Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, Georgia. Photo by Visit Macon
Five-Day Native American Heritage Tour of Georgia
Rewind a timeline from the 1800s to 2500 BCE while traveling from the mountains of Northwest Georgia to the sandy beaches on the coast.
Delve into the rich history of Native Americans in Georgia by touring sites throughout the state that are dedicated to preserving their stories. Explore land once populated by thousands of Native Americans from the Etowah Indian Mounds in North Georgia to St. Simons Island on the coast, and learn about the Indigenous people who lived here.
On this five-day journey, tour the first brick home in the Cherokee Nation, enter the continent's only reconstructed Earth Lodge with the original 1,000-year-old floor, learn about Creek interpreters who mediated between native populations and English settlers in the 1700s, and much more. Along the way, explore museums and other attractions, restaurants and unique places to stay from Rome and Cartersville to Macon and Savannah. Follow this itinerary to hear the stories, stand on sacred ground, and get a closer look at what life was like long ago for Native Americans in Georgia.
Day One: Northwest Georgia
Chief Vann House Historic Site in Chatsworth
Start in Chatsworth and 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. The two-story brick mansion features a cantilevered “floating” staircase that leads to one and a half additional levels while balancing itself without support. As you marvel at the home’s construction and furnishings, learn about its builder Chief James Vann, a man who was feared by many, loved by few and was, in fact, shot and killed at a local tavern in 1809.
Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth
Chatsworth is also home to Fort Mountain State Park, where it’s believed early Native Americans built the property’s 855-foot-long wall on the mountain’s highest point between 500 and 1500 CE. According to Cherokee lore, the wall was built by the “Moon-eyed people,” but who the Moon-eyed people were, if they existed at all, is unclear. The wall’s purpose has also been debated by archaeologists and historians, with theories ranging from a military defense fortification to a spiritual structure.
New Echota State Historic Site in Calhoun
Continue to Calhoun, home of the New Echota State Historic Site, which was established as the capital of the Cherokee Nation in 1825. The former Cherokee capital is now home to a dozen original and reconstructed buildings, including a print shop, courthouse and council house. During its short history, New Echota was the site of the first Indian language newspaper office, a court case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and one of the earliest experiments in national self-government by an Indian tribe. It is also where the Trail of Tears started.
Rome Area History Museum
From Calhoun, travel to Rome. Stop into the Rome Area History Museum to learn about the city that formed around the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers. Explore exhibits about Indigenous Americans and early settlers, including a model of a 16th-century Native American village and information about Hernando de Soto’s travels through the southeastern United States from 1539 to 1542, through contemporary culture.
Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site in Cartersville
Next, travel to Cartersville to tour the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site, a political and religious center for the Mississippian tribe. Home to several thousand Native Americans between 1000 A.D. to 1550 A.D., the 54-acre historic community is considered the most intact Mississippian village in the Southeast. Explore six earthen mounds, a plaza, a village site and a nature trail that follows the Etowah River.
Just 4 miles away, learn about American Indians that predate those who lived at the Etowah Indian Mounds by following the 1.5-mile Leake Mounds Interpretive Trail. The trail includes 18 interpretive exhibit panels with information about the Leake Site’s inhabitants.
The Booth Museum in Cartersville
Make time in your day to visit The Booth Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, which presents America's story through contemporary Western artwork, more than 200 Native American artifacts, and so much more. The Booth Museum is the second-largest art museum in Georgia and houses the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the country.
Drive south on I-75 for about two and a half hours to Macon to tour Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a sacred site of more than 12,000 years of continuous human habitation. The site is on its way to becoming America’s next and Georgia’s first national park.
Start at the visitor center, the only Art Moderne building in the National Park System, which includes an educational video and exhibits explaining the history of the park, a site that has been inhabited since the Paleo-Indian period. During the Mississippian period, people constructed mounds for their elite, seven of which are preserved at the park. Explore the grounds, entering the continent's only reconstructed Earth Lodge with the original 1,000-year-old floor and climbing to the top of the Great Temple Mound.
In the 18th century, the site was home to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in 1836. When the park is designated as a national park, The Muscogee Nation will co-manage it, making it the first time in history that a tribe that was once removed from the land will help operate the national park.
Set out on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Savannah, settled in 1733 on Georgia’s coast. Start with a tour of the Massie Heritage Center, which includes the "American Indians of Coastal Georgia" exhibit, featuring the largest collection of Yamacraw American Indian artifacts in the country and the only American Indian Exhibit in Savannah.
Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island
Travel south an hour and a half to St. Simons Island to tour Fort Frederica National Monument, which was established in 1736 by Gen. James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of the new colony of Georgia from the Spanish in Florida. Join a ranger for a guided walking tour to learn about the area’s history and people, including Mary Musgrove. Mary, whose Creek name was Coosaponakeesa, lived and worked as an interpreter alongside Tomochichi, who served as the principal mediator between the native population and the new English settlers during the first years of settlement. Without assistance from Tomochichi and Mary Musgrove, Gen. Oglethorpe's vision of the founding of Georgia and the War with Spain might have had a different outcome.
St. Simons Park & Cannon's Point Preserve on St. Simons Island
Next, explore St. Simons Park, the site of a Mocama Indian village of approximately 100-200 people, and Cannon's Point Preserve, an archaeological site with Native American shell middens dating back to 2500 BCE.