Effigy Mounds National Monument | SOUTH UNIT

Nezekaw Point Overlook in the South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument

Nezekaw Point Overlook in the South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument

The South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument is located .6 mile south of the Visitor Center on Highway 76. The parking lot is on the Mississippi River side (east) of the road. This is actually an Iowa Department of Natural Resources day use area with some picnic tables and a boat ramp, but those hiking into the South Unit can also park here.

Picnic tables along the Mississippi River at the parking lot for the South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument

Picnic tables along the Mississippi River at the parking lot for the South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument

If heading south from the Visitor Center, the turn sneaks up on you, and if you miss it, there is nowhere to turn around for nearly a mile. When you cross the Hwy 76 bridge over the Yellow River there is a sign that states the turn is 2,000 feet ahead (.4 mile), but there is no sign right before the turn. The driveway to the parking lot is a very inconspicuous dirt road, and while there is a small sign at the entrance that reads Yellow River Boat Access and South Unit Parking, by the time you get done reading South Unit Parking you most likely will have gone too far.

Turnoff of Highway 76 for the South Unit parking lot at Effigy Mounds National Monument

Turnoff of Highway 76 for the South Unit parking lot at Effigy Mounds National Monument

The driveway crosses the railroad tracks then curves right and runs between the tracks and the river for a hundred yards before coming to the parking lot, which is really just a grass field. It is not very large, but per a park Ranger, very few visitors to Effigy Mounds National Monument stop at the South Unit. I saw only one person on the trails during my late July visit, and that was a local hiking the trails for exercise. Most people do nothing more than hike the two-mile loop to Fire Point in the North Unit.

South Unit parking lot at Effigy Mounds National Monument

South Unit parking lot at Effigy Mounds National Monument

The South Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument contains all five types of mounds found in the park:  conical, linear, compound, and two types of effigy mounds, bears and birds (there are no bird effigy mounds in the North Unit). You must hike quite a ways to see some of them, and if this is your first experience with Indian mounds, be prepared to be underwhelmed. While they may be the greatest things since sliced bread to archeologists and anthropologists, they do not have much appeal for the typical tourist. They are certainly interesting to learn about, but visually they are nothing but man-made hills and ridges. Just imagine if you dug some dirt and piled it up to make a tall hill and then had people come look at it. Most of them would say, “You mean I hiked all the way out here for this?”

Furthermore, the mounds within the park were never that big to begin with, and most have been so whittled down by erosion that only archeologists would recognize them. Even the mounds that are large enough to stand out on the landscape are nothing more than small hills. To make visualization easier, the National Park Service allows the grass to grow tall on the mounds so that their shapes are more defined. Even so, in regards to the effigy mounds (bears and birds in this case), there is no possibility that an existing shape would be recognized from ground level if the tall grass didn’t define it, and even then a person really needs an active imagination. With that said, if you have already seen some of the mounds in the North Unit, a hike in the South Unit should be more for exercise and the love of hiking than a journey to see Indian mounds.

The trail layout in the South Unit is similar to that in the North Unit. An out-and-back trail runs the length of the park, and there are a few side trails that lead to various points of interest. It is a 4-mile round trip hike from one end to the other, but if you do all the side trips, the hike is roughly 6.75 miles.

Overall, there are three destinations within the South Unit. See the following trail reports for complete details on the hikes to these points:

Hike to Nezekaw Point

Hike to the Compound Mound Group

Hike to the Marching Bear Group

Effigy Mounds National Monument South Unit Map

Effigy Mounds National Monument South Unit Map

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Last updated on May 30, 2024
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