Iowa’s Best Backpacking Trails: Effigy Mounds


One of the first backpacking trails I ever visited in Iowa was the Effigy Mounds trail in northeast Iowa. I have had many great backpacking experiences in the Midwest, as well in places such as Hawaii, but the Effigy Mounds trail has still remained one of my favorite trails I have ever been on.

Effigy Mounds trail – image by

Effigy Mounds is not only a beautiful trail that will give you incredible views of the Mississippi river and the tremendous limestone bluffs you will climb up, but is a trail full of history, especially Native American history.

Basic Information on Effigy Mounds

Effigy Mounds is a national park located in north east Iowa, very near the small town of Harper’s Ferry. This national park was created in 1949 and has been an important Iowa tourist attraction since. The fame of this area comes from early Native American tribes, who used this area as a burial ground.

Effigy Mounds sign
Effigy Mounds is an important Iowa tourist attraction – image by

Over 200 burial mounds are still intact within this park, and 31 of them are still intact in the shape of bears and birds, which was an ancient symbol of these Indian tribe’s beliefs and tributes.

This rich history led to the creation the 2,565 square acres park, which includes over 14 miles of hiking trails, diverse wildlife and plants, and almost 90 acres of native Iowa prairie.

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Effigy Mounds panorama – image by

This unique blend of history and beauty make this a must visit location for anyone living in or visiting Iowa.

Check top 7 Iowa hiking trails

The Basics of the Hiking Trails

With over 14 miles of hiking and backpacking trails available in is tough to estimate how much time you will need to see all that the park offers. This will also depend on how often you stop to see the native prairie, the ancient burial mounds, or to look off the cliffs at the Mississippi river. Most people do make this trip last a couple of days.

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Bridge on Hiking Trail at Effigy Mounds – image by

The hiking trails are considered relatively steep, and do present difficulties to people with walking impairments. Some trails will be able to be walked by people with walking impairments, others will not be. There is no vehicle access on these trails, so they must be hiked. The park rangers will provide guided tours at times; however, you are always free to walk the trails yourself.


Effigy Mounds is on Hwy 76, and is three miles north of Marquette, Iowa. Effigy Mounds is located very near Marquette, IA; Prairie du Chien, WI, and Harper’s Ferry, IA.

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Effigy Mounds map – image by

Activities besides Backpacking and Hiking

There are some other great activities that can be done at Effigy Mounds. The first things most people do is visit the visitor’s center and watch historical movies about Effigy Mounds, as well as look at Indian artifacts. This also gives you a great opportunity to view the trails on a map, and learn about the many different points of interest along the way.

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Visitor’s center – image by

Guided tours are also given, and many different kid’s activities are held throughout the year. The best way to keep track of those special events is to check on the Effigy Mound’s website linked here:

Important Park Information

Entrance fees of $3.00 are charged to this park from April 1st to October 1st every year for people over the age of 15. Vehicle fees are not charged. Annual passes are available for anyone who thinks they would like to visit the trails more than once.

Since this is a national park, you are not allowed to remove items from the park. Small items like berries and nuts that do grow in the park can be eaten, just not removed. Pets can be brought to these trails, but must be on a leash at all times.

Pets can be brought to these trails – image by

Camping is not allowed directly inside the park, but there are campgrounds located very nearby for your convenience.

And last but not least, the park grounds are open 365 days a year, allowing access to the hiking trails. The visitor’s center is open during the summer months from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year.

Place in autumn – image by

Visiting Effigy Mounds will be one of the best hiking experiences you will have in the state of Iowa. The unique blend of history and beauty is why this trail has remained one of my favorite places to visit. For information about Effigy Mounds can be found by visiting this website:


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