Hopewell Culture National Historical Park | HOPETON EARTHWORKS

Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

VISITING THE HOPETON EARTHWORKS

Hopeton Earthworks became part of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in 1988. It is located at 990 Hopetown Road in Chillicothe, Ohio. In addition to the archeological site, there are three picnic tables. The grounds are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Hopeton Earthworks is a site of geometric earthworks (structures made of earthen walls) that was created sometime between 1 AD and 400 AD. It consisted of a 20-acre circle connected to a 20-acre square along with two smaller circles and parallel walls. There is no evidence that anyone lived within the structures, and no burial sites were ever found, so it most likely was used as some sort of public gathering place or ceremonial area. What is most interesting about the site is that there are other earthwork complexes nearby with shapes of the exact same size and arrangement.

The square had walls 12 feet tall and 50 feet wide while the walls of the circle were 5 feet tall. The parallel walls ran for a half mile. All structures were made from digging dirt in one area and depositing it in another, an enormous task that required hundreds, if not thousands of people to produce in a reasonable amount of time. However, the Hopewell people did not live in villages, and no more than three houses have ever been found together. This means that people from a wide area were called to Hopeton at a specific time for the purpose of building the earthworks, indicating the existence of a complex communication system.

Map of the Hopeton Earthworks site (click to enlarge)

Map of the Hopeton Earthworks site (click to enlarge)

Amateur adventurers / archeologists mapped the site in 1809, recording the locations and dimensions of the earthworks. This study became invaluable later on because the farmers who eventually owned the land couldn’t have cared less about the historical structures, and everything was eventually plowed under to create more farmland. Today, nothing exists of the original earthworks, but thanks to the early maps and modern technology, archeologists know exactly where the walls once stood.

While Hopeton Earthworks may be the greatest thing since sliced bread to those interested in archeology and anthropology, the site is of very little interest to the typical tourist who visits Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. Unlike the Mound City Group, a Hopewell site that was also destroyed but reconstructed in the 1920s so that visitors could envision the way things looked two thousand years ago, Hopeton was not reconstructed. Instead, the locations of the earthworks are marked with tall grass, what the National Park Service calls interpretive mowing. The grass is allowed to grow tall where the walls once were while the grass inside and outside is mowed. The result is similar to what are commonly referred to as crop circles.

Making a visit to the Hopeton Earthworks even less appealing to the typical tourist is the fact that the site can only be accessed by hiking roughly 1.5 miles round trip from a parking lot on Hopeton Road, which is about a ten minute drive from Mound City. Prepare to be completely underwhelmed if you do visit, unless you are simply looking for a nice hike on a pleasant day.

HIKING TO THE HOPETON EARTHWORKS

Length: 1.5 mile round trip
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty:  Mainly easy with a few moderate hills

Before starting the hike, be sure you have the Hopeton Earthworks brochure. This is available at the Mound City Group Visitor Center. There is a brochure box in the parking lot, but there is no guarantee that it will be stocked. The brochure has the trail map and information about the site. There are no wayside exhibits, so the only information you get is on the brochure. If you don’t need it afterwards, be sure to put it back in the box when you are finished your visit. There are also dog poop bags available.

Brochure box at the start of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Brochure box at the start of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Despite the brochure depicting the trail to the earthworks as a very simple path to follow, I was completely confused on my way out and ended up wandering all over the place. As a result, I made a loop out of the hike, which in truth is preferable to hiking out and back on the official trail and seeing the same things twice. If the loop is more appealing to you, read on, for I will describe the route, minus the extra wandering.

From the parking lot, the hike to the Hopeton Earthworks starts off up a moderate hill that runs through the forest. At the top is an intersection with a trail that branches off to the right. This is the official trail, but I did not know it at the time. It looked more like a dark alley where you are as likely to get murdered as end up at an archeological site, while straight ahead was a beautiful meadow with nicely mowed paths to follow. That looked more like the trail to me, and later on I saw a couple other people walking this same way, so apparently I’m not the only one who didn’t recognize the official trail.

Official trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Official trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Open field near the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Open field near the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

You would think that after spending tens of thousands of dollars a year in tax payer money to interpretively mow a site that very few people care about, that the National Park Service could stick a sign at the trailhead, but I guess there’s nothing left in the budget for signage after paying the lawnmower man. I mentioned the sign idea to some park Rangers, and their reply was, “That would make sense.” I’m sure that’s as far as it went. Anyway, if you want to make a loop as I did, which is a much better hike and is the same length as the out-and-back route, head through the field and catch the official trail on the way back. Do not do it the other way around.

The key to getting to the Hopeton overlook is that regardless of what paths happen to be mowed at the time, get to the dirt road straight ahead. You can’t see it at first, but it is there—look for the telephone poles. However you do it, get to the road. Don’t be concerned about taking any particular mowed path, as there may be all sorts when you do the hike. In fact, some of the tall grass is the interpretive mowing that delineates the square of the earthworks, which extends across the road, and there are mowed paths around these areas that can easily be mistaken for walking trails.

Farm road at the Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Farm road at the Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Once you get to the road, turn right and walk until it dead ends at a gate in front of some railroad tracks. As you walk down the road, you will pass right by the geometric shapes outlined with interpretive mowing, which you won’t see if you take the official trail. You can even walk out to them if you want.

Outlines of the former Hopeton Earthworks as seen from the farm road at the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Outlines of the former Hopeton Earthworks as seen from the farm road at the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Farm road at the Hopeton Earthworks ends at railroad tracks, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Farm road at the Hopeton Earthworks ends at railroad tracks, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Once at the end of the road, take a left and follow the mowed path along the tree line for a quarter mile to some stone blocks at the top of a hill. This is the overlook. You don’t get the best view from here, so keep walking to the top of the next hill. There is a third hill as well, but the view is no better.

Mowed path to the Hopeton Earthworks Overlook at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Mowed path to the Hopeton Earthworks Overlook at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Overlook at the Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Overlook at the Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

View of the Hopeton Earthworks from the overlook, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

View of the Hopeton Earthworks from the overlook, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

When done, head back to the farm road. The official Hopeton Earthworks trail starts on the opposite side as a wide, mowed path.

Official Hopetown Earthworks trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Official Hopetown Earthworks trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Typical terrain of the Hopeton Earthworks trail near the farm road, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Typical terrain of the Hopeton Earthworks trail near the farm road, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

After a tenth of a mile the trail heads downhill and continues that way to the parking lot. Most of the descent is mild, but there is a fairly steep hill that lasts a hundred feet. The photo below is taken looking up the hill.

Hill on the official Hopeton Earthworks trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hill on the official Hopeton Earthworks trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The trail eventually follows right along the tree line where the forest may offer a little shade, depending on the angle of the sun.

Terrain near the halfway point of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Terrain near the halfway point of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The trail enters the forest a quarter mile from the farm road, and from here to the parking lot you will be out of the sun.

Forested section of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Forested section of the trail to the Hopeton Earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The round trip hike along the official trail is 1.5 mile. The loop is also 1.5 mile, so the distance is the same no matter which route you take. As I said, the loop is much better because you walk right along the archeological site and you don’t have to see the same things twice. The only reason to stick to the official trail both ways would be to keep out of the sun on a hot day (at least for half the hike).

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Last updated on May 3, 2024
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