Hopewell Culture National Historical Park | HOPEWELL MOUND GROUP

A mowed path takes visitors through the site of the former Hopewell Mound Group at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

A mowed path takes visitors through the site of the former Hopewell Mound Group at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

VISITING THE HOPEWELL MOUND GROUP

The Hopewell Mound Group became part of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in 1992. It is located at 16062 State Route 104 in Chillicothe, Ohio. In addition to the archeological site, there is a picnic pavilion and modern restroom. The grounds are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Covered picnic pavilion at the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Covered picnic pavilion at the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopeton Mound Group is a 130-acre ceremonial site that was constructed between 1 AD and 400 AD. The earthen wall built around the site, enclosing 110 acres, was the largest wall built by the Hopewell people. Within the walls were 26 burial mounds including the largest burial mound ever constructed by the Hopewell—500 feet long and 33 feet high. The mound even had its own D-shaped wall around it. There were also more works of Hopewell art found here than at any other site in the park.

The Hopewell Mound Group was first excavated in 1891 by archeologist Warren Moorehead, and he used the term Hopewell to describe the people—it stuck. The name comes from Mordecai Hopewell, the farmer who just happened to own the land when the excavations took place. It is thus ironic that a Native American people are now named after some otherwise anonymous white guy. However, at the time, naming archeological sites after the land owner was common practice.

Most of the mounds and walls of the Hopewell Mound Group were plowed under in the mid-1800s by farmers clearing land for agriculture. The original dimensions and locations of the earthworks are known because of studies done in 1820 by Caleb Atwater and later in 1848 by early archeologists Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis. These men were able to see the earthworks before they were destroyed. Only segments of the larger mounds remained by the time of the Moorehead excavation, and these were torn down to ground level by him and subsequent archeologists in the 1920s as they tried to get to the below-ground artifacts. Early archeologists were very destructive, being more hellbent on finding artifacts for selling to collectors and museums than actually learning anything.

While the Hopewell Mound Group may be the greatest thing since sliced bread to those interested in archeology and anthropology, it is most likely of 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, Hopewell Mound Group was not reconstructed. It is now nothing but a flat hay field with a few wayside exhibits that explain the history of the area.

HIKING THROUGH THE HOPEWELL MOUND GROUP

Map of the Hopewell Mound Group (click to enlarge)

Map of the Hopewell Mound Group (click to enlarge)

Length: 2.4-mile loop
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Mainly easy with some moderate hills

Before starting the hike, be sure to get the Hopewell Mound Group brochure. It has a map, which you cannot do without, and information about the site. There is a brochure box in the parking lot, but there is no guarantee that it will be stocked (it was empty when I visited). The safer bet is to get one at the Mound City Group Visitor Center, which is where everyone should start their visit to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.

Start of Hopewell Mound Group trail, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Start of Hopewell Mound Group trail, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

From the parking lot, walk a hundred yards down the paved path next to the large information panel to two wayside exhibits and an expansive view of the Hopewell site. When the Hopewell people still lived in the area, the field would have been full of mounds. Today it is nearly flat and was filled with hay bales when I visited. What would be extremely cool would be for the National Park Service to recreate the site with 3D augmented reality, then rent AR glasses at the Visitor Center. Visitors could then do the hike and see the site as it might have been over 2,000 years ago. There could even been augmented reality actors walking around dressed as the Indians who would have been at Hopewell. As is, you just have to use your imagination as you walk around an empty field.

View of the Hopewell Mound Group site at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

View of the Hopewell Mound Group site at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The loop starts at the wayside exhibits. Continue straight on the gravel path to hike around in the counterclockwise direction or take the mowed path in front of the wayside exhibits to hike in the clockwise direction. I took the mowed path through the field, and this report is written from that perspective.

Gravel path at the start of the loop around the Hopewell Mound Group takes hikers in a counterclockwise direction around the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Gravel path at the start of the loop around the Hopewell Mound Group takes hikers in a counterclockwise direction around the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The grass path quickly comes to a T-intersection with another grass path that forms a square. If you were here 2,000 years ago, by walking the square path you would have been walking along the inside of the earthen walls that enclosed a 16.5-acre field on the east side of the complex. Gaps in the walls served as entrances. At the opposite side of the square is the entrance / exit to the main ceremonial plaza encompassed by the aforementioned largest wall ever built. I took a right at the intersection and hiked halfway around the square to the other side.

Typical mowed grass path that leads through the Hopewell Mound Group at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Typical mowed grass path that leads through the Hopewell Mound Group at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The western wall of the small square is the eastern wall of the main plaza. The map on the brochure indicates that part of the original wall still exists, and when you arrive at the northwest corner of the small square, if you look closely you will see a slightly elevated ridge, though without any knowledge of its existence you would walk right over it and not think twice. It is so slight that it does not show up on a photo, but it is definitely there. The original wall was six feet tall.

Remnants of the original earthen wall around the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Remnants of the original earthen wall around the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

There is a wayside exhibit at the halfway point of the square (opposite the two waysides at the start of the loop). It is positioned at what would have been the eastern entrance into the main plaza. From here the trail snakes its way through the center of the former 110-acre Hopeton Mound complex.

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The first point of interest is the remnants of Mound 23. Like the wall, there is a barely discernible hill. To make the mound’s position more clear, the National Park Service lets the grass grow taller around its perimeter.

Remnants of the Hopewell Mound Group's Mound 23, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Remnants of the Hopewell Mound Group’s Mound 23, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Off to the left is a ring of tall grass that marks a 90-foot diameter circle that wasn’t even located until 2001 when archeologists used magnetometry to study the site.

Tall grass outlines a 90-foot diameter circle west of Hopewell Mound Group's Mound 23, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Tall grass outlines a 90-foot diameter circle west of Hopewell Mound Group’s Mound 23, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The trail also passes by the remnants of Mound 2 and Mound 3, both also identified by a ring of tall grass. A side trail leads to them. At Mound 2, eight thousand flint discs were buried under the mound. Nobody knows why.

Tall grass marks the spot of the Hopewell Mound Group's Mound 2, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Tall grass marks the spot of the Hopewell Mound Group’s Mound 2, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Just beyond the wayside exhibit at Mound 2, the trail forks with no indication of which way to go (this is not on the map). A right leads over to Mound 3. Since there are no wayside exhibits next to it, and furthermore, no mound, there is no reason to make the detour. Stay left to remain on the Hopewell Mound Group trail.

Fork in the trail to Mound 3 (right) at the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Fork in the trail to Mound 3 (right) at the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Just beyond the fork is the location of Mound 25, which comes one mile into the hike. This is the largest burial mound ever built by the Hopewell people. It took 1.5 million baskets of earth to complete. Buried under the dirt were fire pits, burial plots, dozens of copper sheets cut into ornamental designs, and copper axes.

The actual trail continues west, but the path in front of the wayside exhibit at Mound 25 leads to the mound itself. The left / right path of the 4-way intersection directly ahead marks the location of the D-shaped wall. Straight leads “through” the wall and to the mound site. A small hill definitely remains, for Mound 25 was too big to remove completely. However, all you will see is another shape outlined with tall grass, no different than you’ve seen at Mound 2, so you aren’t missing much if you skip this .1-mile round trip detour.

Path to Mound 25 of the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Path to Mound 25 of the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Grass outlines what remains of Hopewell Mound Group's Mound 25 at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Grass outlines what remains of Hopewell Mound Group’s Mound 25 at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Once back at the wayside exhibit (if you made the detour), head west to continue the hike. There are no more points of interest on the field. The trail eventually dead ends into a dirt road, and when you are standing on the actual road you will have crossed over to the other side of where the original wall on the western end of the plaza once stood.

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group continues west past the Mound 25 wayside exhibit, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group continues west past the Mound 25 wayside exhibit, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopewell Mound Group trail merges with an old road on the west side of the mound plaza, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopewell Mound Group trail merges with an old road on the west side of the mound plaza, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Take a right onto the road. At the forest just up ahead, the road forks left and follows the tree line while the Hopewell Mound Group trail heads into the woods. It is a lot cooler in there than out on the open field. I was soaked through with sweat by this time (late July visit), so the shade was certainly welcomed.

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group enters the forest on the northwest side of the archeological site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Trail through the Hopewell Mound Group enters the forest on the northwest side of the archeological site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Typical terrain of the Hopewell Mound Group trail as it passes through the forest north of the mound complex, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Typical terrain of the Hopewell Mound Group trail as it passes through the forest north of the mound complex, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The hike continues through the forest for the next .6 mile. The first part of the journey runs right along the original Hopewell wall (on your right), and because it was covered with trees for the last 2,000 years, it is much better preserved than the rest of the earthworks. At some points it is waist high, but unless pointed out, most people would never notice it or would simply think it was a natural hill. There is a wayside exhibit at one location where the wall is quite distinct. If you have ever been to a Civil War battlefield and seen the remnants of earthworks built by soldiers for defensive purposes, the remnants of these ancient walls are exactly the same.

Distinct section of wall around the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Distinct section of wall around the Hopewell Mound Group, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The forested section of the trail is not a cake walk like the section through the level field. The trail heads up and over a small mountain, and while only moderate in difficulty, there are some very short-but-steep segments. There is a lake off to the left of the trail at the northwest corner, and a bridge spans the creek that feeds into it. This water source can cause sections of the trail to get quite muddy if it rains hard. There are actually a few boardwalks through the wetter areas.

Bridge over a small creek on the northeast side of the Hopewell Mound Group trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Bridge over a small creek on the northeast side of the Hopewell Mound Group trail at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Just before exiting the forest (approximately 1.9 mile into the hike) the trail turns into a gravel road and remains gravel all the way back to the start of the loop. In fact, it is the same gravel road you saw when you got to the first wayside exhibits.

The Hopewell Mound Group trail follows a gravel road on the northeastern and eastern side of the archeological site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The Hopewell Mound Group trail follows a gravel road on the northeastern and eastern side of the archeological site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

One last attraction along the trail is an overlook of the Hopewell site. This is where the northeast corner of the original wall was located, which as you can see was high up above the main plaza.

View of the Hopewell Mound Group from an overlook on the northeastern side of the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

View of the Hopewell Mound Group from an overlook on the northeastern side of the site, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The overall distance covered on the Hopewell Mound Group trail is 2.4 miles, and other than the hills in the forest, it is an easy hike. I saw a few other people, but none of them looked like they cared about Indian mounds. These were locals out for a walk or jog. The site has nothing much to offer the typical tourist, but it is a nice place to hike if it is not too hot out.

Visitors taking a walk around the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Visitors taking a walk around the Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

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Last updated on May 3, 2024
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