Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

National parks connected to Native Americans


Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, courtesy NPS
Long before the conception of the national parks system, the native people of America were roaming the countryside making use of beautiful landscapes and all they offer. Luckily for history buffs and adventurous travelers, many of today’s national parks help preserve the rich heritages and historic sites these tribes left behind so that groups can commemorate the contributions of the Native American cultures to the vast lands across the country.

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Chillicothe, Ohio
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is centrally located among a host of special places related to Native American heritage all across central Ohio. The park offers groups the chance to explore these UNESCO World Heritage Site-nominated grounds over just a few hours or over several days.

The park is home to a series of monumental mounds and earthworks built more than 2,000 years ago by the Hopewell Native Americans that display the tribe’s deep understanding of geometry, architecture and astronomy, as their works align fluidly with the movements of the sun and moon. The Hopewell people invested an unfathomable amount of labor to build those sacred places, gathering raw materials from distant lands like the Great Lakes and the Appalachian Mountains, and assembled there for feasts, funerals and rites of passage.

“The park is a great place to take a quiet walk, and the ancient monuments never fail to evoke a sense of mystery and wonder about the native peoples who built and used these remarkable places,” said Bret Ruby, archaeologist and chief of resource management for the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. “The park works to protect these places from damage due to the growth of modern cities, plowing and natural erosion by raising awareness and appreciation for these special places.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The great nation of the Cherokees has spanned more than eight states and 140,000 miles, including the acres that spread through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though the tribe is not headquartered in Tennessee, there were certainly Cherokees throughout this region long before there was a national park.

“The three things we’re known for in the Great Smoky Mountains are the biological diversity, the scenic beauty and then the human continuum,” said Julie Townsend, park ranger for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service, “and there has been at least 12,000 years of human continuum in the Smokies. The thing I get most excited about when I’m doing programs with the general public is that the Cherokees are still here. We’re not just talking about history; we’re talking about ongoing dynamic community.”

Groups can explore the national park on foot or by bike to see preserved towns and home sites that once belonged to the Cherokee people; they can also take a short trip to visit the Qualla Boundary, just two miles out from the park’s borders.

Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert has traversed more than 50 countries in her quest to uncover stories for her outlets in Food & Wine, Men's Health, Group Travel Leader, American Way, and more. When she's not on the road, you can find her teaching yoga and exploring around her new home in Germany with her husband and her Boston Terrier, Tobias.