassers.  They culmination of the Cherokee confrontation with the US government came through Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears that moved the Cherokee to Oklahoma and out of the mountains.

Some of the people in the area stayed however, and those that fought against the oppression and those that came back from Oklahoma were eventually given land by the US Government to form the Reservation at Cherokee, NC.  Over time, the town of Cherokee has reinvented itself as times dictated and they are now one of the premier areas to visit in the Smokies.  Outdoor adventures, historical reenactments and much more await visitors in 21st century Cherokee.


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Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians

cherokee crestAs I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the mountains in the pre-pioneer days: the Cherokee Indians.  I will attempt to build a very brief history of the people.  Obviously, in the space of this article I am not going to touch on everything that is interesting, remarkable and culturally relevant about the Cherokee people but I hope that it spurs you on to go read more about them.

Before the English settlers first made their appearance on the scene, the people known as the Cherokee, or the Tsalagi as they call themselves, had an established culture and society.  They were hunter gathers but they also had a very advanced economic and political structure.  At their height, they took in parts of 7 southern states and they numbered over 150,000 people.  Their economy included trade routes that reached out to Native American tribes on the coast of North Carolina and even included reaching out to the first Europeans in the area, which came with DeSoto.

With the incursion of European people into the area, whether they were traders, trappers, explorers or settlers, the Cherokee way of life began to change.  The Cherokee lifestyle was governed by everyone, the women of the tribes appointed the leaders who ran the seven clans.  The women also controlled marriage and property while the men were in charge of educating the children.  The Cherokee chose to change their society and adapt some of the European ways as a chance to coexist with the new people that were moving to the area.  This was the Cherokee means of survival.  During this time of acculturation, the Cherokee adopted a very English way of educating their young and they taught their people English so that they could further their contact and interactions with their new neighbors.  By the time that the 1800s rolled around, the Cherokee had adopted a written constitution and they had establish boundaries to their lands, schools and they had even accepted the Christian missionaries into their communities.

ebci signThe start of the downfall of the Cherokee people was the passing of the Removal Act of 1830.  When President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, the Cherokee people, 20,000 of them were forced to leave their tribal lands in North Carolina and walk, along the Trail of Tears, to reservation land in Oklahoma.  Only 16,000 of those 20,000 that started the walk, survived the journey westward.  You would think that this would have been the end to the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but a small group stayed behind, defying the US Government.

The Reservation Act of 1819 and the fact that some of the Cherokee evaded the army, left this small group landless but looking for a way to stay on their lands.  Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, started buying land using these displaced people money, seeing as the Cherokee could not buy land.  Over time, the Cherokee formed a corporation to own the land and they became a thriving community.  Fast forward to now and the Qualla Boundary or the reservation that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a destination in the Smokies and the heart of gaming in the Southern Appalachians.

Again, this is not a complete or even concise history of this amazing group of people.  If you want to have a much better understanding of the Cherokee and their history in the Smokies, then you might want to visit Cherokee, NC and experience many of the historical and cultural legacies of the Cherokee.

Unto These Hills

untothesehills1If you only have time to take in one attraction while you are in Cherokee, NC, that one attraction needs to be Unto These Hills.  This show has been part of the attraction scene in Cherokee for more then sixty years and it is the second oldest running outdoor drama in the US.  Combining the story of the Cherokee people, the music and sounds of the mountains and of course all of it under the stars in the Smoky Mountains, this action packed presentation has been bringing the people back year after year.

Unto These Hills opened to a crowd in Cherokee, NC on July 1, 1950.  Since that time, the show has run at the Mountainside Theater from June through August each year.  And though the script and the information has changed some over the years, the power of this drama has not changed at all.  Focusing on the people that called the Smokies home, Kermit Hunter, the original author was hoping to capture the spirit of these noble people that refused to be forced out of their land and stayed, even though they were told to walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

untothesehills3The story starts with the people that lived in the Smokies before the European setters came.  It tells a story of a cultured, civilized people that embraced their new neighbors from across the ocean.  They helped the settlers that came to the area and though some of the leaders realized that the Europeans were not going to reciprocate the good feelings, they still helped the white man establish their towns. Over time, as the Cherokee lost land and were forced higher into the mountains, Andrew Jackson – President of the United States – decreed that they would be removed to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Some of the Cherokee decided that they would not leave.  They stayed, hidden in the mountains until a time when they could be embraced by a different attitude and government.  All of this history and the culture of the Cherokee is contained inside this wonderful outdoor drama.

Since 1950, Unto These Hills has been performed in the same theater – the Mountainside Theater above Cherokee.  It is located in the same place as the Oconaluftee Indian Village, in fact they share a parking lot.  This 2800 seat amphitheater is all outdoors but the temperate weather in the Smokies and the elevation make it pleasant outside for all of the performances.

Next time you are in Cherokee, NC, or just on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, call ahead and make reservations.  Take the whole family to Unto These Hills, let them learn some American history, let them get a better appreciation for the people that lived in the Smokies before Europeans settlers came to the area and of course, remember that you are seeing a show that has been running since the middle of the 20th century.

Unto These Hills
688 Drama Road
Cherokee, NC

Santa’s Land

Theme Park & Zoo

Right outside of Cherokee, NC is a smallish theme park that needs to be on your list of things to do at least once when you are in the Smoky Mountains.  This attraction is part theme park, part zoo and all Christmas all the time.  Themed as if you are visiting the North Pole, Santa’s Land is a way to capture the spirit of the Holidays during anytime of the year.

The theme park side of Santa’s Land is a huge draw.  Designed with the youngest members of your family in mind, the rides and attractions at Santa’s Land provide hours of entertainment.  Whether you are looking for a Rudolph themed roller coaster or a trip around the pond in a paddle boat, the attractions and rides at Santa’s Land are excellent.


  • Rudicoaster
  • Santa’s Express Train
  • Kiddie Cars
  • Boat Ride
  • Paddle Boats
  • Helicopter Ride
  • Old Fashioned Carusel
  • Ferris Wheel
  • Umbrella Ride

Also, on the theme park side of things is Santa’s Village.  You step into the North Pole and get to walk the streets and lanes around Santa’s house.  Visit Frosty’s T-Shirt Shop or Santa’s Snack bar.  Take pictures around the elves’ homes and even get to visit the big man himself.  Yep, you can get a jump on the Holiday season and surprise grandma with a picture of the kids with Santa Claus and Mrs Claus.  Also, if your child is already thinking ahead to Christmas they can let Santa know what they want for Christmas.

The other side of Santa’s Land is Zoo Land.

  • Santa’s Deer Barn – Feed the deer, pet the deer, in general you get to get up close and personal to white-tail deer like you never have before.
  • Baby Bears – Each year, Santa’s Land gets a new set of baby bears.  Ruff and Buff, as they are always named, get fed three times a day and you will able to get up close to these wonderful little critters without the fear of mama bear getting a little too close.  If you want a sure fire way to see a black bear cub in the Smokies, this is a sure-fire bet.
  • Kangaroos – Yes, Santa’s Land even has kangaroos.  This might seem unusual but they are wonderful to watch and have become one of the biggest draws at the park.
  • Santa’s Goats – The goats get to roam around in their own unique environment.  Climbing up and down the ramps that allow them to get to the top of the houses the live in, provides hours of entertainment.  You might even get to pet on the of the goats if you feed them.
  • Lemurs and Monkeys – Of course, just like at any zoo, the monkeys and lemurs are the stars.  Except for the baby bears, these might be the most interesting and entertaining animals at the zoo.

Santa’s Land is one of the roadside attractions that gives you a glimpse into the past.  Wanting to let the kids experience the days of yore, you will not find a better place in the Smokies than Santa’s Land.  Visit the zoo, ride the rides and talk to Santa himself – only at Santa’s Land.

History of Cherokee, NC

Cherokee, North Carolina is synonymous with such word s as casinos, gambling, and resort town, but it wasn’t always like that. The now sprawling vacation spot was once as heavily forested as other parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and once consisted of about 135,000 square miles of land owned by the Cherokee Indian Nation spread out over eight southern states.

The Cherokee Indian Reservation, also known as the Qualla Boundary, now only encompasses 56,000 of those acres. It’s also classified as sovereign land held in trust specifically for the Cherokee Indian tribe by the United States Government. The land was purchased by Will Thomas, who is not of Indian descent, in the late 1800s and was presented as a gift to the Cherokee people.

Over the past 100 years, thousands of non-Indians have moved into the area and developed the region, though it’s still home to the Cherokee. The tourism industry makes up about 75 percent of the tribe’s revenues – the mainstay of their economy. Cherokee businesses hold “trader’s licenses” and collect a six percent tribal levy on sales.

The Indians that currently live in Cherokee are a part of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They are descendants of the Cherokee Indians who hid in the Great Smoky Mountains to avoid forced removal to Oklahoma on the infamous “Trail of Tears” during the late 1830s.

Cherokee’s tourism boom, as previously mentioned, exploded in the late 1940s, around the same time the Great Smoky Mountains were designated as a national park. The Blue Ridge Parkway was also in the early stages of development. As the park opened and construction on the parkway got underway, two highways were bringing out-of-towners into Cherokee – US 441 and US 19, and assistance to support the influx of visitors was imperative.

The businesses and services that developed out of the construction of these roads played a large part in Cherokee’s formation as an incorporated town. Today, the assumption that the Qualla Boundary and its businesses are Indian-owned is for the most part still true but, by the authority of the Tribal Council; Indians are allowed to lease their businesses or buildings to non-Indians. The Cherokee people rightfully can continue to claim the status of “original inhabitants” of the vast and beautiful Smoky Mountains, even as the Reservation continues to grow and develop.

Still, whenever Cherokee is brought up, people have a tendency to delve into the history of the Cherokee Indians and the way they have been treated over the years, especially by the U.S. government. You can speak with a number of people with a slew of different titles that say the Cherokee removal might have been avoided, if the U.S. government had played a different role in the beginning, and if English settlers had tried a more peaceable approach to living with the Cherokee.

The Cherokee enjoyed a pretty high quality of life up to the early 1800s. They basically governed themselves and their many communities through their own form of government. Sequoyah, one of the Cherokee’s most prominent leaders, spent 12 years developing the Cherokee Alphabet and he was never able to read or write another language – he is the only known person to be able to carry out such a feat.

Generations of Cherokees have been told the story of how their ancestors were removed from their homelands. Numerous books have been penned and films made about the subject. Two outdoor dramas have been made as well – “Unto These Hills,” which has played to four decades of audiences in Cherokee, N.C. and “Trail of Tears,” which is performed annually in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. There is no doubt that the designation of the Trail of Tears as a national landmark has enhanced awareness of the tragedy. The designation of the trail as a national landmark was the culmination of four years of planning on the part of the Eastern and Western Cherokee Tribes, the National Park Service and several states “to protect and identify the historic route, artifacts and remnants for enjoyment and public use.” A comprehensive management plan was developed by a 35-member advisory council. From Cherokee, NC, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a trail logo was adopted and placed along the extending land and water route. Interpretive centers have been planned for each state the trail passes through – North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, and Oklahoma – with state, local, and federal governments participating.