No visit to Allamakee county would be complete without stopping at Iowa's only national monument, the Effigy Mounds. There are 210 known prehistoric American Indian mounds within the borders of the park, 31 of which are shaped in the likeness (effigy) of bears or birds. From the overlooks at Fire Point, Twin Views, and Hanging Rock visitors are awed by the majestic expanse of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge. Hiking to these quiet and scenic points it is easy to understand why the people of the Woodland culture believed the ridgelines of these bluffs to be the ideal location for special cultural monuments. Effigy Mounds National Monument protects 206 prehistoric mounds, 31 of which are in the form of animal effigies. Between 600 AD and 1300 AD American Indians constructed these earthen mounds. Archaeologists believe they may have served significant ceremonial purpose. Some mounds were used as burial sites and others, like compound mounds, may have signified members of a family group. It is possible the effigies in the shapes of bears and eagles were totems to animal spirits or distinct territorial markers. The visitor center is a good place to start your visit of this scenically beautiful and archaeologically rich 2,500-acre monument. Tour the museum, learn about the men and women that called the Mississippi Valley home 1400 years ago, find out about ranger-guided hikes and pick up a site map. The trailhead for the North Unit of mounds begins just outside the visitor center. Trail routes vary from two to seven miles and are well-groomed. The trailhead for the South Unit is south of the visitor center off highway 76. The monument is within an Audubon Important Bird Area and encompasses remnant oak savanna, reconstructed prairie and mixed deciduous forest, making the hikes not only an opportunity to discover a complex human history, but a chance to experience the stunning natural features of the Driftless Area.
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