Located just 35 miles from Gatlinburg, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian serves as a scenic road trip and an extraordinary destination. Highway 441, that many take to Sugarlands Visitor Center and on up to Newfound Gap, also continues to the North Carolina side of the national park, to the town of Cherokee, which hosts the museum.
This very beautiful museum takes you on an in-depth exploration of the Cherokee tribe’s people, history and culture. The compelling exhibits reach back 13,000 years and come all the way to the present day to take you on a truly memorable educational journey.
To kick off your explorations, get the audio tour handheld device when you check in at the front counter. Using infra-red technology, the device allows you to scan the tags at each exhibit for additional information. The device translates the data into 32 languages, including French, Spanish and German, to help the many international visitors who come to the museum.
In 1948, the museum began with just a handful of artifacts and photographs alongside stories from tribal members. Since that time, it’s gone above and beyond in bringing the stories to life with life-sized figures, computer-generated animation and other special effects. As you explore the exhibits, you’ll get to learn about the Cherokee’s origins, their journey along the Trail of Tears, and the modern-day tribe.
A full collection of artifacts, artwork, and photographs fill out the space, too, earning it the title of “a model for museums” by Disney Imagineering, USA Today, and other key players in these fields.
Items you’ll see include:
- Paleo: The earliest stone tools
- Archaic: Sophisticated hunting weapons, like the atlatl
- Woodland: Ceremonial relics, including stone pipes
- Mississippian: Remnants from their agricultural efforts
After that, you’ll explore the effects of the tribe coming into contact with the DeSoto expedition. Then, you’ll get to hear audio narration, view artwork, and explore artifacts depicting the migration along the Trail of Tears. Contemporary artwork and other items go on to show the tribe as it stands today.
Expect to spend hours exploring all the items within the museum, and then visiting the gift shop full of awesome souvenirs. If you plan to come for any of the community events, you could easily spend the entire day at the museum.
Living Traditions in Community Events
Throughout the year, the museum hosts engaging community events designed to promote learning. The events change with the season, making it well worth checking back according to the calendar.
In spring, the museum hosts a full lecture series. Each lecture offers a chance to hear from tribal members about traditions passed down through the generations. Topics covered typically include foraging for plants, cooking traditional meals, and using food for healing and wellness.
If you come to the museum for the Cherokee Voices Festival in June, you can see The Warriors of AniKituhwa perform. These skilled performers show off all their traditional dances, including the War Dance, Friendship Dance, Beaver Hunting dance, and Bear Dance. In between, these performers share their language, artistry, and stories to keep their traditions alive.
Year-round, the second Saturday of every month serves as Heritage Day. On that special day, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees come to the museum to share their heritage with the public. They tell stories, perform traditional dances, and demonstrate their crafts.
You can find even more events by simply checking their website before planning your road trip. There’s no best time to come. So, don’t hesitate to head out even if you don’t find any special events planned for your travel dates.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian
589 Tsali Boulevard, Cherokee NC 28719
Open Daily: 9 am – 5 pm