Oconaluftee, just inside the northern entrance of the park, near Cherokee, NC, is home to the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic buildings—including a house, barn, mill, smokehouse, and applehouse. Many of these buildings were built in the 1900s, and have been gathered from all over the park to be preserved in Oconaluftee for generations to come. Visitors can explore this outdoor museum and imagine how difficult living in this rugged environment would have been. The Mingus Mill is open for demonstration daily, March through October and one weekends in November; you can also purchase cornmeal that was ground using the preserved mill.
Historic and preserved buildings in Oconaluftee are impressive and give you an insight into the communities that once thrived in the Smokies, but the best way to understand just how rugged the terrain was and how harsh their living conditions were is to go on a hike. The best trails near Oconaluftee are:
- Mingus Creek Trail: Start at the Mingus Creek Trailhead, at the back end of the parking area for Mingus Mill. The mill and trail are named for Jacob Mingus, who moved to the region in the 1790s and was the first European to settle in the now-boundaries of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Soon after starting you will notice where the mill diverts water from Mingus Creek for it’s operation. And, just over a mile into the trail, you will come to a fork in the path that leads to a family cemetery along Mingus Creek. Vibrant and colorful wildflowers line the trail, and there are two footbridges that cross the creek. As you climb a series of switchbacks, you will encounter five more creek crossings without the benefit of a bridge. This 5.8 mile roundtrip trail is moderate with an elevation gain of 1515 feet.
- Smokemont Loop Trail: Start on the Bradley Fork Trail, 3.5 miles north of Oconaluftee, at the Smokemont Campground. The historic Smokemont Baptist Church (also known as the Luftee Baptist Church—the National Park Service has two signs with two different names) is near the start of the trail. This loop trail takes you along the Bradley Fork Creek, passing an abundance of wildflowers in the early spring. Follow signs as you hike, as the loop connects multiple trails. As you reach the top of the climb, you will have views of Newfound Gap and the North Carolina Smokies. This trail is moderate with an elevation gain of 1441 feet.
- Newton Bald Trail: Begin on the Newton Bald Trail in Smokemont, this strenuous trail takes you almost straight uphill, gaining 2900 feet in 4.6 miles. (A bald is a treeless meadow on a ridgeline, typically found in the Appalachian Mountain region. Legend has it that these areas were prime hunting grounds, but history can’t quite determine if it was the Cherokee that cleared the land, or European settlers.) In route to the bald, you will hike through a lush hemlock forest that tunnels the trail. Once you reach Newton Bald, you are rewarded with expansive views of the North Carolina side of the Smokies—the rolling and forests ridgelines are seemingly endless.
Enjoy the history of Oconaluftee and other Great Smoky Mountains highlights on a guided day hike! Smoky Mountains in a Day Tour
takes you to famous waterfalls, incredible high country views, and through Oconaluftee on a full day adventure. Or, if you want to experience more of the park than just one day, consider joining a 3-day Smoky Mountains Hiking Experience
guided tour, which takes you to impressive waterfalls and famous peaks, as well as Oconaluftee and Cades Cove.