Posts Categorized: Driftless Trails

Effigy Mounds: Movement to go National

Iowa’s only National Monument is Better than Ever

Text and Photos by Lauren Kraus

Oirginally printed in the October/November 2009 issue of Inspire(d)

The Driftless Region is home to many great things – one being the only National Monument in the entire state of Iowa.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, located on highway 76 three miles north of Marquette and 17 miles southeast of Waukon, is also one of over 390 parks in the National Park System. The only other National Park in the state is the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch.

Since October 25 marks the 60th anniversary of the day President Harry Truman signed a proclamation and established Effigy Mounds as a National Monument, we thought you might like to learn a little more about the place – and we encourage you to take a trip and check it out yourself.

According to the National Parks Service website, the “Effigy Mound Region” is located in Southern Wisconsin and Northeastern Iowa. Around 1,400 years ago, earthen effigy mounds – areas of dirt often shaped into effigies of animals – began to appear from just west of the Upper Mississippi River to Lake Michigan’s western shore. They were built by people known as Woodland Indians, but nobody really knows why they began, and no one knows why they stopped. Native American legends portray the mounds as ceremonial and sacred sites.

A man named Theodore H. Lewis was one of the earliest surveyors in the upper Mississippi Valley. Another man, Ellison Orr, from McGregor, was also an accomplished surveyor and mapped mound groups and other archaeological areas in northeast Iowa. Both studied the Effigy Mounds region. Thanks to their detailed recordkeeping, treasured information about Iowa archaeology is available today.

But to truly understand all of the work that went into these mounds and the history behind them, you simply must visit! Being centrally located and nestled in the Upper Mississippi Valley makes Effigy Mounds an easy day trip from wherever you’re starting. The Visitor Center located off of highway 76 is a nice starting point full of great information, a 15-minute video on the mound builders, a museum with American Indian artifacts from the area, and a bookstore. A $3 entry fee is required. The now 2,526 acre National Monument consists of a North Unit and a South Unit divided by the Yellow River, each containing impressive mound groups and amazing overlooks of the great Mississippi River. The overlooks in the North Unit provide views of Pikes Peak State Park, Prairie du Chien, various ponds, the Yellow River marshlands, and islands that make up the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. During the autumn months, the river valley speckled with yellow and red clusters of changing oak, maple, walnut, birch and aspen makes for a picturesque time to be out and exploring this monument.

Roughly 14 miles of wide, meandering trails run through Effigy Mounds providing access to the various mound groups as well as the overlooks. Get out for a relaxing, scenic trail walk, try a trail run or head back during the winter for an adventurous snowshoe or tromp-in-the snow hike. The park does not groom the trails for cross country skiing, but remains open year-round. After a good visit in the park, don’t forget to look into other awesome area attractions like Yellow River State Forest, Pikes Peak State Park and the river towns of Marquette and McGregor. A cold brew (or house made root beer) at the Old Man River Brewery in McGregor is prefect after a hike at the Mounds.

The Upper Mississippi River valley provides an incredible landscape and unique historical features like the Effigy Mounds. Wherever you are, get out there and take advantage of these great places. Help Effigy Mounds celebrate its 60th anniversary by exploring the area and learning more!

Helpful web links:

Lauren Kraus loves exploring new places, the crunching of fall-colored leaves while walking and really good root beer. She was also excited by Iowa’s only National Monument and the beginning of the beautiful season that is autumn.

Minnesota’s River Root State Trail & Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail

By Lauren Kraus | Photo by Explore MN Tourism

Cruising along, breeze on face, sun on skin under a canopy of large trees next to a sheer rock-face covered in a mossy green blanket, yes, I was reminded that true trail beauty might sometimes include asphalt. The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trails in Southeastern Minnesota are a great, smooth, easy-flowing example of this. Hidden in forests, at the bottom of limestone bluffs, meandering through quaint communities, these two state trails are well worth the trip and not to be missed this summer or fall or winter! They are both multiple-use trails ready for walking, biking, running, in-line skating and groomed for cross country skiing in the winter. The Root River State Trail and most of the Harmony- Preston Valley State Trail were constructed on an abandoned railroad grade making the journey fairly level and wheelchair accessible. Few sections have hills. The Harmony-Preston trail is 18 miles long and connects Harmony and Preston with the Root River State Trail, which is 42 miles in total length from Fountain, Minnesota stretching to Houston, Minnesota.

Each trail is dotted with rest shelters, picnic tables and beautiful bridges crossing the Root River. In addition, the picturesque, rural communities along the route not only provide tasty restaurants (a notable pie shop in Whalan, MN), cool historical buildings and museums, but services for trail users too. Outfitters to supply kayaks and canoes for the river, several campgrounds along the way, bed and breakfast inns and fun shops make these state trails a great, new adventure. There is parking available in all of the towns the trails go through, so it is a matter of finding the closest one to you and hitting the pavement! Fountain, Preston and Harmony are all along Highway 52 and very accessible from wherever your starting point may be. Check out for great information on the trails and the communities they go through, helpful maps of the trail including a mileage chart and other useful links to the area. Grab your bike and take some time to enjoy this beautiful area via paved, easy going asphalt trail – it’s something to take advantage of in the Driftless Region.

Lauren Kraus, Decorah enthusiast, knows the best way to get to know an area or become familiar with the land is to run on it, tromp through it, hike in it, bike around, just soak it in. Not in a vehicle. Hooray for the good weather of summer and fall.

Driftless? Try Drift-more: Another Look at Why We Love the Driftless Area

By Lauren Kraus
Printed in the October/November 2008 edition of Inspire(d)

This is the fourth in a series of articles that serves as a tribute and tutorial of the amazing hiking, biking, and walking trails in the Driftless Area, a region in the Midwest lacking “glacial drift.” By escaping the glacier’s path in the most recent Ice Age, the Driftless Area was not flattened out like much of the Midwest. Thus, the trails and scenery are supreme.

Nature is second nature to me. I don’t even think twice about choosing between watching a movie and going for a hike or a run. Don’t get me wrong – who doesn’t love a good movie? – But, being outside keeps me ticking, brings me peace and makes me happy.

This is why I have delighted in getting out and exploring several areas of our region here in Northeast Iowa. This land is just awaiting adventurers to trod its trusty ground and relish in spectacular views. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed and gotten good use out of the trail suggestions I have brought to Inspire(d) during the spring and summer months, and check back in the spring for a continuation of the series.

Let us recap: we started off learning of this area’s unique natural landscape known as the “Driftless Area” – a region in the Upper Midwest lacking “glacial drift” and consequently being laden with deep river valleys, rolling bluffs and pronounced limestone outcroppings. First, romping around on Decorah’s awesome trails makes us realize how great this locale is. Next, we were wowed by the rugged variety offered at Pine Bluff 4-H camp and Coon Creek. In September, we went a little further and soaked in the lush Bear Creek and Pine Creek areas. I think Jerry Garcia and friends would agree, what a long, great trip it’s been.

As this year’s trail series wraps up and you snuggle into a comfy sweater in preparation for crisp fall days and cool evenings, keep hiking! When the snow greets us, pull out those skis and snowshoes! Keep taking solace in the beauty that encompasses Decorah and the surrounding region. The access to remote landscape is right out your backdoor and the abundance of rugged trails is great enough to write articles for years to come. You have got to love this area.

For this issue, we’re heading northwest of Decorah to two little hidden gems a fellow outdoor enthusiast recently introduced to me. A quick drive from Decorah makes Falcon Springs State Wildlife Area and Lionberger Environmental Preserve prime destinations for an afternoon stroll or a weekend hike-n-picnic outing. Whatever your mode, get out there soon to catch some enchanting fall color and an escape from the daily grind.

Falcon Springs State Wildlife Area:

This patch of land is diverse in its thick forests and open cornfields. I was amazed at the variety of trees in such a small space. Aspens (my personal favorite), sumacs and white pines provide ample forest to trek through and explore. After parking, head down a two-track road that winds down and up through an open corn field and leads to thick forest. A small loop on this road takes you around the wooded area. If you’re feeling really adventurous, take a detour on one of several deer trails that run through the forest. Hike in the direction of the white pines and you’ll find yourself in a very cool area to explore. This would also be a perfect place to try out some new snowshoes. To check out Falcon Springs: drive west on Pole Line Road about 4 miles and look to the right-hand side or the north. There is a small gravel parking area with a state wildlife area sign. Have fun.

Lionberger Environmental Preserve:

This beautiful chunk of land is located right before or just east of Falcon Springs four miles out on Pole Line Road and is owned by Luther College. Two cool forests for one easy drive. After parking on the left side of the road, you’ll start by descending a large hill leading into a deep valley. This valley opens up to lots of trails heading in every direction and ready for thorough discovery. Thick woods make it easy to get lost in thought in this rugged forest. Put on your boots and hit the trails!

Lauren Kraus loves the quiver of aspens in the wind and the sound of leaves crunching and bats chirping as they flutter around her apartment when they squeeze in for some fun. Ok, the bat part is a lie. Thank goodness for brave mavericks who kindly take them outside.