The Getaway
What to Expect at Cahokia Mounds in Illinois

When you want a unique glimpse into the lives of the Mississippian people, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site showcases impressive archaeological remnants of their lost civilization. This ancient city — the most sophisticated pre-Columbian urban center north of Mexico — is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, providing visitors with opportunities for educational exploration in this historically significant space. With its grand earthen mounds, interpretative trails and museum exhibits, Cahokia Mounds attracts history buffs and nature lovers alike with its birds-eye view into a mysterious civilization where discovery awaits around every turn.

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01 Monk's Mound

View the largest pre-Columbian earthwork in the Americas by visiting Monk's Mound. Covering roughly 14 acres at its base and rising to 100-foot heights, this massive structure is the star attraction at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Its size and prominence near the center of the site's 80-some-odd mounds highlight its uses in the city's religious and political life and its role in keeping social and cultural order among the indigenous peoples who lived here. Head to the top for expansive panoramic views of the St. Louis skyline and area bridges.

02 Interpretative Center/Museum

Learn about the Mississippian peoples who once thrived here by visiting the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center. When you want to know more about the rich history and culture of the area, this museum offers a thorough education with its interesting exhibits and interactive experiences — all of which showcase the sophistication and complexity of this ancient civilization. Multimedia presentations, guided tours and interactive kiosks throughout the center explore every part of Cahokia life, from agriculture to ceremonial practices.

Examine everything from everyday pottery and tools to intricately carved stone statues to glean insight into inhabitants' daily lives and their religious and social structures. A recreated village scene lets you step back in time and experience the mounds with a full-scale reconstruction. You can also learn practical skills with hands-on activities such as throwing spears and grinding corn. Educational opportunities here are tailored to visitors of all ages, making a visit to this museum a great stop on family trips.

03 Woodhenge

Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock.com

Reflect on how the changing seasons and celestial events affected the Cahokian people at Woodhenge. This ancient sun calendar displays the advanced astronomical knowledge of the people who lived here, much like its counterpart, Stonehenge, in England. Originally comprising a series of large wooden posts in a circular arrangement, Woodhenge aligned with the rising sun at key points throughout the year for a simple way to track the longest and shortest days. For instance, the sun rises directly over the central post during equinoxes and over the outer posts during solstices.

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04 Guided tours and hiking trails

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois

Take guided tours led by experts to fully appreciate the history and culture of the Cahokian people. These tours provide insight into architectural features such as Monk's mount and the religious significance of Woodhenge. Catering to diverse interests, these tours make a great choice for educational groups, history lovers and those who just love being in the great outdoors.

If you'd rather get back to nature, hike on over 10 miles of trails crisscrossing the scenic Cahokia Mounds landscape. These trails include interpretive signs along the way that help you delve deeper into the site's history and natural elements. Enjoy a leisurely stroll past major landmarks such as the Twin Mounds, or get your cardio on with more strenuous hikes through serene woodlands.

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05 Archeological dig replica

Discover if you have what it takes to be an archaeologist at the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center. Within the museum, you can find a replica of an archeological dig site for a hands-on experience that enhances the site's educational opportunities. This exhibit demystifies the techniques used by professionals to uncover secrets from the past, helping visitors better understand how archaeologists gather and study items and interpret their meaning.

06 Educational programs and events

Enrich your understanding of the Mississippian culture by attending events and educational programs at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Observe equinox and solstice celebrations at Woodhenge, or learn about ancient crafts during interactive demonstrations. Native American markets held here provide opportunities to get authentic indigenous gifts for friends and family, while educational workshops offer knowledge about local flora and fauna, including birds like purple martins.

07 Reconstructed thatch houses

Step back in time and experience the daily life of ancient Cahokians through reconstructed thatched houses at this historic site. Meticulously built using traditional materials and methods, these structures feature wooden frame craftsmanship covered with woven mats and thatched with local grasses. These reconstructed homes demonstrate native ingenuity in using available resources to create durable, sustainable homes. Interior layouts reveal how ancient peoples used their space for different activities, from sleeping and storage to crafting and cooking.

Prehistoric Mound, Cahokia, Illinois Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

08 The Grand Plaza

Immerse yourself in the lives of Cahokians by exploring the Grand Plaza — the central ceremonial space for the city's social and religious life. This expansive space stretches over 40 acres, from Monk's Mount to the ridge-topped mounds that form the city's noble district. Here, the citizens made political decisions, underwent spiritual ceremonies and interacted with their fellow Cahokians. The layout, scale and careful maintenance of this area point to its importance for large public gatherings, and the presence of poles suggests the Grand Plaza also hosted area markets during communal events.

09 Mound 72

Learn about the complex social hierarchies and ritual practices within ancient Cahokian society at Mound 72. This key archaeological site features excavations of a central high-status burial, with the body assumed to be that of a ruler due to its position on a shell-bead-covered platform with falcon patterning. Surrounded by over 50 more individuals — assumed to be ritual sacrifice victims — this burial mound displays Cahokian funeral practices and features numerous artifacts, including arrowheads and copper plates with fine craftsmanship and detailing.

10 The Twin Mounds (Mounds 66 and 67)

View notable examples of the urban planning and architectural acumen of the ancient Mississippian people at Twin Mounds. Identified as mounds 66 and 67, these structures boast strategic positioning and symmetrical arrangement that reflects a sophisticated approach to laying out the city and a possible function as ceremonial space. Their uniform size and shape suggest a deliberate design choice that's both aesthetic and functional, according to archaeological studies that showcase how these mounds fit within the cosmological and ritualistic order of Cahokian society.

11 Nature/Culture Hike

View From A Top of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Understand more about how Cahokians harmonized their culture with nature by taking the nature/culture hike. This self-guided tour takes you through diverse terrain, with interpretive signs along the way detailing how ancient peoples utilized their resources, practiced agriculture and constructed the monumental earthworks at Cahokia. Highlighting the culture's ecological wisdom, sophisticated land management and architectural prowess, this tour provides a comprehensive view of how the ancient civilization thrived via integration with its environment.

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12 Cahokia's Borrow Pits

Marvel at the picturesque beauty of Cahokia's Borrow Pits — water-filled basins that now support local wildlife. While these pits currently enhance the area's ecological diversity by providing essential habitat for birds, amphibians and aquatic plants, these pits were originally created when Cahokians excavated the ground here to build their mounds.

13 The Stockade Reconstruction

The stockade recontstruction

Uncover how ancient Cahokians protected themselves from both external and internal threats by exploring the stockade reconstruction at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. This area illustrates how seriously the civilization took defense with a robust palisade made from large timber posts that stretched from residential to ceremonial spaces within the city. Serving as both a physical and symbolic boundary, the stockade reconstruction demonstrates these ancient peoples' complex social organization and advanced architectural skills.

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14 Artifact Gallery

Browse an extensive collection of unearthed items at the Artifact Gallery within the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. From practical items like pottery and tools to ornaments like beads and copper jewelry, this portion of the museum illuminates the craftsmanship of the Mississippian culture and how it informed its daily activities, spiritual practices and trade networks. Learn how many of these items integrate exotic materials from distant regions that the civilization acquired through trading with other ancient cultures.

15 Seasonal events and workshops

Attend an array of seasonal events, workshops and educational programs hosted at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Designed to celebrate and preserve the cultural heritage of the Mississippian peoples, these activities include a demonstration of Native American crafting techniques, storytelling sessions showcasing Cahokian myths and legends, and archeological demonstrations that provide hands-on opportunities to dig with ancient tools. These events educate visitors about Cahokia's historical and cultural significance while actively engaging them in traditional practices, fostering a deeper connection to the area's past.

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