Download Visitors Guide

Oconaluftee River Trail

Explore the Oconaluftee River Trail

Come walk the Oconaluftee River Trail, an easy path alongside one of the great Smoky Mountain Blueways. This 1.5-mile trail (3 miles round trip) takes you from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the edge of Qualla Boundary (the land of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) and the city of Cherokee, North Carolina. Along the way you’ll be treated to views of the beautiful Oconaluftee River, wildflowers, diverse animal life, and lush mountain scenery.

The Oconaluftee River Trail is distinctive because it is the only trail on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can ride a bike or walk a leashed pet. Because the Oconaluftee River Trail is a gentle trail, as well as stroller accessible and dotted with benches along the way, this is a great trail for families with children and seniors.

Learn About Cherokee History on the Oconaluftee River Trail

Learn about the history of the Cherokee while exploring the Oconaluftee River Trail. The Cherokee have lived in this beautiful river valley for thousands of years. In fact the word Oconaluftee is said to have come from the name of a Cherokee village called Egwanulti, which translates to “near the river.”

Interpretive signs along the Oconaluftee River Trail will teach you about the history, culture and spiritual beliefs of the Cherokee. Each unique sign is written in English and Cherokee and is illustrated with designs created by Cherokee artists.

For more opportunities to learn about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, visit the nearby Cherokee Cultural District. Cherokee, North Carolina website to learn more.


There is something beautiful to see every season of the year on the Oconaluftee River Trail. Come see some of the diverse plant and animal life that abounds in the Smokies. See the pageant of lush foliage and colorful wildflowers that bloom all throughout spring, summer, and autumn including trillium, violets, purple phacelia, wood betony, silverbell, foamflower, phlox, crested dwarf iris, jack-in-the-pulpit, squirrel corn, mayapple, aster, jewel weed, bee balm, touch-me-not, spotted wintergreen, yellowroot, rivercane and more. If you are lucky you may even spy a rare pink or yellow Lady’s Slipper Orchid.

Nearby Activities

There are many great activities to do nearby the Oconaluftee River Trail. A visit to the trail could include any number of outdoor recreational activities and visits to area attractions.

  • Anglers from all over the world come fly fishing on the Oconaluftee and the surrounding Smoky Mountain Blueways.
  • The Mountain Farm Museum: a free, open-air museum that preserves and showcases log cabins, barns, a smokehouse and other authentic structures built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Catch a glimpse of what farm life was like for the settlers who lived in the Smokies at the turn of the century.
  • Oconaluftee Visitor Center – Come learn about the history of the Cherokee Great Smoky Mountains National park, get trail maps, see cultural exhibits and shop in the gift shop. The museum inside will tell you about the Cherokee, European Settlers and the development of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Mingus Mill – This historic mill was built in 1886. The mill’s water powered turbine was used to ground corn into cornmeal.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway – Go on America’s favorite drive and see breathtaking views of the Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains.

NC Smokie's Oconaluftee River Trail