On our fourth of July weekend road trip in Iowa, our final hiking destination was Effigy Mounds National Monument. It was our favorite hike of the trip. Even though it was a hot day, we enjoyed the scenery and the history. As with most places we went on this trip, the area was uncrowded and perfect for social distancing.
What Are the Effigy Mounds?
Effigy Mounds are actually an area of Native American burial sites. The mounds, constructed between the years 500 AD to 100 AD, are from the Woodland Period. (Although those dates vary per different sources). They lived in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota along the Mississippi from Dubuque, Iowa up to Lake Michigan. There is evidence suggesting these mounds were all along this area. The mound builders have connections to many different tribes. Out of the 200 mounds in Effigy Mounds Park, 31 are in the form of shapes of bears and birds. Other mounds are round or elongated, or a combination the two.
Thousands of these mounds existed. Most ruined over time. Unknowingly settlers plowed them over, some were graded for buildings and many were looted.
Mounds usually contain more than one burial and the most popular method of burial was bundling the bodies together. Other forms of burial were with the body lying flat or in a position such as sitting. Although burials were usually done over time with bodies put on top of others. According to information at the park, dirt was thrown on top of the bodies and then rocks. Next, clam shells were tossed upon this pile and then more dirt added. It was also noted clam shells and limestone were then placed near the center, and finally more dirt until everything was covered. There is belief that this was ceremonial. In addition some of the mounds contained items of copper and stone.
Hiking Trails in Effigy Mounds
There are a few different trails to hike in Effigy Mounds and you can make your hike long or short depending on how much hiking you wish to do. There is a North Unit to hike and a South Unit. We decided on the North Unit. You will see mounds of bears, round, elongated and combination. You can only see the bird mounds though by hiking the South Unit.
It is very important to remember to stay on the trails. These are sacred burial sites and deserve to be treated with respect.
The Maps below are from the handout at Effigy Mounds.
Hike to Third Scenic View
We had planned on doing the entire 7 mile hike to Hanging Rock, but it was 90°F and muggy out so we settled with the 4 mile Third Scenic View Hike as we had a good view of Hanging Rock from there. The trails are well maintained and marked.
Eagle Rock and Fire Point Lookouts
We started the hike going up, and up. It seemed like we were never going to get to the top but we did. Note that there are about 4 or 5 switchbacks as well. Once at the top you can go right or left, it loops around so you can see everything. We choose left and went to the Eagle Rock and then Fire Point Lookouts. These lookouts provided views of the Mississippi River. We noticed material tied to the fence at Fire Point but were un able to find out the significance.
Fire Point to Great Bear Mound Group
After Fire Point we followed the trail along a group of many round mounds. This was actually pretty cool, but photos don’t do it justice. At the end of this short trek you can turn left and loop back to the beginning or you can turn right and follow the trail to the Great Bear Group. It was hard to get a photo of the bear, but you could see the shape as you walked by. I wasn’t about to climb a tree to get a view from above so I don’t have a good photo of this either. As you continue along the Great Bear Group you will see both round and elongated mounds.
Third Scenic View
After the Great Bear Group you can turn right to the Twin Views Scenic area or you can continue straight to the Third Scenic View. We continued right. The path towards the Third Scenic View is unremarkable and you walk through forest for a bit and then there’s a break with low vegetation along the path. This area really bothered my allergies!! You will turn right to go to the Third Scenic View and again will pass more mounds, including another bear effigy. Once at the Third Scenic View area you will again view the Mississippi River. There is a much welcomed bench to rest while overlooking the river. To the left is hanging rock.
The Way Back
We mainly just backtracked on the way back. Note that if you want to hike to Hanging Rock, turn right after you return from the Third Scenic View Trail. We headed back and the only change we made was following the trail straight the entire way back instead of taking the Fire Point turn. You will see Little Bear Mound Group by following this route.
Conclusion on Hiking Effigy Mounds
I really enjoyed hiking Effigy Mounds, it is a great park in Iowa. I will more than likely be back someday to check out the South Unit of the park. I’m curious to see the bird effigies plus being 3.5 hours from my home this is a nice area to hike that isn’t too far. At this time, do to Covid-19, the visitor center is not available.