From the desert to mountains to glaciers, Native American museums and historic sites offer a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while learning about the rich heritage of America’s indigenous peoples.
The town of Cherokee, North Carolina, serves as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. There are several sites in the town devoted to the tribe’s history and culture, including the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Oconaluftee Indian Village, a replica of an 18th-century community along the Oconaluftee River. Qualla Arts and Crafts, founded in 1946, is the oldest Native American cooperative, promoting the work of more than 250 members.
South Dakota’s Native American scenic byway follows the Missouri River, with breathtaking views and many places to learn about the state’s original inhabitants. The newest addition is Dignity: Of Earth & Sky, a 50-foot-tall statue of a Native woman that honors the Lakota and Dakota people. Other stops include the Sitting Bull Monument, marking what many believe is the resting place of the legendary Sioux leader, and Mobridge Auditorium, where you can see murals painted in 1942 by Oscar Howe, one of the 20th century’s most innovative Native American artists.
For more than 700 years, the Pueblo people built thriving communities in southwestern Colorado. At Mesa Verde National Park, you can explore this history and see the places where the Pueblo lived, including the Cliff Palace, the largest such dwelling in North America. Throughout the park, you’ll find scenic drives and hikes from leisurely to more strenuous. Mesa Verde’s elevation, climate, sparse population and clear skies make it an excellent spot for stargazing.
Arizona is home to 22 sovereign American Indian communities. The Heard Museum, in Phoenix, preserves their stories and provides a showcase for Native American artwork and cultural artifacts. The City of Phoenix operates the Pueblo Grande Museum, which includes a trail through an archaeological site that was once home to the ancient Hohokam people. The museum’s 44th annual Indian Market takes place Dec. 11-12.
The town of Ketchikan is located at an entrance to Alaska’s Inside Passage, a network of waterways that snakes through breathtaking wilderness. Ketchikan is home to a Native arts community of carvers, dancers, weavers and painters. You’ll also find a large collection of totem poles, most scattered throughout town, at the Totem Heritage Center and in one of Ketchikan’s totem parks.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C., is home to one of the world’s most wide-ranging collections of Native artifacts, drawn from the entire Western Hemisphere. Current exhibits include “Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and American Indian Nations.” The museum also has a branch in New York City, in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan. Exhibits include “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces.”