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Effigy Mounds South Unit

Harpers Ferry, Iowa



4.47 miles

Elevation Gain

682 ft

Route Type



Added by Christopher Merck

Effigy Mounds National Monument's South Unit hike provides solitude, great views, varying landscapes, and a walk-through of a historical site. 

Effigy Mounds provides some of the best hiking opportunities in Iowa. It is located in the state’s northeastern most county, Allamakee County, along the Mississippi River. There are several units, the most notable being the north unit, located right next to the visitor center, and the south unit, which is located a little further down the road.

The south unit is less used and less popular, but there are still several cool things to see. Before starting to hike, you will need to check-in at the visitor center. Let them know that you are hiking in the south unit, just in case something happens and assistance is required. This is also a good chance to use the restroom and fill-up on water, as there are no facilities or water lines in the south unit. 

After stopping at the visitor center, you will have to turn left and go south on the road. You don’t go very far and you will see a day use area. This is where you will park at. After parking, you will need to cross the road. Make sure to look for cars, as they come around the corner very fast! There is a gate that you will see. That is the access point for the hike. This is also the only notable elevation gain during the hike; after completing this, it is mostly flat.

You will be hiking on a gravel road through moderately dense forest for the first part of the trail. After about half of a mile, there is a turn off on the right for two overlooks. I recommend doing these on the way back out. One overlooks a pond, and the other overlooks the river. You will continue on the gravel, which will eventually turn into grass and dirt. You will pass by another side trail, which is just a short walk to a circular mound.

After about 1.5 miles, you will come to a small prairie on both sides of the trail. You will also come upon a fork in the trail, where the forest returns. You can take either one. I recommend doing one, then coming back and doing the other. They both are worthwhile hikes. The left fork will take you to see a few mounds and a very nice overlook over the Mississippi River. The one on the right will lead you to the Marching Bear mound group, which is a must see. There are several bear mounds, in a row like they are marching. There are also eagle mounds as well. This fork has very moderate elevation gain on the way to the mound group.

When hiking, it is important to remember to stay on the trails, as there is a lot of delicate vegetation. It is also important to remember to stay off of the mounds, as they are considered sacred. Overall, this hike is around 4.5 miles if you complete all of the forks and side trails. Maps of the park that can be picked up from the visitor center give detailed mileage for the different trails. There is also an abundance of wildlife that calls this home. If you are quiet, you might see deer, squirrels, rabbits, and a variety of birds.

I did this hike during the peak fall foliage season, and it was really pretty. It is definitely one that I will be completing again!

Get up-to-date details on the Effigy Mounds Website

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