Effigy Mounds National Monument

In early July, my grandparents took me on a day trip to the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. This would involve a long drive down the Mississippi (which I talked about a little bit in my post Landscapes of the Driftless Area), passing through scenic river towns on the way. We would go there, hike one of the two major hiking paths, and drive back.

Effigy Mounds National Monument preserves more than 200 mounds built by prehistoric Native Americans, with shapes ranging from lines and slightly raised domes to representations of animals such as bears and birds. More information on the specifics is available on their website. We wanted to hike to the South Unit, which has more of the bear and bird mounds clustered in one area.

Effigy Mounds South Unit Sign

When it is this late in the summer people have to go up to the mounds and mow around them, or they don’t stand out amid the tall grass. They are just a few feet high. We didn’t know for sure until we got there if they had mowed the grass at the South Unit or not, but luckily they had. It was a comfortable day, warm but not too hot, so we could hike without worrying about getting overheated. It was also a very quiet day there. We did not see one other person on the hike, so the whole time was peaceful and secluded.

Hiking Trail


It was a 2 mile hike out and 2 miles back, making our way up to the top of a bluff, and as we went we came to some open areas like this surrounded by sumac (which grows much larger down here). The path was wide and pretty good quality. Apart from the carefully maintained path, with the sense of seclusion we had from seeing no one else this felt like we were out in the wilderness.

After hiking for awhile (and stopping to look at various insects and plants we weren’t familiar with) we were nearing the mounds. We came to an open area with only scattered trees, with thick growth off to either side. It felt like a place to relax, like a city park at the end of this long path, and stretched out among the trees were the mounds.

Marching Bear Mounds


Here are the Marching Bear mounds. The mounds were very difficult to photograph, even though in person you could clearly make out the shape of the bears. This is a line of, I think around six, mounds representing bears. They connect up to the first bear mounds you see, a circle of four, and they lead to the final two bird mounds.

The first bird (near the circle of bears) was large, so I could not find any angle to photograph it from. It was visually impressive though. Particularly interesting was that it was pointed directly at an overlook of the valley below. If you stand behind it, it looks like the bird would fly out over the valley.

I do have a picture of one of the second bird mounds that turned out decently.

Bird Mound


The closest part of the shape is the birds left wing tip, the next prong to the right of the overall shape is the birds tail, and in the distance you can see the right wing, with the head being the point to the left of the image.

We spent at least an hour just wandering around the mounds and observing the area. There were many walnut shells on the ground, and some fresh walnuts that were aromatic when cracked open. I also have a picture of one of the Linear Mounds, with my grandfather all the way at the end of it for scale.

Linear Mound

Eventually we had to get going, so we headed back, but did want to go off to an overlook we noticed on the way up, to Founder’s Pond.

On the way to the lake overlook

Founder's Pond

This was really a beautiful overlook, and it highlights the terrain of the region nicely. Apparently ponds are rather rare around here though, because the soil is so well drained.

There isn’t much more to talk about past this point, we had a nice walk back to the car and then a long but scenic drive back home.

If you want to learn more about the Effigy Mounds, pull up the link from above: Effigy Mounds National Monument and if you would like to learn more about the Driftless Area, the geological area the Effigy Mounds are in, you could read my post that has a lot of links to locations in the Driftless Area: Landscapes of the Driftless Area





Leave a Reply