Effigy Mounds National Monument

One of the most important Native American sites in the country is also the only national monument in Iowa—Effigy Mounds National Monument located in the northeast corner of the state about forty miles north of Dubuque. There are many pre-Columbian Native American earthen mounds in the Upper Mississippi River Valley where the culture thrived more than 1,000 years ago, from as far north as Lake Michigan and south through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. But these Native American mounds in Iowa are the most important and complete of those built in "effigy" form, in the shape of stylized birds and animals. Other important Native American mounds in Iowa can be found at Toolsboro, on the Mississippi River near Davenport.

Iowa history is enhanced by the presence of these mounds, and the state has worked closely with the federal government to preserve them. The first 1,000 acres of this national monument in Iowa were set aside in 1949. More acreage was acquired in 1951, and even more in 1961. Today, the 2,576 acres of Effigy Mounds National Monument protects 206 known prehistoric mounds, 29 in the form of bear and bird effigies, and the remainder conical or linear shaped. Some of these are huge, especially the Great Bear Mound, which is 70 feet across, 137 feet long, and more than 30 feet high.

While this is not one of the state's wildlife refuges, this national monument in Iowa is an ecologically and biologically important region. Set on the bluffs along the Mississippi River at the point where the eastern forests merge into the tall grass prairies of the west, much wildlife resides in this area. You can see whitetail deer, wild turkey and other wild fowl, vultures, fox, coyote, and bald eagles. There are also rare endangered species such as mountain lion, bobcat, black bear, and river otter.

Numerous walking and hiking trails provide opportunities to explore these Native American mounds in Iowa as well as view magnificent vistas and diverse wildlife. Both self-guided and ranger-guided tours are available, as well as special events like eagle and hawk watches, moonlight hikes, and a winter film festival. There is also a small museum and a theater showing wildlife and historical documentaries.

These Native American mounds in Iowa comprise a sacred site. As such, there are no roads. Bicycles and overnight camping are not allowed. However, there is lodging in the nearby communities, including just south in McGregor (with some charming little bed and breakfast inns) and across the river in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. There are also excellent Dubuque hotels that can serve as a base of operations while you explore the region. If you're interested in camping, Pikes Peak State Park, just outside McGregor, has 71 campsites.

Other nearby attractions near Effigy Mounds National Monument include Villa Louis, a beautiful Victorian estate in Wisconsin built in the 1840s by a fur trading and lumber baron. There is also plenty of fishing and boating in the area, one of the state's riverboat casinos, and one of the state's caves.

Weather permitting, the site is open year round, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. There is a very reasonable admission fee, and reservations are required for certain events and for groups.

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