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  • Writer's pictureTammy Bashore

Hiking Effigy Mounds National Monument in Eastern Iowa

In northeastern Iowa, locate between Marquette and Harpers Ferry, along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, you will find Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Here you will have an opportunity to hike amongst preserved Indian mounds - many in the shapes of bird and bear effigies. It is not completely known why these mounds were constructed, but believed to have been for religious and burial purposes.

The entrance to the monument is directly off of Highway-76, a beautiful winding highway that is worth the drive on its own! Entrance to the monument is free. Located in the visitors center is a gift shop, restroom, and museum of artifacts and additional information. Just around the north side of the visitor's center, is a bridge that marks the start of the 14 miles of hiking trails.

The beginning of your hike is at an incline with multiple switchbacks, which at times get quite steep. As someone with exercise induced asthma, I just take it easy - and slowly make my way up. Along the way I saw many people having to take breaks, so be prepared for this, but don't get discouraged! It does eventually level out and become much easier to traverse.

The Fire Point Trail is covered in wood chips and seems to be the trail that is hiked by most people. It is an approximately 2 mile loop with an overlook that has an incredible view over the Mississippi River.

Many people seemed to take that loop and head back to the parking area. But I had a desire to hike the entire trail system all the way up to Hanging Rock. As I continued up the trail, the further I went, the trail slowly became less groomed and more overgrown. I had read reviews that talked alot about mosquitos - which I am not surprised by given the amount of dense vegetation. While I did see alot of flying bugs, none of them really bothered me to be honest. I never felt the need to put on bug spray - just swatted them away from my face.

After about 5.5 miles of hiking, not seeing a single person the entire time, the vegetation became so overgrown that it actually started to make me feel uncomfortable as a solo female hiker. Sometimes my mind gets the best of me - and it didn't help that I kept hearing rustling in the trees (only to find out it was this cute deer). So I made the difficult decision to turn around and hike my way to one of the other lookout points instead. I hate giving up, it sometimes feels like failure. But when I hike alone, I need to trust my gut.

As I made my way back down, I took the branch off towards Twin View - where I did eventually run into a couple of other hikers. The view was looking towards the north this time and was equally as beautiful as the first lookout at Fire Point.

Overall, after realizing that the view at the higher elevation was very similar to the one down below, I started to feel less regret for not hiking all the way to the top. I made my way back down the trail system having hiked approximately 12 miles of the 14 miles of total hiking trails and enjoying being in the presence of such a spiritual place.

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