Little more than an hour’s drive from Franklin, Mounds State Park in Anderson is renowned for the mystical earthworks etched in the landscape.
Constructed about 2,000 ago years by prehistoric Native Americans of the Adena culture, the 10 earthworks — or mounds — are believed to have been used in astronomical ceremonies, or perhaps served as ancient calendars.
Whatever their purpose, the ancient mounds are among the best-preserved in the country and are of immense historical significance.
But they aren’t the only compelling reasons to visit the 252-acre park.
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Hiking is another.
With six trails ranging from easy to rugged, Mounds State Park is suited for people of all ages who are looking for a comparatively convenient and scenic hiking experience.
Because of its proximity to central Indiana, and the fact only one trail exceeds one-mile, Mounds is ideal for anyone looking for a day-long get-away that lends an opportunity to walk all six miles of the park’s trails.
The easy trails really are easy, and even the “rugged” paths aren’t of quite the same rocky, steep, lengthy variety as those found at Turkey Run, Shades or Clifty Falls state parks. Mounds’ trails are well-marked, well-maintained and meander through old hardwood forests, across spring-fed creeks and along the banks of the White River.
Each affords views of a variety of birds, wildflowers and wildlife, and each is easily accessible at various locations in the park.
Park officials are especially proud of the colorful wildflowers and large trees that populate the forest.
“The wildflowers here in the spring are great,” said Aaron Douglass, one of Mounds’ interpretive naturalists. “We have lots of different types of wildflowers (with) different colors, different shapes. We have a pretty old forest. There’s lots of really old trees.
“Finding big trees is kind of hard in Indiana, because forested areas were (heavily) harvested at some point. So it’s nice that we have an old forest here, especially down along the river.”
Of the park’s six paths, Trail 5 is the longest and most popular. If you visit the park and walk only one, Trail 5 will provide the best workout, the best scenic views and glimpses of the remnants of an amusement park that operated in what is now the park boundaries from 1897 to 1929.
The moderate 2.5-mile path begins at the front gate near the historic Bronnenberg House (built in 1840 by one of the area’s first settlers, Frederick Bronnenberg, Jr.) and circles much of the park. It crosses several creeks and affords the best views of White River.
Hilly in places, much of Trail 5 skirts the river. The best views are from the top of limestone bluffs midway down the path, which ends near a bend in the river, not far from one of the noteworthy earthworks, Circle Mound.
As for viewing the mounds, four — including the Great Mound, by far the largest — can be accessed along Trail 1, an easy one-mile path that passes through woods on its way to the earthworks.
It also intersects with Trail 5 at two locations, making it a gateway path for seeing the mounds and the river.
“Hiking along the river’s just wonderful. It’s a really great stretch of the river,” Douglass said. “And that’s just the natural part of the park. We are definitely a history-based park, too. That’s just incredible that the mounds are still preserved and we can see them.
“And we still have a couple of relics left from the amusement park, which is another really cool thing that you can see on the trail.”
Hitting the trails
A list of the six hiking trails at Mounds State Park in Anderson. Trails are described as easy, moderate or rugged.
Trail 1 (easy): A one-mile trail that winds around four of the park’s prehistoric mounds, including the Great Mound, it affords views of 20 of the most common trees found in Indiana.
Trail 2 (rugged): A half-mile long, it begins at the pavilion and descends to a boardwalk that skirts a spring-fed creek and leads to the backside of the Great Mound.
Trail 3 (moderate): Just under a mile long, it descends into woods and winds through a forest, providing views of many different bird species and other wildlife.
Trail 4 (rugged): About three-quarters of a mile long, the trail — with its uneven terrain and steep hills — is the most rugged of the park’s six trails. The start of the trail descends into a ravine with a creek, then leads to the a bluff with a scenic overlook.
Trail 5 (moderate with hills): At 2.5 miles, it is the longest in the park, and the most scenic. It begins at the main gate and skirts the boundary of the park. It follows White River offers terrific views from the limestone bluffs. It crosses several creeks and goes on into the woods, providing opportunities to see an assortment of birds, upland wildlife and spring wildflowers.
Trail 6 (moderate): Slightly less than a half-mile long, it begins at the campground control station and leads to the canoe launch area.
Source: Mounds State Park
What: Mounds State park
Where: 4306 Mounds Road, Anderson
Hiking: Six miles of easy to rugged hiking on six trails