Effigy Mounds in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa is one of many national monuments included in the National Park system in the United States. It is named after and features “mounds” that date back more than 1,000 years. The mounds were built in the shape of various animals including bears, bison, panthers, birds, water spirits and other animal shapes.
Other mounds of a rectangular shape were built for ceremonial purposes. In addition to the mounds at Effigy Mounds there are hiking trails and scenic overlooks along the Mississippi River. A visitor center provides educational displays and information about the mounds, the area and the National Monument.
When you get to Effigy Mounds you’ll see the usual National Park sign for the monument and nice big parking lot, the visitor center and a large wooded area behind the Effigy Mounds Visitor Center. The cost to visit Effigy Mounds is $3.00 per person and there are no per car admission fees. The National Park Annual Pass IS good at Effigy Mounds so if you’ve got one of those this is another park where you’ll save some cash by buying the annual pass.
The Effigy Mounds Visitor Center is a nice one with numerous displays, a movie theater a book and souvenir shop and knowledgeable rangers and park staff to help you learn about the site, plan your visit and make the most of your tie at Effigy Mounds. The movie theater features a 15 minute film that highlights and interprets the story of the mound building cultures of the American Indians. Exhibits in the Effigy Mounds Visitor Center include ancient Indian artifacts, an area where kids can touch select artifacts as well as some temporary displays that change from time to time.
Once you’ve gotten an overview of the area, the history and the mound building cultures, it’s time to go hit the hiking trails. As with other national parks there is a cell-phone self guided tour that goes along part of the hiking trail through the woods, past some of the mounds and along a number of points overlooking the Mississippi River.
When you go to Effigy Mounds you should expect a nice hike with nice views and to learn about the American Indians and the culture that resulted in the mounds. When out on the hiking trails, the mounds are big piles of dirt, usually with grass growing on top and for the most part just look like rolling hills like you would see most anywhere. They are in different shapes but to the average hiker not aware of the area or the national monument in which the mounds are located they would not look like anything out of the ordinary.
There are two sections of hiking trails at Effigy Mounds. The first leave from the Effigy Mounds Visitor Center goes for about 7 miles round trip past numerous mounds and overlooks and ends at Hanging Rock. The second area starts right below the entrance gate to Effigy Mounds and has about 8-10 miles of additional hiking trails. Along any of the trails keep an eye out for deer, big birds of prey and other wildlife.
More overlooks are found along the upper set of hiking trails near the Effigy Mounds Visitor Center while there are more mounds to be seen along the trail that begins near the day use area and the entrance gate to Effigy Mounds. Either trail makes a great hike but be sure to bring some water with you if you plan to hike the full length of either section of trails.
Overall, Effigy Mounds is a nice park in the US National park system. Like many parks and monuments on the east coast it doesn’t hold a candle to place like Yellowstone or Yosemite but to spend a day or two at Effigy Mounds offers a great escape from the urban jungle, a chance to soak up some great natural sights and learn about unique ancient formations and the cultures that built them more than 1.000 years ago!