||7 miles roundtrip
- Mississippi River views from 5 different viewpoints
- Prehistoric burial mounds
Maybe you've heard of Effigy Mounds National Monument thanks to it being featured on the the national parks quarters. Or maybe you're curious because it's one of the few national monuments in the Midwest (in Iowa of all places). Whatever the case, you're in for a treat as you hike this long trail through lovely forest to several viewpoints and past prehistoric burial mounds shaped like bears.
The trail starts at the visitor center; just cross the bridge and begin the short climb to the top of the bluff. There are benches along the way in case you need a break. Once at the top, turn right at the trail intersection following the signs for Eagle Rock and Fire Point. Soon you'll reach the most photographed view of the park at Eagle Rock, pictured below. A few more steps on the trail takes you to another viewpoint of the Mississippi River at Fire Point.
The famous view of the Mississippi River Bluffs from Eagle Rock
Just past Fire Point, you'll see the first burial mounds on the hike, as pictured below. After you turn right at the intersection ahead, you'll see the Great Bear Mound Group, the largest effigy mound in the entire park -- please respect these prehistoric sites by remaining on the trail. The North Unit where you are hiking contains 67 mounds, only a fraction of the total 206 mounds in the entire park. Of that 206, 31 are effigies shaped to look like animals, with most here in the form of a bear. Although you may not be able to make out the animal shapes from the ground, they are quite noticeable from the air, as evidenced in this high-definition laser scan
of the Marching Bear Mound Group found in the South Unit of the park.
Just two of the many, many burial mounds along the trail
More burial mounds line the left side of the trail as you continue to Twin Views for two more scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River bluffs. The easterly orientation of the overlooks provides a different view than from Eagle Rock, and you'll be able to enjoy the view pictured below on a shady bench.
Another view of the Mississippi from Twin Views
Past Twin Views, the open meadows and burial mounds will transition into a dense, green forest with a wide variety of plants, as pictured below. The landscape will be quieter and you'll encounter fewer people thanks to your distance from the visitor center and the highway.
Mushrooms and the lush carpet of the forest floor
Turn left for another side trip to the creatively named Third Scenic View. Along the short walk to the overlook, you'll pass another series of burial mounds, with one bear effigy. The view itself is much different than the others, and you'll have your first glimpse of the final destination, Hanging Rock, as pictured below.
The bare cliff face of Hanging Rock as seen from Third Scenic View
The part after Third Scenic View was my favorite section of the entire hike. The formerly flat trail becomes slightly hilly, and you'll cross seasonal creeks on pretty wooden footbridges like the one pictured below. I saw several deer along the final stretch, and it's likely you'll be alone on the trail now.
One of two picturesque bridges on the way to Hanging Rock
After a final uphill push, you'll reach the rewarding view at Hanging Rock, as pictured below. This is the reason for hiking 7 miles roundtrip. The rocky cliff provides a more open southerly view than at Eagle Point, and the distance means that fewer people have seen this view.
The view of the Mississippi from Hanging Rock
Head back the way you came up until you reach the Great Bear Mound Group. Stay to the right at the intersection to bypass the slightly longer route that takes you back to Eagle Rock, then descend the hill to the visitor center.
Overall, this is a unique hike filled with pretty scenery, overlooks, and fascinating history. Let me know what you think in the comments section below and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter
Dogs are allowed on leash. This is not a kid-friendly hike; you can shorten the hike to 2 miles by going to Fire Point and back, but note that this still involves climbing to the top of the bluffs and may be difficult for small children. The park operates year-round, allowing you to experience the views here in every season. Expect to see many people when you start hiking, but they will dwindle the further down the trail you hike.
Effigy Mounds National Monument is over an hour from Dubuque and more than 2 hours from any larger cities. Wherever you're coming from, you'll have to take many turns on rural highways, so use the Google Maps link below.
Google Maps Directions
Parking, Fees, and Facilities
There is no longer an entrance fee charged at Effigy Mounds National Monument. The staffed visitor center has flush toilets, water, and a museum.