Sunset at Effigy Mounds

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Efficy Mounds Sign

Effigy Mounds National Monument is adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge, the Yellow River State Forest, and a short distance to the south, Pikes Peak State Park. There are also a number of state-owned wildlife management areas, such as the one at Sny Magill Creek, where Clayton County also maintains a county park.

At the monument, the National Park Service preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by Native American Mound Builders. These tribes constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes from roughly 3400 BCE into the 16th century.

An effigy mound

In northeastern Iowa, the Effigy Mounds area was a point of transition between the eastern hardwood forests and the central prairies. Native American and early settlers would have been able to draw on natural resources available in forests, wetlands, and prairies, making the site hospitable for humans for many centuries. Many of the mounds in this particular area are shaped like animals, including bears and birds (effigies).

Effigy Mounds National Monument represents the western edge of the effigy region of the Upper Mississippi. The monument consists of 2,526 acres with 206 mounds (31 are effigies). The largest, Great Bear Mound, measures nearly 138 feet from head to tail and rises more than 3 feet above the original ground level.The North Unit features 67 mounds and the South Unit has 29. These two Units are contiguous and easily accessible. The Sny Magill Unit (112 mounds) is approximately 11 miles south of the other units, and offers no visitor facilities. The rest of the mounds are located on remote parts of the Monument property.

Public Access

Effigy Mounds National Monument Topographic Map

The visitor center, located at the park entrance, contains museum exhibits highlighting archaeological and natural specimens, an auditorium and book sales outlet. The park has 14 miles of hiking trails. No paved public automobile access roads exist in the park. Rangers give guided hikes and prehistoric tool demonstrations that are scheduled and advertised, mid-June through Labor Day weekend. Educational programs are presented on- and off-site by appointment.

Natural features in the monument include forests, tallgrass prairies, wetlands and rivers. The national monument is quite close to the town of Marquette, Iowa, and is just across the Mississippi River from the city of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where visitors can find ample motel and gaming options.
Effigy Mounds was proclaimed a National Monument on October 25, 1949, largely because of the efforts of Charles R. Keyes, head of the Iowa Archaeological Survey, and Ellison Orr, chief field supervisor for the Iowa Archaeological Survey.

Area Topography

The Effigy Mounds National Monument is located in what is known as the "Driftless Area," an area of North America which escaped glaciation during the last ice age. (The adjacent Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge takes its name from this region.) Unlike most the surrounding area, the Driftless Area was not covered by the glaciers that most of the topography of the Great Lakes region. As a result, streams were able to expose and carve out deep channels in bedrock, create deep river valleys and features like sinkholes, caves and springs.


From Sandy Point to Effigy Mounds


Is This Really Iowa?

Pikes Peak Overlook

Northeast Iowa is always a surprise to those seeing it for the first time. Far from the broad vistas and flat lands that so quickly come to mind, this part of the state more closely resembles the hills and river valleys of the Rhine in Germany. Soaring rock outcroppings provide dramatic views of the Upper Mississippi as it wanders between lush wooded islands. Some of the islands feature inlets so large that the people who live there (and many maps) give them lake names.

The area abounds with wildlife, too. You'll routinely see some of the largest whitetail deer in N. America, wild turkeys, all kinds of waterfowl and, of course, hundreds of bald eagles who now call the entire region home.