Our Etowah Indian Mounds Visit

A couple of notes: I updated the “travel” tab up on the top menu bar there, so that you can find all the travel posts organized alphabetically by state. I’m hoping by getting it done now I’ll be able to actually keep up with it, unlike my sadly incomplete project gallery (but you can use the categories menu or the search bar to find projects!) I guess that’s just one note. Carry on.


The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears get the most historical attention in our part of Georgia, but the people who built these mounds next to the Etowah River near present day Cartersville were here much earlier. The site was occupied by people of the Mississippian culture starting around 1000 C.E. and everyone was gone, perhaps wiped out by European diseases carried by early explorers, by 1550. One of the signs at the site says that “by the time the Etowah River Valley saw its first European settlers, the local Cherokee Indians attributed the mounds to an ancient people remembered only in their oral traditions.”

I remember visiting the Etowah Indian Mounds on some field trip or other when I was a kid, but my overall sense of Native American history was still always divided into two broad categories: before Columbus and after Columbus–with no real grasp of the long and rich pre-1492 history of the Americas. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to make that mistake, as the Wikipedia entry about the Etowah mounds reports that 19th century white settlers assumed the mounds were built by the Cherokee, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that archaeologists started to unravel the real story. We’re starting up a two year study of American history this year, and I hope my kids will come out of that with a better grasp of the timeline. Lots of field trips should help with that.

After a summer of relentless 90+ degree days, it appears that fall might actually be approaching. Saturday was cloudy and breezy with a high in the mid 70’s, so we decided we really needed to do something outside. The Etowah Indian Mounds are a State Historic Site run by the Department of Natural Resources, and they’re in Bartow County– an easy drive from Atlanta (or from us; we’re just under an hour away) for a day trip.

Ari came here a couple of years ago on a field trip with his Georgia history class, but it had been a long time for the rest of us (and, in fact, Dave had never been). The admission cost is $6 for adults, $4 for youth 6-17, and $2 for kids under 6, so it would have cost $26 for all of us to get in. We decided to buy a year long pass that’s good for admission at all the state historic sites (there are 16 of them, I believe) for $50 instead.

There’s a small museum inside with artifacts from the site and a film about southeastern Indians. When is Abe going to learn to sit quietly and watch riveting documentary films about history?! He was really grumpy for this part of the visit:



There’s a model village, showing what the site might have looked like when it was occupied:


Right outside the museum there’s a recreation of a wattle and daub house of the sort that they believe would have been found in the village. Last time we were here there was a straw roof and you could go inside….not sure what’s going on with that or if they’re planning to redo it:


And then on to the mounds! I.e. the part where Abe got happy again. First you cross a footbridge over the defensive ditch that surrounds the site on three sides (the fourth side is the Etowah River). They’ve planted a lot of native grasses on the site to recreate how it might have looked 1000 years ago:

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There are 3 big mounds (and apparently 3 smaller mounds; I’ve never seen them, but they’re on the map, so I guess they’re around somewhere). The biggest one is about 65 feet high, and they believe it was used as a platform for the house of the priest-chief. I wouldn’t mind having my house up there.

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Can I just note that, and this makes no difference whatsoever, but I find it interesting for some reason, that the landscaping at this site appears to have varied wildly over the years? I’ve seen pictures of it with trees still growing on the largest mound. Most of the recent pictures show all the mounds with closely cut grass on the sides. But you can see in my pictures that the tops are cut close, but the sides are very scrubby and overgrown. I’m not sure if we just caught them in between mowings (it can’t be much fun to mow the sides of these things) or if they’ve decided to leave them with their more natural haircuts now. Anyway.

Everyone was very excited about climbing the first mound. Even Abe made it up unassisted with no trouble at all:


There are no guard rails or anything at the top, but our toddler is cautious, and the sides aren’t TOO steep, so we felt pretty comfortable letting him run around up there:

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Abe practiced saying cheese:



They have a fun little geocache scavenger hunt that Milo and Gus did. Instead of GPS coordinates, they had to find the answers to three different questions from informational signs around the site to figure out a code to open a cache that’s kept at the information desk. Here’s Milo finding the answer to the first question. Or maybe he already found it; he looks pretty happy about something:


We only went up the two bigger mounds. This one is Mound C; it’s the only one that has been fully excavated (and rebuilt); the statues in my picture from the museum were found here:


I can’t get over how pretty that overcast sky made everything look. Along with the native grasses maybe? No funky filters going on here; everything just really did look this lovely and green. Aww….fall! How I love you!

I made all the kids pose for a picture on top of this mound, with the bigger mound in the background:


This Writing Spider had a big web midway up the stairs of this mound:


If you keep walking past the mounds you’ll get to the Etowah River and a nature trail that loops around the whole site. According to the map, the trail from the museum, past the mounds, to the river is half a mile, and the loop trail is a mile. We didn’t do the whole loop because we realized we’d missed one of the clues Milo and Gus needed, and had to turn around:

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There were a number of scheduled activities the day we were there (a Saturday)–a guided nature walk, a talk about tools and weapons, etc–but we didnt’ have a chance to do any of them. But now that we’re proud historic site passholders, we can come back! I think we spent around 2 hours here; if you didn’t have a toddler and you wanted to tour the museum and watch the movie, walk the mound and nature trail, and maybe do a scheduled activity or two, I’d allow around 3 hours for a visit.

A family visit to the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site in Northwest Georgia



Our Etowah Indian Mounds Visit — 5 Comments

  1. We frequently visit St. Louis and had never visited the Cahokia Mounds just across the river until our last trip, but we had some time to kill and decided to check them out. Our family ended up really learning a lot! Like you, I didn’t know much about the Native Americans of this time period, and it was really interesting to learn about them and to imagine their lives. Looks like your family had a great time!

  2. I’ve never heard of mounds. Interesting. I love that you get to take your kids to things like this as part of their schooling. You are raising geniuses. I tried to convince Ramona to let me homeschool her. She wouldn’t have it. :/

    • Now if I could just find a way to make them just as interested in reading the informative signs as in bolting up the stairs onto the mounds 😉

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