Over 206 prehistoric mounds placed by 20 different Native American tribes, along with four square miles, 2526 acres, of wilderness attract visitors to Effigy Mounds National Monument. The mounds are situated in a picturesque section of the Upper Mississippi River Valley in Iowa. Effigy mounds shaped like birds or bears account for 31 of the mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument. The largest effigy mound is Great Bear Mound which measures 42 meters from head to tail, and is over a meter above ground level. Other mounds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including conical and linear shapes. Some of the mounds date back to 500 B.C. and were important to the culture of the Eastern Woodland people. The Effigy mounds shaped like animals are more recent, dating back about 1000 years ago.
The park was established in 1949 to preserve the unique archaeological features and the natural wilderness area surrounding them. The local landscape includes forested areas, prairie grasslands, wetlands, and rivers, with 14 miles of hiking trails to explore. The visitor center provides information regarding the archaeological and cultural significance of the mounds, trail maps and books, and information on the natural and wilderness areas, and local wildlife can be found on the northside of Highway 76 in the park.
There is no camping at Effigy Mounds National Monument but two local state campgrounds, Pikes Peak State Park, which is a 13 minute drive to the south, and Yellow River State Forest, which is a 16 minute drive to the north provide excellent RV camping sites.
To drive from the nearby town of Marquette take Highway 76 north for three miles and watch for the visitor center parking lot on the north side. Marquette has a museum and services and amenities for campers to access. From Harpers Ferry, Iowa, drive seven miles south on Highway X52, then turn left on Highway 76 and travel for three miles. From Waukon, Iowa, take Highway 76 southeast for 22 miles to reach the park.
Highway 76 becomes Great River Road as it transects the park. There are no other roads through the park, and access to the mounds is by hiking trails off the paved road or from the visitor center, which is the main staging area for visitors accessing the park sites.
Highways to the mounds are well paved and appropriate for RV travel. The visitor center has a paved parking lot, although space for RVs is limited especially during peak season when the lot is full.
Ideal for RV camping, and able to accommodate larger RV vehicles with electric and non-electric sites, the Pikes Peak State Park is a short drive north of Effigy Mounds National Monument. The campground has picnic sites and shelters with amazing views. The stone shelter is a rustic picnic shelter that can be reserved online.
A half mile boardwalk from the campground takes you to Bridal Veil Falls and there are 11 miles of hiking trails and Native American mounds in the state park as well. Facilities include modern shower and restroom facilities, garbage disposal, water supplies, and a dump station. There is also a playground in the campground and a park office and telephone. With a river and natural treed areas, this campground is an attractive spot to stay while visiting the archaeological mounds in the region.
Just 16 minutes north of Effigy Mounds National Monument, the Paint Creek Campgrounds at Yellow River State Forest accommodate RVers with several camping areas. Big Paint, Little Paint, Creekside, and Frontier Equestrian Campgrounds have RV sites with no electric service. Campgrounds do not have water supplies, but water is available at the Information Center on State Forest Road near the Big Paint Campground. Vault toilets and trash dumpsters are available in the campgrounds.
The campgrounds and state park have 45 miles of trails to explore on foot, horseback, mountain bike, or even cross country skiing or snowmobiling during the winter months. The campgrounds are situated in an 8900 acres hardwood forest that provides shady sites and trails and picnic sites Several miles of stream nearby are popular with anglers who enjoy fishing for trout here. Explore the mounds nearby and enjoy the natural camping experience at Yellow River State Forest.
A variety of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles make the park their home. Amphibians you can spot in Effigy Mounds National Park include leopard, pickerel, green and western chorus frogs which you can locate by the sound of their chirps from ponds, marshes and wetlands. The common grey tree frog makes its home in the forested areas as does the central newt.
Local mammals to look out for on hikes in the area include white tailed deer, beaver, muskrat, river otter, and racoons. Large predators are not residents of the area, however, the occasional young black bear may travel through the region. Reptiles are also prevalent including turtles, garter snakes, skinks, black rat snakes, and prairie ringneck snakes. The timber rattlesnake has not been recently documented in the park, but has been found in the area historically. Watch out for rare but possible encounters with rattlesnakes and young black bears in the park.
Stop by the visitor center to pick up an activity booklet for young people in your party. Kids can explore the Effigy Mounds National Monument and complete the activity booklet to earn a Junior Ranger badge. The program helps young people understand the prehistoric Native American peoples that inhabited the area by helping them explore the archaeological mounds and sites in the park. While completing the program, young people also learn about the natural ecosystem of the Upper Mississippi River Valley and the wildlife that inhabits the region.
During the summer months, take a guided tour from the visitors center. Check online for dates and times. Interpretive programs usually include a two mile hike along the Fire Point Trail with a special talk provided at the three mounds just outside the visitor center.
There is also a guided tour with a demonstration of an atlatl, an ancient spear throwing device which is a favorite with visitors. Interpretive tours with a guide provide a great opportunity to learn about the unique features of the monument, and get answers to any questions you might have.
The Mississippi River bluffs, forests, and grasslands provide habitat for a variety of raptors, which are frequent sites in the area. Eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons live in the park, especially during the winter months.
Bald eagles can be seen by the hundreds during the winter months along the river, and golden eagles can also be spotted in late winter months. Watch these mighty and majestic birds glide along the updrafts and swoop down to capture prey in the open areas in Effigy Mounds National Monument.
Over 14 miles of hiking trails take visiting hikers to natural and archaeological wonders. Trail maps can be acquired at the visitor center, along with interpretive information. Pets are allowed on the monument trails, however, they must be kept on leashes and you should be prepared to clean up after your dog. Many of the local trailheads start at the visitors center where there is parking for day trip hikers. Fall is an ideal time for hiking as the weather is cooler, bugs are less prevalent, and the parking area is less crowded than during summer months.
Explore the archaeological features of the park on your own during the off season when Effigy Mounds National Park is less crowded, and there is more room in the parking area. There are over 200 mounds, 31 of which are effigy mounds, shaped like animals, to discover in the park.
The mounds were culturally significant ceremonial and sacred sites of the Native American peoples that lived here, and may also have marked hunting and territorial boundaries. Some of the mounds have been the sites of other archaeological finds such as copper, bone, and stone tools used by the Native American tribes indigenous to the area.