Standing atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, it’s easy to see why American Indians chose to make this breathtaking place their home. With the river’s abundance at their feet, wildlife all around, rich soil for crops, views for miles, and eagles soaring overhead, it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect location. Fortunately for us, pet friendly Effigy Mounds National Monument is now a wonderful place for people and their pets to explore together!
Located along the Great River Road, in the northeastern corner of Iowa, pet friendly Effigy Mounds offers visitors a chance to step back in time. Covering 2,500 acres along the western bank of the Mississippi River, the Yellow River splits the park into the northern and southern units. Both sections have miles of trails to explore and a variety of mounds to view.
Imagining what life was like for the effigy builders is both inspiring and daunting. Evidence shows that they were hunter-gatherers, collecting wild rice, acorns, fruits, and berries from their summer camps high on the rock escarpments, and hunting deer and elk in the nearby river valleys where they spent their winters. It may sound like a difficult existence, but the people thrived. So much so that, around 2,500 years ago, they began building mounds.
Native Americans built earthen mounds at different times and for different reasons across the Americas, but most are concentrated in the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys. The ancient people who lived here in Iowa built conical mounds, round domes of earth 2 to 8 feet high and 10 to 20 feet across, to bury their dead.
Let that sink in for a minute … using stone and bone tools, carrying dirt in woven baskets, they took time from tasks that helped ensure their survival to build mounds for their dead. That speaks volumes about the importance of these formations in their culture.
Around 1,400 years ago, the people in this area began building more elaborate mounds. Long, narrow “linear” mounds, “compound” mounds, which combine conical and linear mounds, and “effigy” mounds, which resemble animals. These new types of mounds are much more rare – existing only in this corner of the upper Midwest.
The mound building continued for about 550 years, and then archeological believe that a major cultural transition occurred. The people began living in larger, permanent villages, and spent more time on agriculture. That way of life continued for another 500 years or so, and then in the late 1600s European explorers reached this area.
Fur trade among the Native Americans, French, British, flourished into the mid-1800s. And in the 1840s, American settlers began arriving, logging, plowing, and turning the land into farmland. They destroyed thousands of mounds in the process. Within a hundred years, fewer than 1,000 remained.
Effigy Mounds National Monument was founded as part of the preservation effort, protecting 206 prehistoric mounds, 31 of which are in the shape of animals. There is a deep sense of peacefulness and timelessness here — not surprising since this sacred land has been blessed by generations of Native Americans.
The park also offers ranger-led tours, primarily during the summer months. Well-behaved pets that won’t disrupt the presentation are welcome to join you. Thankfully the ranger didn’t take Ty’s snoring as a commentary on the discussion and we were able to tag along. We learned a lot, and if you have the opportunity to take part, we highly recommend it!
Leashed pets can enjoy the park grounds and trails with you, as long as they are cleaned up after. Please be respectful of the mounds – neither you nor your pets should walk on them.
Pet Rules at Effigy Mounds National Monument
- Leashes are required
- Pet waste must be picked up and disposed of properly
- Pets cannot go inside park buildings, including the visitor center
The trails are covered with wood chips and easy to navigate, even with Ty’s stroller. We hiked north from the Visitor Center, huffing it up a short but steep climb to the top of the bluff. Once on top, the elevation changes were minor, the trail was shady, and the views were well worth the effort!
Following the trail north about a mile brought us to Great Bear Mound. This is the largest remaining effigy in Iowa at 137 feet long and 70 feet wide.
Our only regret is that we weren’t able to explore the entire park! But that would be difficult to accomplish in a single day. And now we can look forward to visiting again.
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