10 Things to Do at the Institute for American Indian Studies

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Located in Washington, Connecticut in the heart of Litchfield County, the Institute for American Indian Studies celebrates the largely unknown Indigenous history of New England. Opened in 1975, the 15 acre complex includes indoor exhibits, an outdoor replicated Algonkian Village, hiking trails, and even a Wigwam Escape Room experience. The Algonkian people inhabited much of the northeastern United States up until the 1700s and includes over 100 distinct groups and communities.  The museum is very hands on and docents are eager to share anecdotal stories and explain the significance of artifacts on display. (Definitely ask for an atlatl demonstration!)


Travel Tips:

  • The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday throughout the year- more information on hours and admission fees here.

  • The museum is located at the end of a residential street with plenty of clear signage and a dirt parking lot for cars and buses.

  • There are outdoor picnic tables around the museum, but no other dining facilities on site. For local restaurants, check out this guide and this guide.

  • Restrooms and a small gift shop are located next to the admission desk. 

  • For locals, be sure to check out special events like Full Moon hikes and birding hikes, and programs like the popular summer camp.

10 Things to Do at the Institute:

1. Practice pronouncing “Quinnetukut” the Algonkian word for Connecticut, which means “place of the long water.” The Quinnetukut exhibit is the largest exhibit in the museum and features 12,000 years of history throughout an interactive timeline.

2. Learn about the 20+ ways a family would use a deer, how sugar was harvested through maple trees, and how people stayed healthy and warm during cold winter months.

3. Try to shoot an atlatl (dart thrower) under the coaching of an Educator. Head outside to see how slowly (under 20 mph a hand thrown dart moves and how much faster (up to 80 mph) the dart can go with an atlatl.

4. Guess how many bison hides and types of bark were used to make a wigwam. In New England, the hides would rot, so Indians used bark from a variety of trees to create the structures.

5. See how many ways the “Three Sisters” were used in daily life, from making dolls to shoes to cooking utensils. Hint: the Three Sisters are corn, bean, and squash- NOT people!

6. Learn about the top fashion item of the early 1800s and how it almost caused the beaver to go extinct. Hint: it has to do with a certain type of hat.

7. Compare your height to a giant beaver and the North American beaver.

8. Step inside a recreated 16th century Sachem House both indoor and outdoors. Both replicas are accurate in size (40 feet across and over 6 feet tall) and represent the meeting house for Chief Sachem. The indoor replica showcases several items used in the village. Kids will especially love the cradle board, the Algonkian version of a baby car seat. The outdoor Sachem House is part of the village, which also includes bark-covered wigwams, and a Three Sisters garden.

9. Learn how to track a calendar on the shell of a turtle and the significance of each of the 13 full moons each year.

10. Hike on some of the trail on and adjacent to the property.  Take note of the signs that provide names and details about the various types of trees.

Bonus: Try to escape in the Wigwam Escape Room. Up to seven players can compete in a 60 minute challenge and a post game discussion. Additional fee applies.

For other nearby fun, check out our post on Places to Hike in Western Connecticut, which includes nearby Hidden Valley Preserve, Steep Rock Preserve, and Mount Tom State Park. We also had a great meal at the Bridgewater Village Store and Bistro– delicious food, friendly service, great ambience, and amazing chocolate from local chocolatier Bridgewater Chocolate. Other popular local spots include GW Tavern and The Pantry.

For more fun throughout Connecticut, check out this list and this index of places to explore. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.


Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to explore the museum. All opinions expressed are my own.

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42 Comments

  1. I truly love reading your blogs as you travel to the most interesting places. I have never heard of The Institute for American Studies but am happy to know about it now. There is truly so much to learn and yet do it in such a fun way. I will be passing this information along to my daughter in hopes they will take our grandchildren there! Thanks!

  2. I truly love reading your blogs as you travel to the most interesting places. I have never heard of The Institute for American Studies but am happy to know about it now. There is truly so much to learn and yet do it in such a fun way. I will be passing this information along to my daughter in hopes they will take our grandchildren there! Thanks!

  3. I truly love reading your blogs as you travel to the most interesting places. I have never heard of The Institute for American Studies but am happy to know about it now. There is truly so much to learn and yet do it in such a fun way. I will be passing this information along to my daughter in hopes they will take our grandchildren there! Thanks!

  4. Great information about the Institute for American Indian Studies. My daughter would love the archery and the escape room. I love learning about history so this place needs to be on our must visit list.

  5. Great information about the Institute for American Indian Studies. My daughter would love the archery and the escape room. I love learning about history so this place needs to be on our must visit list.

  6. Great information about the Institute for American Indian Studies. My daughter would love the archery and the escape room. I love learning about history so this place needs to be on our must visit list.

  7. I would have loved this as a kid! What a fun hands-on and relevant museum! Even though I don’t have kids, this will still be on my list to visit the next time I am in Connecticut! Thanks for a super informative post!

  8. I would have loved this as a kid! What a fun hands-on and relevant museum! Even though I don’t have kids, this will still be on my list to visit the next time I am in Connecticut! Thanks for a super informative post!

  9. I would have loved this as a kid! What a fun hands-on and relevant museum! Even though I don’t have kids, this will still be on my list to visit the next time I am in Connecticut! Thanks for a super informative post!

  10. This is looks like so much fun for kids. I remember when I was younger and I loved going to museums.

  11. This is looks like so much fun for kids. I remember when I was younger and I loved going to museums.

  12. The Institute for American Indian Studies sounds like a fun and educational experience! I really enjoy living history museums. I’d absolutely love to visit.

  13. The Institute for American Indian Studies sounds like a fun and educational experience! I really enjoy living history museums. I’d absolutely love to visit.

  14. The Institute for American Indian Studies sounds like a fun and educational experience! I really enjoy living history museums. I’d absolutely love to visit.

  15. I think I’d like to visit The Institute for American Indian Studies without kids (don’t have any) 🙂 Looks very interesting!

  16. I think I’d like to visit The Institute for American Indian Studies without kids (don’t have any) 🙂 Looks very interesting!

  17. I think I’d like to visit The Institute for American Indian Studies without kids (don’t have any) 🙂 Looks very interesting!

  18. I hadn’t heard of the Institute of American Indian Studies. I love history and I love visiting less known places. Thanks for sharing. Looks like a great place to visit.

  19. I hadn’t heard of the Institute of American Indian Studies. I love history and I love visiting less known places. Thanks for sharing. Looks like a great place to visit.

  20. I hadn’t heard of the Institute of American Indian Studies. I love history and I love visiting less known places. Thanks for sharing. Looks like a great place to visit.

  21. This sounds like such an interesting place. It’s always nice to learn about how the original inhabitants of a place lived.

  22. This sounds like such an interesting place. It’s always nice to learn about how the original inhabitants of a place lived.

  23. This sounds like such an interesting place. It’s always nice to learn about how the original inhabitants of a place lived.

  24. You visit such interesting places! This is another one our family would love to visit as well, thanks for the helpful guide to the Institute of American Indian Studies. I like the way they identified plants on the trail and would love to try out their escape room– I bet a careful eye throughout the Institute helps.

  25. You visit such interesting places! This is another one our family would love to visit as well, thanks for the helpful guide to the Institute of American Indian Studies. I like the way they identified plants on the trail and would love to try out their escape room– I bet a careful eye throughout the Institute helps.

  26. You visit such interesting places! This is another one our family would love to visit as well, thanks for the helpful guide to the Institute of American Indian Studies. I like the way they identified plants on the trail and would love to try out their escape room– I bet a careful eye throughout the Institute helps.

  27. This place sounds so interesting, I never knew about it, I might have to check it out sometime soon.

  28. This place sounds so interesting, I never knew about it, I might have to check it out sometime soon.

  29. This looks like such an interesting experience! We used to go on school trips to these historical places and I always enjoyed it.

  30. This looks like such an interesting experience! We used to go on school trips to these historical places and I always enjoyed it.

  31. This looks like such an interesting experience! We used to go on school trips to these historical places and I always enjoyed it.

  32. What a great way to learn about the Algonkian people and the area’s history. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  33. What a great way to learn about the Algonkian people and the area’s history. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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