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Museum of the Cherokee People (13,000 Years of History in One Important Space)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on April 29, 2024.

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The Museum of the Cherokee People (formerly the Museum of the Cherokee Indian) invites all visitors to learn about the Cherokee people’s history and celebrate their rich culture.

As one of the top attractions in Cherokee, NC, the Museum recounts over 13,000 years of Cherokee history, from the early tribes to the resilience and perseverance of the people today.

There’s also an extensive set of exhibits that cover the Trail of Tears and its devastating effects on the Cherokee people through first-hand accounts. Due to the subjects discussed inside and the location, we think this is one of the most important museums in North Carolina to visit.

Our guide shares how you can visit and what you’ll find inside, and we’ve organized it into the following sections:

  • Where is the Museum of the Cherokee People?
  • When is the Museum open?
  • Ticket Info
  • Things to Do
    • Indoor Exhibits
    • Outdoor Exhibits
    • Education Wing
    • Events
    • Museum Store
  • Nearby Attractions in Cherokee

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Where is the Museum of the Cherokee People?

Address: 589 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC
Phone Number: 828-497-3481
Website

Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Photo Taken before the Museum’s Renaming to the Museum of the Cherokee People.

The Museum of the Cherokee People is located along the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, within the Qualla Boundary land trust in Western North Carolina. Quite a few Cherokee attractions are nearby, including the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds and Qualla Arts and Crafts.

You can visually plan your next trip to the museum with our Western North Carolina Map.

Read More: The North Carolina Travel Map (with 1000+ Great Places Included!)

When is the Museum of the Cherokee People Open?

  • The Museum’s typical hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., 7 days a week.
  • Ticket sales close at 4:00 p.m.
  • The Museum is closed on the following holidays:
    • Thanksgiving
    • Christmas Eve
    • Christmas Day
    • New Year’s Eve
    • New Year’s Day

Read More: Mingo Falls In Cherokee (a Great Waterfall + Easy Hike)

Ticket Info

  • Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $7 for children 6-12, and no cost (free) for children five or younger.
  • General admission tickets do not expire, so feel free to come in any day of the week.
  • There are also discounted rates for groups of 20 or more. Contact the museum for group rates and unique presentations.

Read More: Soco Falls in Cherokee (How to See 2 Incredible Waterfalls)

Things to Do at the Museum of the Cherokee People

After buying your ticket, it’s time to explore the Museum of the Cherokee People. A self-guided tour of the Museum takes approximately one hour.

Here are all the things to do inside and outside.

Indoor Exhibits

Museum of the Cherokee Indian Cherokee NC Etowah

The Museum’s most acclaimed exhibit is its “Story of the Cherokee: 13,000 Years.” The winding exhibit dedicates a section to each significant period in Cherokee history, starting with the Paleolithic Era (Paleo) and ending with contemporary times.

Here’s a breakdown of each section within the Museum of the Cherokee People:

  • The Paleo display showcases the early stone tools used by the Cherokee for hunting and living. Collections include the delicate spears, flint-knapping tools, and knives used nearly two million years ago.
  • Take in the sensory experience of Cherokee culture and history through artifacts, interactive video, animation, and special effects as you move through the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian eras.
  • Halfway through the exhibit is the well-known Contact period, the point in history when the Cherokee first interacted with the Europeans in 1540.
  • The exhibit then moves through more recent periods in Cherokee history, from Civilization to the Trail of Tears to the modern era. Listen to first-hand accounts from the Trail of Tears and learn about the perspectives of Cherokee people today.
  • Another powerful collection of exhibits focuses on more recent times and the achievements of the Cherokee people. In addition, there are spotlights on Cherokee who have served in the US Military and fought for our country.

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Outdoor Exhibits

Museum of the Cherokee Indian NC Outdoor

As you approach the front of the entrance, you’ll be welcomed by the 20-foot, hand-carved statue of Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee Alphabet.

The Cherokee are the first Native American people to have a distinct alphabet, thanks to Sequoyah.

There’s also an interactive indoor exhibit dedicated to Sequoyah and the alphabet.

Read More: 13 of the Most Interesting Historic Towns in North Carolina (Important Places for Your Next Adventure!)

Education Wing

Museum of the Cherokee Indian NC Sequoyah

The Cherokee Museum focuses heavily on educating the public about Cherokee traditions and history. Here are a few examples:

  • There is a collection of journals, lesson plans, packets for students, and documentation of endangered languages.
  • A fantastic project that the Museum does is genealogy research, where the Museum identifies and traces Cherokee ancestry in your family.
  • Warriors of AniKituhwa is a local group specializing in the Cherokee War Dance, recorded by Lt. Henry Timberlake in 1762. The WoA has performed in Montreal, Canada, at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and nationwide.

Read More: Wayah Bald Tower (and the BEST Mountain Views in Franklin)

Events

Museum of the Cherokee Indian Cherokee NC Trail of Tears

The Museum of the Cherokee People hosts events throughout the year. Examples include a Winter Lecture Series held entirely online. Panelists from around the country participated to speak on language, cultural preservation, arts, and more.

Read More: 75+ Fun Day Trips from Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Museum of the Cherokee People Gift Shop

Museum of the Cherokee People

As you close out a day of learning about the rich Cherokee culture, stop by the Museum of the Cherokee People gift shop for a souvenir. The store focuses on products with ties to the Cherokee people, like pottery, woven baskets, books, art, and so much more!

Read More: 40+ North Carolina Gifts from Amazing Local Businesses

Ready to Visit the Museum of the Cherokee People?

With important subject matter housed within its walls and its location within the Qualla Boundary, we think visiting the Museum of the Cherokee People is worth your time. Whether traveling alone or with your family, it’s a crucial place to visit.

We’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve visited this Cherokee Museum. Let us know in the comments or by email.

Don’t forget to share your Cherokee travel adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

Nearby Attractions in Cherokee (and Beyond)

Mingo Falls bridge
Mingo Falls.

Beyond the Museum of the Cherokee People, there are plenty of other attractions in Cherokee NC, and its surroundings in Bryson City, Swain County, and Jackson County.

Here are a few of them:

  • Waterfalls: Some of North Carolina’s most beautiful waterfalls are in Cherokee. We think you’ll love the easier-to-access accessible Mingo Falls, which translates to “Big Bear” in Cherokee. The climb to this massive waterfall is only about 160 steps and is worth every minute. Soco Falls is another excellent waterfall in Cherokee, but a bit trickier to reach. What makes Soco unique is the merging of two waterfalls that creates a truly stunning scene.
  • Unto These Hills: For more Cherokee culture, visit the Mountainside Theatre. This venue is the home of “Unto These Hills,” the widely popular outdoor drama that tells the story of the Cherokee. The cast, story, and show all come together to create an entertaining and truly educational experience.
  • Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort: Stay a few days in Cherokee at Harrah’s Casino Resort, a mountainside hotel, casino, and restaurant all in one! A hub of entertainment and community, Harrah’s location near the Great Smoky Mountains makes it an excellent place for exploring Cherokee and the mountains.
  • Oconaluftee Indian Village: Step back to the 1700s in Oconaluftee Indian Village. This replica of a historic Cherokee community has lots to see and do! Enjoy the cultural dance performances, try your hand at weaving baskets and creating pottery, and soak in the area’s beauty.
  • The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: The Museum of the Cherokee People is included in this trail, which stretches 5,000 miles over nine states. The National Parks unit remembers the Trail of Tears tragedy, where the US Government forcibly removed thousands of Cherokee people from their communities. In Western NC, the trail includes museums and other spots that commemorate essential pieces of history.
  • Bryson City: About 20 minutes away from Cherokee, Bryson City is one of our favorite North Carolina mountain towns! The town is well-known for hiking and river recreation. Places we love include the waterfall-filled Deep Creek Loop, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and the Road to Nowhere. Of course, Bryson City has endless fun and much more to explore! 
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Of all the national parks in North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited. It’s the most visited National Park in the US. Here are a few of our favorite places to stay on the NC side of the Smokies:
    • Big Creek Trail (leads to Mouse Creek Falls and more)
    • Clingmans Dome Observation Tower (the western terminus of the Mountains to Sea Trail)
    • Deep Creek Trail (a 3-waterfall hike)
    • Mingus Mill (largest grist mill in the Smokies)
    • The Oconaluftee Visitor Center (known for elk sightings)
  • Blue Ridge Parkway: The Blue Ridge Parkway’s southern terminus (Milepost 469) is near Cherokee. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is right around the corner. There are many great stops and hikes along the Parkway near Cherokee.

More Things to Do in Cherokee (NC Travel Guides)

There are even more Cherokee attractions, and our NC travel guides collection covers them in more detail. Here are a few of them.

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