Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Cahokia Mounds
Not to be confused with the town of Cahokia, Illinois.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, located in the Saint Louis Metro East region of Illinois, was home to the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico. The city was occupied for seven centuries as the American Indians here farmed, traded, created art, studied the sun, and built massive earthen mounds. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people lived at Cahokia when it reached its peak 800 years ago. Today, Cahokia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the only such site in the Midwest. You can walk the grounds where the Indians walked, climb to the top of a 100 ft (30 m) mound, and visit a world-class museum to learn more about life in this part of America before Columbus.

Understand

The main features of the site are the 69 remaining man-made mounds, the largest of which is Monks Mound, around 100 ft (30 m) tall. The rest of the 2,200 acre (890 hectare) site consists of many grass covered mounds that vary in size and shape, several interpretive trails and signage, a reconstruction of the Woodhenge sun calendar, and reconstructions of the palisade/stockade walls.

History

Built by Mississippian Indians between 600 and 1300 AD, Cahokia was the largest prehistoric city in all of what became the United States. Then covering six sq mi (16 sq km), Cahokia was a melting pot of Indian groups. The city included large fields of corn, wooden houses for thousands of people, grand open plazas, and about 120 earthen mounds.

Though the city was abandoned in the 1300's, French and later American settlers arrived in the 17th and 18th century and again began growing crops. Even in the early 1800's, archeologists recognized that there was something unique here, but the land continued to be used for farming for the next 125 years. In the 1930's, the United States government considered making the site into a national park, but ultimately decided against the idea. The state of Illinois then purchased an initial plot of land including Monks Mound, and continues to expand and operate the park today through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site remains one of the few World Heritage sites in the United States which is not run by the federal government.

Cahokia Mounds was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982.

Landscape

Cahokia Mounds is in the Mid-Western Plains a few miles from the banks of the Mississippi River in the ridge and swale floodplain known as the "American Bottom." This area included numerous lakes, sloughs, marshes and streams, many of which formed in the old abandoned river channels. Bottomland forests dominated around the water sources. Today, cities have built up throughout the American Bottom, but this 2,200 acre (9 km2) oasis gives an idea of how the lands may have appeared long ago.

Flora and fauna

Wildlife at the site are legally protected, and many live in small forested areas. Deer sightings are common while ducks and other birds may be spotted as you roam the well-marked trails.

Free printed guides help you to identify some of the plants and trees at the site, while carefully-maintained garden areas show off the types of plants grown in prehistoric times.

Climate

The Mississippi River makes this area humid, though temperatures are generally moderate. Storms can occur at any time of the year. July and August are hottest and most humid, and January and February are cold, with occasional snow. Normal temperatures range from 21°F in the winter to 90°F in the summer (-6°C to 32°C), but summer highs of 100°F and winter lows of 0°F are not uncommon (38°C and -18°C).

Get in

View from Monk's Mound

Despite the similarity in name, Cahokia Mounds is not in the city of Cahokia, but is located in Collinsville, Illinois, about ten miles (16 km) away. The park entrance is on Collinsville Rd in Collinsville, about 8 mi (12 km) from downtown St Louis. The park is located just off of Interstate 55, and not far from Historic Route 66.

By car

From St. Louis or West St. Louis County: Take Interstate 55/70, 64 or Highway 40 & 44 across the Poplar St. Bridge into Illinois. Follow I-55/70, not 64, to Exit 6 (Highway 111). Exit and turn right onto Highway 111 south. At traffic signal turn left onto Collinsville Rd. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the right.

From North St. Louis County: Take I-270 East into Illinois to I-255. Take I-255 South (Memphis) to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From South St. Louis County: Take I-255 across the Jefferson Barracks Bridge into Illinois. Continue on I-255 until Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Northern and Eastern Illinois via I-55/70: Take I-55 South or I-70 West to the I-255 exit 10, just past Collinsville. Take I-255 South (Memphis) to the next Exit (24) at Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Eastern Illinois via I-64: Take I-64 to I-255 North. Take I-255 North to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Southern Illinois: Take I-255 North to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Lambert St Louis International Airport: (22 Miles) Take I-70 East. After crossing the Mississippi River on the Poplar St Bridge, follow I-55/70 to Exit 6 (Highway 111). Exit and turn right onto Highway 111 south. At traffic signal turn left onto Collinsville Rd. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the right.

By taxi

If you don't have a car, you'll probably feel that a taxi is your only choice.

Before starting your trip, be sure your driver understands that you are going to Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, not the city of Cahokia, which is about ten mi (16 km) away.

By bus

By MetroLink train

MetroLink, St. Louis's public transit light rail system, can take you to the Emerson Park Station in East St. Louis. However, you'll still be about 8 mi (13 km) from Cahokia Mounds. You'll need to complete your trip by taxi.

Hours

Hours: Interpretive Center, 9AM-5PM; Grounds: 8AM to dusk. Park is open daily May 1-Oct 31, and open W-Su the rest of the year.

Holidays: Closed: New Year's Day, M.L. King's Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, President's Day, Columbus Day, General Election Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Open: Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, and Veteran's Day.

Fees/Permits

Entrance to the Park is free, though a donation of $4 for adults, $2 for children, and $10 for families is suggested.

Get around

There are free parking areas for cars and RVs at the Visitors Center, Monks Mound, and Woodhenge.

It is easy to walk around the site. There is an informative self-guided audio tour available from the Visitors Center (free) which guides you around the main points of interest.

The Visitors Center/Interpretive Center is wheelchair accessible. Newly-installed cement paths provide accessibility to the Grand Plaza area, Mound 72, and several other parts of the site.

See

Cahokia Mounds

Every Day

Scheduled Dates

Do

Every Day

Additional tours

The most-popular tours are Grand Plaza and Monks Mound. These are well-marked, follow cement paths, and take about 30-45 minutes each. They have audio guides, iPod guides, printed guides, and human tour guides to help you understand the site.

In addition, there are several other defined trails with trail markers and printed guides.

Scheduled Dates

Many activities are scheduled each year. While some are unique one-time events, others are repeated every year. A detailed calendar of upcoming events is available on the web.

Special Access

Buy

Eat

There are vending machines for drinks and snacks in the Cafe Cahokia area of the Interpretive Center.

If you bring your own food, a picnic area about a half mile from the Visitor's Center has tables on a first-come basis. Parking is available at the picnic area.

Several restaurants in Collinsville are within three mi (5 km) of the park.

Drink

There are a variety of bar & grill establishments and restaurants in Collinsville.

Sleep

There are no overnight accommodations within the park itself. To protect the archeological site, camping is never allowed.

There are over a dozen hotels in nearby Collinsville, Caseyville, and Fairview Heights, IL. St. Louis is very close with its many hotels.

Camping is available at nearby Horseshoe Lake State Park, 2 mi (3 km). Several private campgrounds and RV parks in Granite City and Fairmont City also offer nearby accommodations.

Stay safe

Ticks and poison ivy can be found on some of the longer trails. Wear long pants and use insect spray for protection.

While the most popular trails are cement pathways, segments of some trails are made of dirt, woodchips, grass, or gravel. Wheelchair users should ask about the specific trail they are using before setting out. For the longer trails, hiking shoes are recommended.

As an archeological site, unauthorized digging for any reason in any area is strictly illegal. Do not add an unauthorized geocache, dig for artifacts, or pull out plants as you move about the site. It is unlawful to disturb or remove flora, fauna, or artifacts from the site.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, August 30, 2014. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.