The most intact site to see the Mississippian Culture in the southeast United States is just north of Atlanta at the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site. With six earthen mounds, this 53 acre historic site protects the land used from 1000 to 1550 AD by several thousand Native Americans. Visited by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men in 1540, the native population quickly dwindled due to European diseases, and the survivors spread out into neighboring tribes. The land was taken over as farmland in the 1830s, but declared a historic site in the mid-1900s.

Start your visit to Etowah at the visitor center and prepare to walk around the site after this introduction. The museum offers artifacts from the area as well as an informative video and scale replica of what the site would have looked like. Prepare to hike the 63-foot-tall mound which was probably the site for the priest-chief’s home with the other mounds serving as temple platforms and burial sites.

🧭Where:

Cartersville, Georgia; 50 minutes northwest of Atlanta without traffic. Much longer during a morning rush hour!
813 Indian Mounds Road SE; Cartersville, GA 30120; Bartow County

Heading to the Mound Overlooking the Etowah River
Heading to the Mound Overlooking the Etowah River

⏰When:

7 days a week from 9AM to 5 PM; mound area closes at 4:30

⏳How much time do I need?

2-3 hours for inside and outside. This museum inside relatively small and can be seen in 30 minutes. Allow extra time for the short video. Prepare yourself for the trip with this map and further information about what to expect.

💰Cost:

Adults $6, youth (6-17) $4, children (<6) $2, seniors (62+) $5
This is a Georgia historic site, so consider getting a Historic Site Pass for only $50 for the family. With two visits anywhere in the state for a year, my family’s pass would be paid for.

🚙Parking:

There is plenty of parking at the visitor center including room for busses. 

🧺Food:

Leave your picnic lunch at the car, and plan to eat at the group of picnic tables behind the visitor center. 

🌳Shade:

The nature trail is not under trees other than bordering the nearby Etowah River. Come prepared for some sun.

Overlooking One of the Three Etowah Mounds
Overlooking One of the Three Etowah Mounds

🐶Pets

Pets are allowed on leashes around the historic trail but not inside the building. 

👋Extras:

  • Visit the replica hut along the trail.
  • Spend time along the beautiful river looking for turtles and kayakers. Look for the V-shaped fish trap set up. There isn’t water play specifically, but you might bring an extra outfit just in case.
  • Consult the diagram in the visitor center for the location of the borrow pits and defensive ditch along the trail. This is where the dirt was hauled from to the make the mounds. 
  • Group rates and private tours are available.
  • Watch a 15-minute video about the site through their website before visiting.
  • While this isn’t a huge park, the trail around is a little over a mile long with longer trail off shoots to explore. Wear good shoes and bring your water.

⚠️Warnings:

  • Stairs are required to climb the tallest 63-foot mound, but there is plenty to do around the trail even if you have stair difficulties. 
  • Take a moment ahead of your visit to talk with your kids about this site. As tempting as it is, these are not hills to roll down, and they need to stay on the trails.

📝Education:

Although not the biggest mound area in the state, this site is a great introduction to many of the Native American tribes in the area. Learn about their culture, games, burial and religious practices, and discuss the effect that the Europeans had on their culture. This is a great site for making our history come alive.

Exploring the Etowah River
Exploring the Etowah River

🗺Nearby:

Tellus Science Museum – Only twenty minutes north of the mounds, this science museum is a favorite in the Atlanta area and great for all ages.
New Echota State Historic Site – This start of the Cherokee Trail of Tears includes reconstructed buildings and so much information. This is still another 30 minutes north of the mounds, but it makes a great tie-in.

🚗Related Sites in Georgia

If you haven’t explored some of Georgia’s many Native American mound sites, you’re missing out. I admit that I didn’t know about the mound building civilizations until adulthood. Now that I’m in the Southeastern U.S., they are everywhere.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park – In Macon, this National Park is a much larger site with a big museum offering Junior Ranger packs. Check the calendar for their annual gathering.
Rock Eagle Mound – This free site is a large, stone-created effigy east of Atlanta which serves as a further reminder of their presence. Check out nearby Rock Hawk Effigy as well.

🔗Link. Etowah Indian Mounds

I hope this helps spark some history learning and exploring! Put the textbooks aside and go visit some real sites for real history.

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