“Open forest with incredible solitude, culminating in the amazing Marching Bears mound group.”
— Kenny Slocum
Open year round, more crowded during leaf season.
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Spring — Views — Wildflowers
The steep climb is steepest right at the start. The route to the Marching Bears is very clear, with just a few short spur trails to other spots. The first offshoot leads to the Founders Pond overlook, which is one of the prettiest overlooks in the park. Past that, the trail continues to Nezekaw Point, which other than padding some mileage doesn't offer much.
As you continue towards Marching Bears, the trail (actually an old road) comes to a fork with a small kiosk containing a map. To the left, the trail goes to a mound group that includes a staggeringly long linear mound that is worth the trip, adding about a mile round trip to your run. If you skip that turn and continue towards the marching bears, you'll come to one more junction, with a left turn taking you to a shaded path to another mound group (comparatively unremarkable but again, padding mileage by roughly .5 miles RT). If you skip that LAST junction, you'll continue on toward the marching bear mound group. It is amazing at all times of year, but if you happen to catch them at the peak "between mowings," the mounds themselves are truly reminiscent of giant, shaggy, supernatural creatures just awaiting an apocalypse.
This trail is fantastic year round, though very difficult with deep snow. In the springtime, it is a particularly excellent spot for ephemeral wildflowers. The large prairie allows this show to continue into the summer, with massive patches of wild blackberries meaning one can really gorge oneself in July and August.
This spot, like all of Effigy Mounds and the Mississippi Bluff country, treats visitors to a staggering array of birds, with the whole area qualifying as an Audubon Important Birding Area which sounds less interesting than it is in the summer, when the cacophony of bird songs demonstrates just how much diversity is present. Other regular encounters include wild turkey, whitetail deer, and of course the ubiquitous bald eagle.
A short but harrowing stretch of highway connects this trail with the North Unit, allowing runners to put together distances up to about 15 miles through prairie, savanna, forest, and one of the region's most spiritual places. While this isn't the Front Range, the climbs make running in this park particularly challenging by midwestern standards. Running the whole park will feature over 1200' of +/-.
Flora & Fauna
Open, eastern hardwood forest, with lots of diversity thanks to its long protection as a state forest before becoming a national monument. Cathedral-like stands of trees, any wildflower you can rightfully hope to see in this area, and even the occasional elk or bear (if you're super lucky).