One last fall weekend


Fall is my favorite season, and I like to milk it for all it’s worth. I love the cool temperatures and fall colors and talking long walks without getting all sweaty.

This has been a really busy fall for me, with September trips to France and Colorado, and lots of projects going on at work. I didn’t get to do my usual trip to northern Minnesota, which pretty much breaks my heart (I literally had to block my Superior Hiking Trail Facebook group because it made me too sad to see what a spectacular fall they were having on the North Shore).

The last week of October was Homecoming at Iowa State, and it was going to be crazy-busy in my office. So, I decided the week BEFORE Homecoming that I would take a day off and go hiking in northeast Iowa.

I took off Friday morning for Decorah, to walk the Trout Run Trail. I’ve written about Decorah many times. It’s one of my favorite places in Iowa, but it takes a long time to get up there from Ames. I left early and got there just after 10 a.m., parked my car in the lot behind Water Street, the main commercial area, and took off walking.


What a beautiful day for a long walk! I’ve walked at least part of this trail three times before, and I did the whole 11 miles once, in June 2016. I was there this past July and was disappointed that I didn’t have time to walk the complete trail, because it’s so much fun.



Today’s walk was pretty wonderful, with subtle fall color, very little bike traffic, and temperatures in the mid-70s. Very warm for late October! I started at the beginning of the trail (near downtown) and worked my way around, stopping only a couple of times to eat a snack. My favorite section is from about mile markers 6 to 8, with beautiful scenery and challenging switch-backs (below).



By the end of the walk, I was tired and wanted something more substantial to eat, so I walked through downtown and grabbed some food before heading to my next destination: Marquette.


I had booked a room at the Cobblestone Inn & Suites in tiny Marquette (population 375). The town is situated right on the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa, across the bridge from Prairie du Chien, Wisc. I chose Marquette because it’s close to Effigy Mounds, and I wanted to hike there on Saturday.

I actually regret not staying in McGregor, the town less than a mile south of Marquette. There’s much more to do there – shops, antiques, restaurants – and there are a few small B&Bs and inns I probably could have stayed in. Marquette has the one hotel, a casino/riverboat (below), one restaurant, the Eagle’s Landing Winery, and a couple of antiques shops.


I walked around the town and went to bed early. My room was comfortable and quiet – except when the huge, noisy train came by at all hours of the night. Turns out the railroad tracks are about 10 yards from the hotel. Yikes!

I survived the night, ate a quick breakfast at the hotel the next morning, and headed to Effigy Mounds. The National Park site officially opens at 8:30, and that’s when I pulled into the parking lot. Mine was one of three cars, and I think the other two may have been park service vehicles.

It was a chilly morning, and the forecast called for a chance of rain, but it turned out to be a glorious fall day. I’d been here a couple of times before but never hiked the full area (I limited myself to the north unit that’s accessible from the visitor center parking lot; there’s also a south unit with another 4+ miles of hiking trails).

Effigy Mounds is, of course, best known for its Native American mounds, created during the Late Woodland period about 1,400 years ago. The national monument features 206 mounds, 31 of which are in the form of animal effigies, mostly bears and birds. A typical mound is 2-4 feet high, 40 feet wide, and 80 feet long, but some are larger — the Great Bear Mound measures 137 feet long and 70 feet wide.


It’s tough to get a feel for the shape of the mounds when you’re standing next to them – they really should be viewed from above. It’s harder still to get a decent picture of them, because in two dimensions they don’t look like much (see above).

But it’s very cool to walk among the mounds and imagine this area when the Woodland Indians were living here. It’s also just a gorgeous area, with towering trees and fabulous views of the Mississippi River. The fall color was at its peak when I was there.



I started my hike early and had the whole place to myself – up, up the steep climb to Eagle Rock and Fire Point views, on to the Great Bear Mound Group, to “Twin Views” (of the river), the “Third Scenic View,” and up and around to Hanging Rock – a spectacular vantage point. The hike is challenging the further you go toward Hanging Rock (about three and a half miles from the visitor center), but the payoff is worth it.


When I turned around and started back, I began to encounter other hikers, and by the time I got to the Little Bear Mound Group, there were dozens of visitors enjoying the site. When I got back to my car, the parking lot was completely full.

I ate lunch at Café McGregor and poked around the shops on Main Street, then headed home, my need for a fall color outing fully satisfied.



3 comments so far

  1. Mary on

    Always enjoy your posts and obvious appreciation for the quiet beauty of Iowa. We’re just back from a trip to Arizona and the best part of it was coming back to Iowa.

  2. Susan Schmitz on

    I stumbled across your blog today while researching parks in Iowa.
    What a treat. Hubby and I are considering a move to Iowa (we currently live
    in Michigan) and we have been spending a LOT of time there this year.
    We have so many areas we love and are so amazed by all the good parks for hiking. Our only problem seems to be deciding WHERE in Iowa–we love Decorah, Fairfield, and Iowa City. And Monticello. And and and. You see what we’re up against.
    Anyway, I am really enjoying going through your posts and hope to garner many more ideas.
    thank you!!

    • cgieseke on

      Welcome to Iowa, Susan! You can’t go wrong with any of those towns. My favorite small towns are Decorah, Pella, and Mount Vernon. I’m also a bit partial to Ames!

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