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Travelers are happy to discover these five things about North Carolina’s City of Flowers

Much more than a crossroads on the map, Murphy offers a satisfying pause for travelers who are on their way to and from the Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville or the casinos found on Cherokee Nation properties.

Most people passing through the region will find something to love about Murphy’s historic downtown. Nicknamed the City of Flowers, this town of about 1,700 people is the county seat of Cherokee County, North Carolina, which calls itself the Smoky Mountain Gateway for good reason. Whether you’re looking for an extended-weekend getaway destination or just to plan an agreeable travel break while passing through, here are five things to keep in mind.

Spring, summer and fall, it earns it’s nickname

Plan a short side trip to downtown Murphy to enjoy some wonderful streetscapes enhanced by large clusters of blooms. The City of Flowers is at its best during the summer color explosion:

It’s easy to enjoy the small downtown by sidewalk. Blooms can typically be seen from May to November. Historic places enthusiasts will be drawn to the marble c. 1927 Beaux-Arts style Classical Revival courthouse, the c. 1924 red brick United Methodist Church, the white carpenter gothic c. 1896 Episcopal Church of the Messiah and the c. 1935 Henn Theater — all found in a relatively compact area.

In addition, the c. 1887 L&N Depot is down by the river about five blocks west of the heart of the downtown. Colorful downtown commercial buildings provide must-see streetscapes along Tennessee Street, Valley River Avenue and Peachtree Street.

Adding to the color, Murphy has an active arts community. The Valley River Arts Guild is headquartered in the heart of town at the Murphy Art Center. Their Murphy Art Walk is held on the first Friday of each month between May and December. An art gallery is found at the center, and some local art is on permanent display in various spots:

It’s accurate to consider Murphy and Cherokee County your gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains

When you’re in Murphy, mountain adventures are at your doorstep. For travelers passing through to get to Great Smoky Mountain National Park from the North Carolina side, the city is about 50 miles from the Bryson City entrance and about 60 miles from the main south entrance at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Note that Murphy is about 28 breathtaking miles by helicopter to the southern edge of the national park at Fontana Lake.

It can serve as your outdoor recreation base camp

Murphy’s location near mountains, protected forests, river gorges, lakes and trails means it makes a good base camp for enjoying recreation such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, ATV/OHV riding and more. For overnight accommodations, some popular campgrounds and more than a half dozen hotels are in the Murphy area. There are also a large number of rental cabins and chalets that can be booked through Vrbo or Airbnb.

Murphy is within the boundaries of the Tusquitee division of the huge Nantahala National Forest which encompasses 531,148 acres bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The national forest has about 600 miles of trails. Just outside of Murphy, mountain bikers enjoy the Piney Knob Trail System, which has about 13 miles of recreational hiking and mountain biking trails, and the Ramsey Bluff Trail System at Hanging Dog Recreation Area, which features about eight miles of trail. The Fires Creek Backcountry Area and Jackrabbit Mountain Trail are also nearby.

For fishing and water sports, TVA impoundments Apalachia Lake, Chatuga Lake and Hiwassee Lake are just west of Murphy. Many mountain streams in the national forest north of Murphy are popular for trout fly fishing.

The Nantahala Gorge is southwestern North Carolina’s whitewater rafting mecca. Murphy is only 27 miles from the Nantahala River launch site and Nantahala Bikeway. It’s 34 miles from the Nantahala Outdoors Center, where most visiting whitewater enthusiasts go to start their river rides. The NOC is also the spot where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Nantahala River.

Downtown Murphy has more than its fair share of good restaurants 

For whatever reason you find yourself there, it would be accurate to think of downtown Murphy as a great place to enjoy a good dinner. Legends Steakhouse, Murphy’s Chophouse, ShoeBootie’s Cafe and Chevelle’s 66 each offer steak, seafood and more. Red Brick Deli 2 is a popular spot for sandwiches, wraps and baked desserts. There’s at least five other good dining establishments downtown including one with an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. There are also a handful of pubs. The fast food joints are out on the four-lane.

The charming downtown is a great spot for taking casino breaks

A large numbers of visitors pass through the town just to get to Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel which opened in 2015 just 3.5 miles from downtown Murphy. It’s the closest casino to Atlanta, most of east Tennessee and northeast Alabama. It has become the target destination for many travelers to western North Carolina wishing to try their luck on Vegas-style slot machines, gaming tables and poker.

Owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the casino is operated by Caesar’s Entertainment. A $275 million expansion was officially announced on Dec. 5, 2023, so what was a 300-room hotel, 50,000 sq. ft. casino, with a notable cafe and a food court will soon see an increase of gaming floor space of about 50 percent, a nearly doubling of the number of hotel rooms and a large increase the parking deck space — sometime in the second half of 2024.

After a day of gambling, historic downtown Murphy and its riverside parks — including the Murphy River Walk — can provide a good change of pace.

Murphy’s location makes it easy to imagine a trip that combines waking up at a chalet with a view, a morning of fishing, rafting or mountain biking, and then unwinding with dinner and drinks in historic downtown Murphy. Or, maybe a morning of playing the slot machines followed by an afternoon of browsing through antiques and uniques.

Murphy is one of the small towns in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains where people go to enjoy scenery and the outdoors without dealing with the epic traffic jams such as those you get in Tennessee’s Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Many travelers pass through Murphy on their way to the Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway.

Whether you are in southwestern North Carolina for outdoor recreation, the casino, a cabin getaway, or you’re just passing through, the itinerary possibilities are broad and offer something for just about anyone. 

Sources and resources

Town of Murphy

Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce

Cherokee County Tourism Development Authority

Nantahala National Forest

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area