Located next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina sits the ancestral homelands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians Nation. Known as the Qualla Boundary, these 57,000 acres are home to approximately 9,000 members of a proud, intelligent, and deeply spiritual people.

Once the largest of all southern tribes, with a population of approximately 25,000 people, the Great Cherokee Nation covered an estimated 135,000 square miles in North America, stretching from the Ohio River down to the state of Alabama. The centuries since then have been filled with both tragedy and triumph.

From an ancient heritage that reaches all the way back to 11,000 B.C.  to the first contact with European settlers to peaceful trade and devastating conflict to the Trail of Tears up to the integration of today’s modern cultures, the Cherokee people have used ingenuity, inventiveness, and resilience to survive.

Learn more about their rich and complex heritage with a meaningful visit to the Qualla Boundary, where you’ll find authentic Cherokee arts, crafts, and artifacts as well as dramatic retellings of history through song, dance, ceremonies and so much more. Keep reading to discover important sites that celebrate who the Cherokee people really are, where they came from, and why they are still here.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian

If your idea of a museum includes dusty displays, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is anything but. With one step inside, you will discover the heart and soul of an entire civilization through interactive video, intriguing displays, and a full sensory experience. This state-of-the-art museum is the perfect place to begin your exploration of the sweeping history of the Cherokee heritage and traditions.

Cherokee Homestead Exhibit

The Cherokee people and their ancestors have called the Western North Carolina Smoky Mountains home for more than 10,000 years. You can learn more about their ancient way of life in this fascinating exhibit (one of the many sites that are actually outside of the Qualla Boundary). Explore a reconstructed 17th-18th century village homestead, complete with a summer house, winter house, food storage and so much more. This self-guided, open-air tour is accessible 24/7 and also includes interpretive signs to give you a deeper understanding of their heritage as well as public artwork that showcases Cherokee legends.

Qualla Arts and Crafts

Admire baskets that are lovingly crafted from hundreds of strands of river cane. Marvel at Bird Clan masks carved in buckeye. Talk with the artist who handcrafted pottery made from local clay. Founded in 1946, Qualla Arts and Crafts is the oldest Native American Cooperative. You’ll hear the stories and witness the artistry of over 350 generational artists who are keeping the Cherokee heritage alive with stunning artwork and handicrafts. But even beyond this airy and awe-inspiring artist’s space, the coop members and master craftspeople are working to be good stewards of the land and the products they use. Working with the University of Tennessee, they have helped to establish blight-resistant butternut trees, used as wood for Cherokee flutes and carvings as well as natural dye and nuts used in traditional recipes.

Oconaluftee Indian Village

Immerse yourself in a history that you can see and feel with this captivating living history museum. At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, you’ll travel back to the past thanks to the dedication of present-day Cherokee historians. This interactive experience takes you straight to the 1750s, where you can follow cultural experts through time. The scent of wood smoke wafts through the air as you explore how the Cherokee people lived, worked, and worshipped. Watch as villagers hull canoes, make pottery, weave baskets, and perform traditional dances. Learn the importance they placed on being good stewards of their ancestral land and its natural resources. And you may even get a front row seat as the warriors prepare to go to battle. It’s a feast for the senses and a wonderful way to share in the celebration of this amazing community.

“Unto These Hills” Outdoor Drama

No visit to Cherokee, NC is complete without seeing the second longest running outdoor drama in the entire country, running for over 50 years! Set in the Mountainside Theater, an outdoor theater that seats 2,800 people, you’ll experience the story of the Cherokee in a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring display. Ancient Cherokee legends are told through mesmerizing stories, heart stirring music, and hypnotic dance traditions that showcase the rich heritage and culture. On your way into the theater, take note of the Eternal Flame that was carried to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears and brought back to Cherokee in 1951. The Cherokee people believe that as long as the fire burns, they will survive.

After exploring the meaningful sites of the Cherokee and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of their history, enjoy a stay with us at the Meadowlark Motel and visit our Heritage Center for even more Smoky Mountain culture. Take a peek at a few of the books on Cherokee life and culture that we have in our shop.