… feeling great in OCONALUFTEE!
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is a must stop for any visit to the Great Smoky Mountains! Entrance to the Center is free and it is open to the public every day except Christmas day. The Visitor Center has plenty of parking for cars, RVs and motor coaches. Public restrooms and vending machines are available to the left of the Center’s main entrance. You will find everything you need to experience the Park at your own pace.
The Visitor Center offers a unique view into the area’s past at the Mountain Farm Museum – a collection of historic log buildings from the late 19th century that were relocated here from all over North Carolina in the 1950’s.
Things To Do in Oconaluftee
- Fishing – The Oconaluftee river and all its tributaries feature an abundant wild trout population. A Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required within park boundaries and may be acquired at nearby communities or online from North Carolina at ncwildlife.org or in Tennessee at tn.wildlifelicense.com.
- Camping – A 138-site campground is located in the valley one mile away in Smokemont and is open mid-March through October for tents or RVs up to 31 feet. Group camping is available through advanced reservations. Back country camping requires a permit. For more info, go to recreation.gov.
- Hiking – The easy 1.6 mile Oconaluftee River Trail begins near the entrance to the Museum. It is stroller-accessible and follows its namesake stream. It crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and continues to the park border with Cherokee.
The Mingus Creek Trail is the tail-end of the Great Smoky Mountains portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which stretches 6.2 miles from near Newton Bald and runs 3.3 miles down toward Deeplow Gap Trail from the Deep Creek area. From there a 2.9 mile section leads to US 441, just north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
A 20-mile leg of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail connects Oconaluftee with the Appalachian Trail near the summit of Clingmans Dome.
From Cherokee – 2 miles north on Hwy 441.
From Gatlinburg – 30 miles south on Hwy 441.
From Townsend – 23 miles east on Little River road. Turn right on Hwy 441 (Newfound Gap Road) and proceed south 28 miles.
WINTER ROAD STATUS
Park roads may close due to snow and ice, especially at high elevation during winter months. Check road status by following twitter.com/SmokiesRoadsNPS or by calling 865-436-1200 ext. 631.
The Visitor Center Offers
- Relief Map – A giant, raised relief map which reveals all of the park trails and roads in great detail. This map provides a sense of the dramatic changes in terrain a park visitor can experience by foot or car.
- Information Desk – Staffed by park rangers and volunteers who can answer any questions you may have about your visit.
- Gift Shop – Selling souvenirs of all types, including a great selection of books about flora and fauna, Smoky Mountain history, wildlife, pioneer stories, mountain legends, etc. The shop provides quality topographic maps of the area, basic hiking gear, patches, paintings, traditional mountain food hard goods, and much more.
- Museum – Hear the voices of Smoky Mountain past! Recordings of early mountain residents relating their experiences and artifacts of mountain life are on display.
VISITOR CENTER HOURS
Jan-Feb 8:00 am-4:30 pm
Mar 8:00 am-5:00 pm
Apr-May 8:00 am-6:00 pm
June-Aug 8:00 am-7:30 pm
Sept-Oct 8:00 am-6:30 pm
Nov 8:00 am-5:00 pm
Dec 8:00 am-4:30 pm
Explore the Mountain Farm Museum
The house, barn, apple house, spring house, and smokehouse provide an idea of how families worked and lived more than a century ago and depict a typical mountain farm during the pioneer days in Appalachia. The Chestnut log construction of the Davis House, relocated from near Bryson City, is a nostalgic nod to the giant Chestnut trees which once blanketed much of the Smokies prior to a blight that decimated the trees during the 1930s and early 40s. Area visitors gain an insight into historic agricultural practices through the gardens that are planted in spring and summer. A large stand of cane is harvested each fall and used in a portable “cane grinder” to manufacture cane syrup in several locations within the park. A barn, located at the site, is more than 50-feet wide and 60-feet long. A modern 2,500 sq. ft. home would fit in the barn’s loft. Demonstrations of farm life and ranger-led programs are conducted seasonally. An exciting recent addition to Oconaluftee is the appearance of several large Elk that frequent the broad grassy meadow.
A museum, located next to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, was built in 1947 by the civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a ranger station and magistrate’s courtroom. The stone and log cabin was designated as a “temporary” visitor center in 1947 but maintained that title until a new “green design” 1,700 square foot center, the first new visitor service facility constructed in the park since the early 1960s, and also the first designed explicitly as a full-service visitor center, was dedicated in 2011. The Great Smoky Mountains Association provided three million dollars for the facility and Friends of the Smokies donated more than half a million more to provide for inside exhibits which depict the history of life in these mountains from native Americans and early European settlement through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the development of the national park. This is also the site of the Great Smoky Mountains Association bookstore and shop. Public restrooms, vending machines, and backcountry permits are available.
The Oconaluftee area parallels the Oconaluftee River basin which gradually broadens on a southward journey from Smokemont toward the southern tip of the Quallah which comprises the reservation for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. According to the journals of John Bartram, written in 1775, the term Oconaluftee comes from the Cherokee village named Egwanulti, which means “by the river.” The Cherokee considered the waters of the Oconaluftee sacred and legend has it that the part of the river called Ya’nu-u’nata wasti’yi translated into “where the bears wash,” refers to waters that legend says would heal hunting wounds sustained by the bears. While the Cherokee roamed throughout the Smokies, this is the only known permanent Cherokee settlement within the park boundary. It is thought the village was most likely destroyed in 1776 during the American Revolution.
A half-mile north of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is historic Mingus Mill. Constructed in 1886, the mill, still located on its original site, relies on a water-powered turbine instead of a water wheel to power the mill. An onsite miller demonstrates the process of grinding corn into cornmeal. Cornmeal and other meal-related items are available for purchase at the mill which is open from 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily from mid-March through mid-November and also on Thanksgiving weekend.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center Green Facts
- Exterior walls are cement fiberboard that is impervious to rot and insect damage.
- Roof shingles, composed of recycled post-industrial rubber and designed to look like slate, have a 50-year life-span.
- A geothermal heating and cooling system circulates water underground to reach the earth’s constant temperature of 55 degrees then returns the water to heat and cool the center.
- Lighting is designed to vary with the amount of natural light entering the building. Sun sensors automatically dim the lights on sunny days. Solar tube skylights and clerestory windows also reduce the need for additional lighting.
- Low flow restroom plumbing fixtures rely on rain water runoff from the roof which is collected and stored in cisterns.
- The center also uses recycled materials such as rubber flooring and recycled carpets along with some American chestnut wood salvaged from old barns.
- Twenty percent of the materials used in construction of the center were manufactured or harvested within 500 miles, thus also reducing the use of fossil fuels for shipping.