Explore Georgia history with a 200-mile drive along the state’s Chieftains Trail through a region the Cherokee people called “the enchanted land.”
As you visit each stop along the route through the foothills of northwest Georgia, its Native American heritage comes to life as you immerse yourself in the early cultures — Mississippian, Creek and Cherokee — that populated the state.
Start in Cartersville, about an hour northwest of Atlanta, at the Etowah Indian Mounds, a political and religious center for the Mississippian tribe. Six earthen mounds, a plaza, a village site and other archeologically significant places make up the 54-acre state historic community, considered the most intact Mississippian village in the Southeast.
From Cartersville, travel to Rome’s Chieftains Museum, in the former home of Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee Nation. Ironically, he later signed the Treaty of New Echota, leading to the removal of thousands of Cherokees from their land. Today, the museum, part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, tells the story of the Cherokee alongside artifacts unearthed on the site.
Continue to Calhoun, home of the New Echota State Historic Site, and where the Cherokee people assembled for their forced removal and where the Trail of Tears officially started. The former Cherokee capital is now home to a dozen original and reconstructed buildings, including a print shop, courthouse and council house.
Farther north in Chatsworth, take a guided tour of the Chief Vann House Historic Site, known as the “showplace of the Cherokee Nation,” and considered Georgia’s best-preserved Cherokee home. Marvel at the cantilevered “floating” staircase that leads to one and a half additional levels while balancing itself without support. Chatsworth is also home to Fort Mountain State Park, where it’s believed early Native Americans built the property’s 855-foot-long wall as fortification from attacks.
The last stop of the trail takes you to Funk Heritage Center of Reinhardt University in Waleska. Allow plenty of time to take in the interpretive center’s many exhibits, which include a Hall of Ancients with artifacts, dioramas and interactive programs, the Rogers Contemporary Native American Art Gallery and an Appalachian settlement.
Fascinating history and beautiful detours make up Georgia’s lengthy Chieftains Trail.
Allow two to three days to get the most out of your journey. Convenient and comfortable accommodations along the route include the Victorian Gothic Claremont House Bed & Breakfast in Rome and the cottages at Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth.