National Park Getaway: Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

By Thomas Engberg, Visual Information Specialist, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Tree among large earthen mounds at dawn
Each earthen mound has its own story to tell about the people of the past whose culture once thrived in the rolling hills of present-day Ohio.

NPS Photo / Tom Engberg

Are you ready to step back in time over 2,000 years ago to experience a prehistoric culture that created enormous earthen monuments and crafted intricate artwork out of exotic natural materials that paid homage to their own? Well, you won’t need to arrange a trip to the ancient pyramids of Egypt or the preserved ruins of the Roman Empire in Italy. Look no farther than the heartland of the United States; Ohio. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park protects the remains of a dynamic social and ceremonial phenomenon that once flourished in the woodlands of eastern North America.

Long before the first Europeans ever set foot on the continent, American Indians were constructing earthen mounds and embankments that enclosed hundreds of acres of land throughout the south-central Ohio area. Burial mounds to mark the locations of their dead and earthworks formed into huge geometric patterns, like circles, squares, and octagons, were the signatures of this ancient culture. The people now known as the Hopewell built these ceremonial places and gathered at them for feasts, funerals, and rites of passage.

Ranger instructing kid on how to throw a spear using an atlatl
Join in family fun by earning a Junior Ranger badge or participating in hands-on activities, like throwing a spear using an atlatl.

NPS Photo / Tom Engberg

When you come to the park’s visitor center at Mound City Group, you walk in the footprints of American Indians who constructed these sites from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 500. As you walk among the burial mounds, you can read about their significance and what was discovered by archeologists who tell us the story through their research. Taking a tour inside the visitor center, you’ll witness pieces of ancient, priceless artwork crafted by American Indian hands. Effigy birds crafted from copper brought from the Lake Superior region, earspools made of silver from southern Ontario, and a spear point blade fabricated from obsidian brought from Wyoming, more than 2,000 miles away!

As your tour at the Mound City Group comes to an end, journeying to the park’s other sites will leave you equally astounded and in awe of the accomplishments of the Hopewell culture. The grand scale of the geometric earthworks is enough to tire out visitors, figuratively and literally. Trails at each of the park’s sites will take you on journeys that will have you counting your steps in miles, not feet. A small jaunt at any of the sites is enough to make us appreciate the engineering, manpower, and skill involved in creating these ancient monuments.

Group in kayaks on a river
Float on the scenic Paint Creek for a paddling perspective of the prehistoric earthworks along the banks of the creek.

NPS Photo / Susan Knisley

Located in Chillicothe, Ohio, the park’s visitor center at Mound City Group offers an award-winning 19-minute orientation film and a world-class museum filled with exquisite artifacts that are over 2,000 years old. The park is less than 60 miles south of Ohio’s capital, Columbus, and is only 77 miles southeast of Dayton and 105 miles northeast of Cincinnati. Find more information to plan your trip, including directions, and maps. You can also find out what opportunities await you and your family when you browse our Trip Ideas that are designed to help you plan your visit to the park.

Last updated: December 1, 2017