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How to Travel Internationally in Oklahoma: Experiencing Cherokee Nation

Celebrate the Sooner State’s rich Native American culture with natural wonders and historical sites, and by supporting Cherokee-owned small businesses.

How to Travel Internationally in Oklahoma: Experiencing Cherokee Nation

Lake Tenkiller

Photo by Cherokee Nation Film Office

With the most registered members of any other Native American group in the United States, Cherokee Nation counts nearly 200,000 citizens who reside in Oklahoma alone. Today, a majority call a distinct reservation region in the northeastern part of the state home. The 7,000-square-mile destination is deeply rooted in rich history, culture, and beauty that you won’t find anywhere else.

Preserved historic sites and attractions spanning 14 counties offer myriad opportunities to immerse yourself in Cherokee heritage and learn about these Indigenous people firsthand. Here are a few places in Oklahoma to discover and experience the origins of this proud tribal community.

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An example of adaptive reuse, The Ambassador Hotel Tulsa was built during the oil boom as an extended stay residence for executives.

Touring Tulsa

Tulsa sits on the edge of Cherokee Nation, making the city an ideal jumping-off point to easily access the surrounding area. Check into the Ambassador Hotel Tulsa, a member of the Autograph Collection, conveniently located in the heart of downtown. Set in one of the city’s most iconic buildings, which dates to the 1920s, this award-winning boutique hotel blends rich history with modern luxury. The renovated, pet-friendly property features Mediterranean-style charm, 55 elegant rooms and suites, and a family-owned American eatery, The Chalkboard—a local favorite for farm-to-table cuisine, craft cocktails, and live music.

After settling in, the Welcome Center makes an excellent first stop on your tour of Cherokee Nation for information about places to visit in the area. Say “Osiyo” (“Hello” in Cherokee) to the inviting staff who will answer questions and provide recommendations based on your interests. Plus, you can pick up refreshments and locally made art, apparel, and souvenirs in the gift shop.

For an enlightening way to understand more about the context of Cherokee and other people here, head to the Gilcrease Museum, one of the foremost collections of Western American art. Founded by a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and with more than 350,000 artifacts spanning hundreds of Indigenous North and South American cultures, the institution also offers themed gardens among its 460-acre grounds.

The heart of Cherokee Nation

Hit the road to discover the capitol of Cherokee Nation. Start your morning by taking in the region’s natural beauty during a short, scenic drive to Tahlequah, a must-visit destination to truly get acquainted with tribal history.

Check out some of Tahlequah’s main attractions starting with the Cherokee National History Museum, which was restored and opened in 2019. Residing in the original Cherokee national capitol building, a historical national landmark built in 1869, the interactive museum offers an in-depth account of tribal life through preserved artifacts, hands-on immersive exhibits, and state-of-the-art visual presentations.

Cross the street to find the oldest government building in Oklahoma, constructed in 1844, which houses the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. Inside, multiple exhibits focus on the Cherokee judicial system, bringing to life the evolution of the Indigenous language and tribal journalism. Displays include authentic works and historical items, along with the original printing press of the Cherokee Advocate newspaper.

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The Cort Mall // Photo by Tour Tahlequah

In downtown Tahlequah, there are plenty of boutiques to shop for authentic Native American goods. Cherokee Nation Gift Shop is your one-stop destination for tribal-made artisan jewelry, artwork, history books, and apparel. You’ll find exquisitely detailed, handmade leather products, from belts and wallets to handbags, at Native American-owned Two Guns Leather. And in the Cort Mall, the Spider Gallery carries home decor made by federally recognized Cherokee citizens, along with tools and supplies for basketry, pottery, and metalsmithing. Look out for shell carvings by late Cherokee artist Knokovtee Scott, who was a Cherokee National Living Treasure when he was alive.

Experience local flavors at Cherokee-owned Kawi Café for a gourmet breakfast or lunch. Meaning “coffee” in the Cherokee language, Kawi serves a fantastic variety of specialty beverages made from Tribal Grounds Coffee, but is most famous for their authentic Indian tacos. Then satisfy your sweet tooth at Morgan’s, a family-run bakery opened in 1948, which offers a tempting array of freshly-made treats.

For another Cherokee-owned standout, head slightly south to The Bird and Bison. This Park Hill restaurant is celebrated for comforting fare with an indigenous flair—all made with locally-sourced ingredients. Menu favorites include the catfish (prepared fried or blackened and served with tasty fixings) and the succulent barbecue brisket, which gets smoked for 16 hours.

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Natural Falls // Photo by thomasshahan.com

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Explore the great outdoors

Discover amazing sites located within an hour and a half of downtown Tulsa, where natural wonders will take your breath away. Hike up the Sparrow Hawk Primitive Area Trail of Sparrowhawk Mountain, just outside Tahlequah. Once you arrive at the top of the popular walking trail, sweeping views of the picturesque river valley and surrounding hills await.

In the Ozark Highlands, Natural Falls State Park boasts one of Oklahoma’s most famous waterfalls—a magnificent 77-foot-tall wall of crystal clear water cascading over a rocky cliff. At the base of the falls, an observation platform offers breathtaking panoramas, a postcard-worthy vantage point for photo-ops.

Known as Oklahoma’s “heaven in the hills,” Tenkiller State Park is a 1,190-acre oasis in Sequoyah County featuring nature trails, campgrounds, picnic pavilions, and lovely Lake Tenkiller—a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Here, you can rent a boat to fish, go tubing, water ski, scuba dive, and more in the sparkling blue waters.

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