If you’re heading to Northeast Iowa, definitely plan a stop at Effigy Mounds National Monument! It’s an excellent place for all ages, with lots to explore and learn. Hike the beautiful trails at the 2,526-acre site, learn about Native American cultures, and take part in a ranger program!
Another great thing about the national monument is that it’s free for visitors! So, you can explore the Visitor Center, museum exhibits, trails, and ranger programs at no cost.
About Effigy Mounds National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument became Iowa’s only national monument in 1949. Why a national monument in Iowa? Because Northeast Iowa is the only place in the U.S. with so many animal-shaped American Indian mounds, called “effigy” mounds! The monument protects over 200 Native American burial mounds in the Mississippi River Valley.
Scientists and historians are still unsure why Native cultures constructed the mounds. It could have been for religious ceremonies, burial rituals, or to connect their people to the spiritual world. What is known is that most of the mounds are from the Woodland culture. And several American Indian tribes are affiliated with the monument.
Visitors can hike among the sacred mounds. One of the largest mounds accessible to visitors is the Great Bear Mound – at 137 feet long and 70 feet wide.
Plus, you can learn about the mounds and the American Indian cultures that constructed them. Head to the Visitor Center and take in a ranger program to learn more!
A note on visiting Effigy Mounds National Monument.
No roads run through the monument, and there’s no camping or lodging on-site. Instead, park at the Visitor Center and explore the monument on foot.
There’s camping nearby at Pikes Peak State Park, Yellow River State Forest, and Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin. Also, find hotels and lodging nearby in McGregor, Marquette, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Visiting Effigy Mounds: Things to see and do
Effigy Mounds National Monument Visitor Center
We recommend starting at the Visitor Center—it’s a must-see when visiting the monument. Not only can you get a map and information from park rangers, but you can see a range of exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the area. The Visitor Center is open daily, except on holidays.
Things to see & do at the visitor center:
- Interpretive movie
- Permanent museum exhibit of ancient Native American artifacts
- Temporary exhibits
- Ranger programs
- Book/Gift Shop
Park rangers offer guided tours and other fun programs during the warmer months. Some recent examples of ranger programs include Voyages Through the Fur Trade, Junior Scientist Day, and Guided Night Sky Hike! See the calendar for upcoming programs.
Also, kids love the Junior Ranger program! Kids complete the Effigy Mounds National Monument Junior Ranger Activity Booklet. Then, they turn it in at the Visitor Center to receive their Junior Ranger badge!
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the National Monument! There are fourteen miles of trails of various difficulties to groups of burial mounds and views of the Mississippi River Valley.
Plan your hike with the Effigy Mounds National Monument map. We also recommend stopping in the Visitor Center for a map and more details on different trails (some are more difficult than others).
Below are some hikes to consider:
The Yellow River Bridge Trail is an easy trail near the Visitor Center. There you can walk on a boardwalk through wetlands to the Yellow River. (There are no mounds along this route.)
The Fire Point Trail is a popular two-mile out-and-back hike to over 20 burial mounds. Along the way, you can see examples of each type of mound (conical, compound, linear, and effigy).
The Twin Views Trail is a three-mile out-and-back trail that passes by the Great Mound Bear Group.
Head to Hanging Rock for the longest hike. It’s a seven-mile out-and-back trail!
Don’t forget to check out trails in the South Unit too. The parking area is off Great River Road/Hwy 76 (just south of the Visitor Center on the east side of the road). Hike trails to different mound groups, like the Marching Bear Group to the south, or head north to two overlook points.
Things to do nearby
Northeast Iowa is among the top places to visit in the state because there’s so much to do. Unique geological features make it an excellent place for nature activities, from fishing and camping to trails of every kind. Plus, it boasts miles and miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, and water trails. Visitors also enjoy the area’s historic buildings, shopping, and museums. Below are some of the many places we recommend checking out!
McGregor and Marquette are historic Iowa river towns just south of the national monument. They offer scenic views, historic buildings, quaint shops, and eateries. Also, find hotels, a casino, and a winery!
Prairie du Chien is four miles southeast and a good place to stop when you’re in the area. Shop for supplies at Walmart and get a bite to eat at a restaurant like Huckleberry’s. Or tour the Villa Louis Historic Site or the Fort Crawford Museum – just to name a few options.
Pikes Peak State Park is six miles south of Effigy Mounds. It’s one of the most visited parks in the state, and it’s easy to understand why! Its impressive views, magnificent bluffs, native woodlands, and excellent hiking make it a great place to see.
Yellow River State Forest is about 10 miles north of the national monument. It’s the perfect spot to really get away from it all! Find 40+(!) miles of multi-use trails, primitive campsites, trout fishing, kayaking, and more!
Spook Cave is a fun place to take a one-of-a-kind cave tour on a boat! It’s just 11 miles west of Effigy Mounds and has a campground with a waterfall.
Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin is 15 miles southeast of the national monument. And it’s well worth the drive, in our opinion! From hiking and biking to canoeing, camping, and fishing, it’s a scenic park worth exploring.
Also, consider visiting Decorah, Iowa, and the Volga River State Recreation Area. Each is less than an hour’s drive from Effigy Mounds. Tour the Fish Hatchery and museums in Decorah, and explore many beautiful nature areas and trails. Or, head to Volga River Recreation Area to camp (full hookups!), boat, and fish – or hike, bike, or ride over 20 miles of multi-use trails!
Find Iowa’s first state park, Backbone State Park, 43 miles southwest of the national monument. This park has many unique features and the highest point in northeast Iowa – The Devil’s Backbone. Hike, fish, climb, paddle, camp, or rent a cabin at this excellent state park!
Visit Effigy Mounds National Monument Today!
Effigy Mounds National Monument is at 151 IA-76, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146. It’s open to the public daily, year-round (except on holidays). See the website for the latest hours.