Long before Europeans arrived to America, the area just east St. Louis was home to an ancient culture. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in southern Illinois preserves the central section of the largest prehistoric Native American city north of Mexico. The city grew to cover 4,000 acres with a population of between ten and twenty thousand at its peak around 1100.
Today the site preserves 70 of the original 120 earthen mounds built by pre-historic Native Americans. Dominating the site is Monks Mound, the largest indigenous earthen structure north of Mexico. Other areas to explore include a reconstructed stockade wall and “Woodhenge,” circle of wooden posts that aligned with the movements of the sun throughout the year.
Over 10 miles of trails wind throughout the various points of interest. The site also features picnic areas and a large interpretive center with informative galleries and displays.
(*The interpretive center is currently closed for an extensive renovation. The parking lot adjacent to the visitors center is also closed during construction. The grounds and the parking area near Monk’s Mound remain open.)
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
- Length: Over 10 miles of paths. Can walk as short or long as you want.
- Difficulty: 1/5 on paved trails, 4/5 for climb up Monks Mound.
- Scenic Value: 3/5. More about the history here than scenic views but can get a nice view from top of Monks Mound.
There are several parking lots throughout the site depending on where you want to explore. If you park by the interpretive center*, you can explore the south side of the park. The trails here are a mix of paved, crushed rock, and mowed grass. The longest paved path starts behind the interpretive center.
You can follow the paved path from the interpretive center parking lot and make a loop around the twin mounds.
The path will also pass by the south stockade to the south of the mounds. Plaques are located throughout the site to explain the significance of each mound or structure.
The paved path continues around the mounds with options to follow the trail towards the woods or take a side trail to explore more mounds.
When you are finished exploring this area of the site, you can keep hiking the trails to connect to the area on the north side of the road or you can drive over to the next parking area next to Monks Mound.
The Monks Mound area is the most popular section to explore. Trails lead up and around Monks Mound. Another trail leads past another reconstructed stockade.
Kids will have a blast here playing hike and seek and running in and around this wooden structure.
Returning towards the parking area, a concrete path leads to the base of Monks Mound.
If you are up to the challenge, the view at the top of 100′ tall Monks Mound is well worth climbing the 156 stairs. There are two sets of steps with a small level terrace in between.
After reaching the top, take in the view of all the mounds below. You can even spy the St. Louis Arch in the distance.
If you can time it right, this spot is one of the best around to watch a sunset.
Additional information about this massive mound can be found on the plaque on top.
After taking in the view from each side, carefully make your way back down the steps.
Two additional parking areas are available. One is located net to a picnic area. The other is next to the rebuilt woodhenge site. Both of these areas also connect to the various hiking trails.
Things to know before you go
- The grounds are open dawn to dusk
- The interpretive center is currently closed due to COVID
- When open, entrance to the interpretive center is free of charge, although a donation of $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $2 for children, and $15 for families is suggested. (*This could change when the center reopens after renovation.)
- With the interpretive center closed, there do not appear to be any other restrooms available on site.
- Restrooms, gas, and food are available in nearby Collinsville.
- With the exception of the stairs up Monks Mound, do not climb on any of the mounds.
- Pets are allowed on the trails
Have you ever visited an ancient civilization site?