Effigy Mounds National Monument

After making a mistake with campsite reservations at Wyalusing (and a less than restful stay at the last motel available), I woke early and headed to the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa.  I didn’t know much about this park, but it was on my list simply to check off another nationally-managed area.

The drive itself to the park was a great sight.  Winding along tall sandstone cliffs, the road follows the Mississippi and railroad tracks – both getting quite close to the water.  Crossing the bridge from Wisconsin to Iowa provides a great view from above and makes you realize some lakes are not even this far across.  The visitor center is unassuming from the outside but does contain a small self-guided tour of artifacts and history, and a video presentation that I passed on due to timing.  You wouldn’t think much of it at the start – until you hit the hiking trails.

About 100 yards from the visitor center, the trail immediately climbs then serpentines up towards the top of the bluffs.  I didn’t track this on my GPS app but elevation gain is several hundred feet.  I won’t lie – I had to stop several times, and humidity was making me sweat like a pig!  Trail head sign politely and thoroughly asks to respect these sacred grounds.

After reaching the top, the trail flattens out considerably and winds peacefully through the woods that are just starting to awaken and bloom.  Recent rains and cool temperatures have combined in an explosion of neon green foliage.  Trails are maintained excellently and covered in soft wood chips – possibly some of the most well-groomed paths I have seen.  Met a small garter snake on the trail that was catching some sun and let me pass without concern.

Minutes later, I had reached Fire Point lookout where I could view the Mississippi River from high above.  Due to the surrounding marsh lands / flooding from the river it feels like you are in the middle of the water.  Looking across the banks you can see Wisconsin in the distance.

Past this point, different effigy mounds begin to appear in different shapes – conical, linear, compound, and various animals.  This particular area contains several impressive bear-shaped mounds, notably Little Bear and Great Bear formations.  Great Bear is of particular interest as it faces to the right instead of the left like all others.

Hiking back was almost all downhill.  Only about 3 other hikers were out this early, and by this point they were well out of sight.  A gentle breeze and sunlight coming through the leaves provided a fantastic serenity.  If you are ever in this area, I highly suggest visiting this site!  Next time I would most definitely set aside time for the trek to Hanging Rock which is supposed to be one of the best views in the area.

Next up?  No idea, but heading back towards central Wisconsin.  Stay tuned for more!

EDIT 2017-12-21: Added a new page for tracking visits to all National Monuments – see the list here!

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