archaeological site near East St. Louis, Illinois, USA
North America > United States of America > Midwest > Illinois > St. Louis Metro East > Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site[dead link], in the Saint Louis Metro East region of Illinois, is home to the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico. The city was occupied for seven centuries as the native Americans here farmed, traded, created art, studied the sun, and built massive earthen mounds. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people lived at Cahokia when it reached its peak 800 years ago. Today, Cahokia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the only such site in the Midwest. You can walk the grounds where the native Americans walked, climb to the top of a 100 ft (30 m) mound, and visit a world-class museum to learn more about life in this part of America before Columbus.

Side view of Monk's Mound, from the east
Not to be confused with the town of Cahokia, Illinois.

Understand edit

The main features of the site are the 70 remaining man-made mounds, the largest of which is Monks Mound, around 100 ft (30 m) tall. The rest of the 2,200-acre (890-hectare) site consists of many grass covered mounds that vary in size and shape, several interpretive trails and signage, a reconstruction of the Woodhenge sun calendar, and reconstructions of the palisade/stockade walls.

History edit

Artist's reconstruction of Cahokia at its peak

First occupied in small settlements by Late Woodland Indians from about AD 700-1000, the larger community was built by Mississippian Indians between AD 1000 and 1350. Cahokia was the largest prehistoric city in all of what became the United States. Then covering 6 sq mi (16 km²), Cahokia was a melting pot of Indian groups. The city included large fields of corn, pole and thatch houses for thousands of people, grand open plazas, and about 120 earthen mounds.

Though the city was abandoned in the 1300s, French and later American settlers arrived in the 17th and 18th century and again began growing crops. Even in the early 1800s, historians recognized that there was something unique here, but the land continued to be used for farming for the next 125 years. In the early 1900s there were local efforts to make the site a National Park or a State Park, and those efforts failed until the mid-1920s after excavations by Warren K. Moorehead proved the mounds were man-made and not natural features. The state of Illinois then purchased an initial 144-acre plot of land including Monks Mound, creating a state park,and continues to expand and operate the land today, which has been reclassified as a state historic site, and is now managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site remains one of the few of the 23 World Heritage sites in the United States which is not run by the federal government.

Cahokia Mounds was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982.

Landscape edit

Cahokia Mounds is in the Mid-Western Plains a few miles from the banks of the Mississippi River in the ridge and swale floodplain known as the "American Bottom." This area included numerous lakes, sloughs, marshes and streams, many of which formed in the old abandoned river channels. Bottomland forests dominated around the water sources as well as wetland prairies. Today, cities have built up throughout the American Bottom, but this 2,200 acre (9 km2) oasis gives an idea of how the lands may have appeared long ago.

Flora and fauna edit

Wildlife at the site are legally protected, and many live in small forested areas. Deer sightings are common while ducks, turkeys, and other birds may be spotted as you roam the well-marked trails.

Free printed guides help you to identify some of the plants and trees at the site, while carefully-maintained garden areas show off the types of plants grown in prehistoric times.

Climate edit

The Mississippi River Valley area is humid, though temperatures are generally moderate. Storms can occur at any time of the year. July and August are hottest and most humid, and January and February are cold, with occasional snow. Normal temperatures range from 21°F in the winter to 90°F in the summer (-6°C to 32°C), but summer highs of 100°F and winter lows of 0°F are not uncommon (38°C and -18°C).

Get in edit

View from Monk's Mound looking south across the Grand Plaza

Despite the similarity in name, Cahokia Mounds is not in the city of Cahokia, but is located in Collinsville, Illinois, about 10 miles (16 km) away. The site entrance is on Collinsville Rd in Collinsville, about 8 mi (12 km) from downtown St Louis. The site is located just off of Interstate 55, and not far from historic Route 66, which ran through the site for about six years from 1957-1962, and Collinsville Road is also part of the Historic National Road.

By car edit

From St. Louis or West St. Louis County: Take Interstate 55/70, 64 or Highway 40 & 44 across the Poplar St. Bridge into Illinois. Follow I-55/70, not 64, to Exit 6 (Highway 111). Exit and turn right onto Highway 111 south. At traffic signal turn left onto Collinsville Rd. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the right.

From North St. Louis County: Take I-270 East into Illinois to I-255. Take I-255 South (Memphis) to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From South St. Louis County: Take I-255 across the Jefferson Barracks Bridge into Illinois. Continue on I-255 until Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Northern and Eastern Illinois via I-55/70: Take I-55 South or I-70 West to the I-255 exit 10, just past Collinsville. Take I-255 South (Memphis) to the next Exit (24) at Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Eastern Illinois via I-64: Take I-64 to I-255 North. Take I-255 North to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Southern Illinois: Take I-255 North to Exit 24, Collinsville Rd. Exit and turn left onto Collinsville Rd at the stoplight at the end of the off-ramp. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the left.

From Lambert St Louis International Airport: (22 Miles) Take I-70 East. After crossing the Mississippi River on the Stan Musial Memorial Bridge, follow I-55/70 to Exit 6 (Highway 111). Exit and turn right onto Highway 111 south. At traffic signal turn left onto Collinsville Rd. The Interpretive Center is about 1.5 mi (2.5 km) on the right.

By taxi edit

Before starting your trip, be sure your driver understands that you are going to Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, not the city of Cahokia, which is about ten mi (16 km) away, south of the mounds.

By bus edit

  • Bi-State Bus: The nearest bus stop is 4 mi (6 km) from the park, so there is no easy way to go to Cahokia Mounds by bus. (Bi-State serves St. Louis and parts of Illinois)
  • Madison County Transit Bus: MCT bus #18 stops at Black Lane and Collinsville Rd. This is about 0.75 mi (1.2 km) west of the site. There are no sidewalks to reach the site.

By MetroLink train edit

MetroLink, St. Louis's public transit light rail system, can take you to the Missouri Avenue Station in East St. Louis. However, you'll still be about 8 mi (13 km) from Cahokia Mounds. You'll need to complete your trip by taxi.or catch the Madison County Transit Bus #18 to the Black Lane stop and then walk .75 miles west to the Interpretive Center.

Hours edit

Hours: Interpretive Center, W-Su 9AM-5PM, closed Mondays and Tuesdays (call to check schedule as it may change); grounds: 8AM to dusk.

Holidays: closed: New Year's Day, M.L. King's Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, President's Day, Columbus Day, General Election Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Open: Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, and Veteran's Day (unless if falls on a Monday or Tuesday, then closed).

Fees and permits edit

Entrance to the site is free, though a donation of $7 for adults, $4 for children, and $15 for families is suggested.

Get around edit

There are free parking areas for cars and RVs at the Visitors Center, Monks Mound, and Woodhenge.

It is easy to walk around the site. There is an informative self-guided audio cassette tour available from the Visitors Center (free) which guides you around the main points of interest, or you can purchase a guidebook (available in 12 languages) for $1 in the Gift Shop, or rent iPod Touch units for $3 in the Gift Shop (available in English, Spanish and German). All of these include the three outside interpretive trails and the iPod also has an interior exhibit tour as well as videos and dialogue.

The Visitors Center/Interpretive Center is wheelchair accessible. Newly-installed cement paths provide accessibility to the Grand Plaza area, Mound 72, and several other parts of the site and there are large interpretive signs at each parking lot and along the trails.

See edit

View of Monk's Mounds from the south

Every day edit

  • Interpretive Center. 9AM-5PM. The starting point for your visit to Cahokia Mounds, the Interpretive Center has a very good introductory video to help make sense of the site. There are also displays of the finds and a recreated life-size portion of a village with houses and mannequins involved in daily activities. Volunteers are available to help explain what is known of the civilization which lived here 1,000 years ago. free, donations accepted.
  • Monks Mound. 8AM-dusk. The largest prehistoric earthen-work in the New World provides nice views over the whole historic site. An easy 154 steps will take you to the top of the 100 ft (30 m) mound, where you can see central St Louis including the impressive Gateway Arch about 7 mi (11 km) away. Completely man-made, Monks Mound contains 22 million cubic feet (625,000 m3) of dirt. If it were made of ice cream, it would be large enough to give every person in the United States a half gallon. free. Parking lot and Interpretive signage
  • Woodhenge. 8AM-dusk. About one-half mi (1 km) west of Monks Mound, you will see a large circle of 48 wooden posts, over 400 ft (125 m) in diameter. It has been reconstructed in its original location and is a solar calendar, with posts aligning with the equinox and solstice sunrises. Free.Parking lot and interpretive signage.
  • Stockade/Palisade. Reconstructions of the defensive post wall system have been built where identified by excavations, north of the Monks Mound parking lot, and along the trail behind the Twin Mounds. This wall was nearly two miles long, enclosing the Central Ceremonial Precinct of Cahokia, including Monks Mound, the Grand Plaza and the Twin Mounds. A sidewalk accesses the reconstructions from the Monks Mound parking lot. Free. Interpretive signage.

Scheduled dates edit

  • Contemporary Indian Art Show and Spring and Fall Indian Market Days. The second weekend in July, several dozen Indian artists gather at Cahokia to show their creative abilities in sculpture, pottery, jewelry, painting, and other arts. They talk about their work and offer it for sale. Prices range from a couple of dollars to several thousands. With the Indian artist present, buyers know that they are purchasing genuine native American works. Indian Market weekends in April and November (Thanksgiving weekend) feature more artists and additional chances to view and purchase Indian art. Check the web site for dates and other info. Free admission.
  • Kids Day: Third Sunday in May. Lots of hands-on activities for kids of all ages, including playing Indian games, flintknapping an arrowhead, making pinch pots, throwing spears with an atlatl, identifying animal tracks and pelts, learning about weaving and dyeing, listening to a storyteller, and much more. 11 am to 4 pm. Free.
  • Archaeology Day: First Saturday in August. Expert craftpersons demonstrate stone tool making, making bows and arrows, stone carving, pottery making, spinning and weaving fibers, basktry, animal bone identification, artifact displays, tours of the excavations, and you can help sift the soils from the digs to find artifacts and also wash artifacts from the excavations. 10AM to 4PM. Free.
  • Solstice and Equinox sunrise observances. Join an archaeologist and other interested people at the reconstructed Woodhenge sun calendar to hear an explanation of the discovery, form and function of this ancient sun calendar that has been rebuilt at the original location. Held on the Sunday morning closest to the actual equinox or solstice so that more people can come and learn about it. No rituals or ceremonies performed out of respect for American Indian beliefs. Check the web site for dates and times. On Collinsville Road one-half mile west of Monks Mound. Parking lot. Free.
  • Winter Lecture Series. Each winter, talks by noted archeologists describe current work being done in other parts of the country or the world. Free.

Do edit

Every day edit

  • Public Tours. During June, July, and August public one hour tours are conducted Wednesday through Saturday at 10:30AM and 2:30PM, and Sunday at 12:30PM and 2:30PM. The tour goes through the Grand Plaza to the Twin Mounds and Mound 72. During April, May, September, and October public tours are conducted on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30PM. No public outdoor tours Nov-Mar. No reservations are needed. Depending on the guide and the weather, some tours may go up Monks Mound. Free.
  • iPod audio-visual tours and other Self-Guided Tours. Available year round during operating hours. iPods are available for rental in the Museum Shop. These are loaded with three outside tour trails (Grand Plaza, Monks Mound, Woodhenge) and a tour through the exhibit gallery in the Interpretive Center. Adult and child versions of each tour are included on the iPod. Available in English, German, and Spanish. As an alternative, visitors can also obtain a free cassette player at the Information Desk for an audio tour of the three outside tour trails, or purchase a written version Guidebook for $1 in the Gift Shop (available in 12 languages). $3 (Groupon deals sometimes available).
  • Walk the site. In any season of the year, and every day of the week, the grounds of the site are open to walk from 8AM to dusk. See above options for self-guided tours during operating hours. Interpretive signs can be found along the trails and on days the Interpretive Center is closed, there is a box of brochures and trail maps outside the front door.
  • Geocaching. Geocaching is a sort of scavenger hunt using a GPS receiver to locate the hidden item. Several geocaches in the park have been created with official permission.

Additional tours edit

The most-popular tours are Grand Plaza and Monks Mound. These are well-marked, follow cement paths, and take about 30-45 minutes each. They have audio guides, iPod guides, printed guides, and human tour guides to help you understand the site.

In addition, there are several other defined trails with trail markers and printed guides.

  • Nature/Culture Hike. This 5.5-mi (10-km) hike explores more remote parts of the site.
  • Marsh Walk. This 1-mi (1.5-km) hike circles Spring Lake and passes a fresh-water marsh. Guide pamphlets/maps are available at the Information Desk.
  • Prairie For the Praire State Nature Walk. This 1-mi (1.5-km) hike shows the flora and fauna of the prairie. Guide pamphlets are available at the Information Desk.
  • Ten-Mile Trail. This 10-mi (16-km) hike takes you through many remote parts of the site, including grasslands, prairie, forest, and marsh environments, as well as mounds and other cultural features. Trail map at Interpretive Center.

Scheduled dates edit

Many activities are scheduled each year. While some are unique one-time events, others are repeated every year. A detailed calendar of upcoming events is available on the web.

  • Sunrise at Woodhenge. On the Sunday morning closest to the solar equinox (Mar and Sep) or the solar solstice (Jun and Dec), early-risers gather to watch the sun line up with the wooden posts of Woodhenge. As the sun breaks over the horizon, an archeologist is on hand to explain how the massive solar calendar worked. Free.
  • Nature/Culture hike. Twice a year (May and Sep) a special walking tour takes visitors through some of the usually-unseen parts of the site. Normally conducted by an archeologist and author who has worked at Cahokia for over 35 years, the three-hour tour is considered the best opportunity to really learn about Cahokia and its past. The group is also accompanied by a naturalist who points out which plants are native to the area and how they were used in prehistoric times. Free.
  • Kids Day. Each May, Kids Day provides hands-on activities for all ages, including crafts, games, dancing. Try your hand at using an Atlatl to throw a spear, as it was done before the bow and arrow were invented. Free.
  • Archeology Day. Each August, Archeology Day provides a chance to meet real archeologists, tour the summer excavations, touch and wash prehistoric artifacts from the excavations. The day also includes hands-on activities for all ages, including demonstrations of ancient crafts by experts. Try your hand at rolling a chunky stone and throwing spears with an atlatl, or making an arrowhead or a clay pinch pot. Free.
  • Excavations. Each summer, several archeological digs are conducted at Cahokia. While they are underway, visitors are invited to tour the dig sites and talk with the people doing the work. Free.
  • Join an Archaeological Excavation, +1 618 346-5160. If you would like to volunteer to participate in one of the summer excavations, complete an application in the early spring. Volunteers may work for just a few days, a week, or several weeks. Throughout the year, volunteers assist in lab work such as washing, labeling, cataloguing, and inventorying archaeological artifact collections. Contact the Interpretive Center for an application or check the web site after February ( Free.

Special access edit

  • People with mobility issues may view a 17-minute video tour of the site. Free.
  • People with vision issues may use a Braille tour book of the outdoor areas. They may also use an artifact apron accompanied with a recorded audio tour of the museum. Free.
  • People with hearing issues may follow the orientation show with a written script and reading light. Free.

Buy edit

  • Gift Shop, Visitor's Center, +1 618 344-9221. 9AM-4:45PM. Excellent selection of books dealing with archaeology, Cahokia, and American Indians, as well as Indian-made jewelry, pottery and baskets.

Eat edit

There are vending machines for drinks and snacks in the Cafe Cahokia area of the Interpretive Center.

If you bring your own food, a picnic area about a half mile from the Visitor's Center has tables on a first-come basis. Parking is available at the picnic area.

Several restaurants in Collinsville are within 3 mi (5 km) of the park.

Drink edit

There are a variety of bar & grill establishments and restaurants in Collinsville.

Sleep edit

There are no overnight accommodations in the park. To protect the archeological site, camping is never allowed.

There are over a dozen hotels in nearby Collinsville, Caseyville, and Fairview Heights, IL. St. Louis is very close with its many hotels.

Camping is available at nearby Horseshoe Lake State Park, 2 mi (3 km). Several private campgrounds and RV parks in Granite City and Fairmont City also offer nearby accommodations.

Stay safe edit

Ticks and poison ivy can be found on some of the longer trails. Wear long pants and use insect spray for protection.

While the most popular trails are cement pathways, segments of some trails are made of dirt, woodchips, grass, or gravel. Wheelchair users should ask about the specific trail they are using before setting out. For the longer trails, hiking shoes are recommended.

As an archeological site, unauthorized digging for any reason in any area is strictly illegal. Do not add an unauthorized geocache, dig for artifacts, or pull out plants as you move about the site. It is unlawful to disturb or remove flora, fauna, or artifacts from the site.

Go next edit

  • 2 Mastodon State Historic Site, 1050 Charles J Becker Dr., Imperial (I-255 South, cross the Mississippi River to Missouri and take I-55 South, to Imperial Main Street Exit #186.), +1 636 464-2976. While 37 mi (60 km) from Cahokia Mounds, this park takes your prehistoric journey even further back in time. The discovery of Clovis spear points and Mastodon bones at this site was the first proof that man existed at the same time as the Mastodon. The museum helps you understand how man lived some 14,000 years ago.    
  • 3 Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, One Lewis and Clark Trail, Hartford IL, +1 618 251-5811. 12 mi (19 km) from the site of the largest prehistoric city in America, Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1803-04 gathering men and supplies and planning their trip west. At 3PM on May 14, 1804 they set out from this spot to explore the west. The museum includes a 55 ft long full-size replica of their keelboat and an outdoor reconstruction of Camp River Dubois.    
  • Catsup Bottle Water Tower, 800 S Morrison Ave. Collinsville is home to the world's largest catsup bottle. At 170 ft (50 m) tall, it would hold 100,000 gallons of water for the former Brooks Catsup factory. free.
  • National Great Rivers Museum, #2 Locks and Dam Way, Alton, IL, +1 618 462-6979. 9AM-5PM. The story of the Mississippi River and its impact on America, from prehistoric times to today, is told 20 minutes up the road in Alton. Operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Three times a day, you can tour the giant Melvin Price Locks and Dam which span the Mississippi, and watch barges and boats rise or fall in the locks to continue their trip along the river. free.
  • If you are looking for additional activities, St Louis is filled with attractions and destinations, and is only 8 mi (13 km) away. The city includes Eero Saarinen's impressive Gateway Arch, the Anheuser Busch Budweiser Brewery, the St. Louis Art Museum, Zoo, History Museum, Science Center, City Museum, Magic House, professional baseball, and hockey teams.

This park travel guide to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.