Effigy Mounds National Monument

Location: Marquette, Iowa

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Effigy Mounds National Monument preserves over 200 prehistoric burial mounds.  Most of the mounds are low circles or bars, however, a number of them are in the shape of animals, most notably bears or birds.  Burial mounds were common throughout the midwest, but nearly all of them have been destroyed by erosion and farming.  Mounds in the form of animals, known as Effigy Mounds, were primarily constructed by American Indian cultures of the Late Woodland Period (1400-750 B.P.) in southern Wisconsin, northeast Iowa, and small parts of Minnesota and Illinois.  The Effigy Mounds National Monument is in the western edge of this region due to the rugged terrain and bluffs near the Mississippi River limiting agricultural activities.  “The stories and legends of the Native Americans whose ancestors built the mounds describe the effigy mounds as ceremonial and sacred sites. Archeologists believe the effigy mounds delineated territories of choice gathering and hunting grounds. Unfortunately, much of the data is inconclusive.”  The largest, Great Bear Mound, measures 42 meters from head to tail and rises over a meter above the original ground level.



1) The Visitor Center is located at the site of the Yellow River Indian village and once had a number of mounds where the parking lot is today.  However, farming destroyed all but three of these mounds which are located just outside the Visitor Center.  Within the Visitor Center they have the facility to show a video, however, it was not operating when we were there.  There is a very nice set of exhibits providing a good explanation of the history of the mounds which transcends many cultures over a thousand years.  Each culture would add to the existing mounds adding their own artifacts.  These artifacts are used to age the stages of mound building.  The Effigy Mounds all seem to date from the latest period based on the artifacts found in archeological work.


2) There are a couple of trails that lead up to the top of the bluffs where most of the remaining mounds can be found.  The main trail takes off from the side of the Visitor Center and immediately climbs up 400 feet to the top of the bluff.  From this point the trails are relatively flat and takes visitors to the best sets of Effigy Mounds.  The Fire Point trail is a loop trail that is a total of 2 miles from the Visitor Center.  I would recommend extending this hike another 0.25 miles to view the Great Bear Mound Group.  It is another mile to the Twin Views, two miles to the Third Scenic View, and 5 miles to the Hanging Rock.  There are additional Effigy Mounds all along this extended trail.

3) There is another trail at the Visitor Center that provides boardwalk access to the Yellow River and old iron bridge.  While not as spectacular as the mound trails, it is wheelchair accessible.


4) For the adventurous hiker there are additional trails up the bluffs to the south of the Visitor Center to the Compound Mound Group and Marching Bear Group.  Even though these hikes are suppose to be worth the effort, we decided against it after making it to the Great Bear Mound Group to the north.