Mounds State Park Daytrip

Mounds State Park location.

Mounds State Park is a small park just east of Anderson, Indiana along the White River. Its main features are a large ceremonial mound of the Adena period (first century B.C.) around which are clustered smaller mounds, arranged by the alignment of the sun during the summer and winter solstice and the rising of the star Fomalhaut, the Lonely Star of Autumn. Its minor features include picnic and camping areas, a visitor's center and nature museum, and the house of the settler family that owned the land where the park now stands, and whose vigilance in keeping treasure hunters away from the mounds are the reason why they are so well preserved.

My sister the teacher visits the park often, I am told. I did not think the park as promising because it is hemmed in by an airport, several low-grade subdivisions, and (across the river) an auto junk yard. But I decided to pay the place a visit, as I have never been there (or in any other state park) before.

Tuesday the 29th was a good day to visit the park. It was sunny, windy and mild: A good change from most of the month, which was hot and humid when storms weren't ripping down the state.

I paid my five dollars at the gate, and parked the car near a building called the Pavilion. I had no idea what it was for, and it was closed during the morning I visited. I needed a map to find the trails, so I went to the Visitor's Center.

Visitor Center.

The Visitor's Center was the park museum. Inside there were terraria with live specimens of the smaller local wildlife: snakes, turtles, frogs and fish. Two exhibits on opposite sides of the center held stuffed examples of the larger wildlife: a beaver, a coyote, a heron, owls and other raptors. In between the two was an interactive display of the trees in the park forest, including samples of leaves from the trees I would later see: oaks, maples, hickory, and ash. Along the side walls were historical exhibits: Indian arrowheads and bone awls and other tools; and items from the days of settlement into the early 20th century.

Behind the back diarama was a room with a glass wall, overlooking a pond with koi, frogs and water lilies, as well as feeders for birds and squirrels. I saw a small bird with a rust red pate on a brown body with black spots. I did not know what it was, and the many pictures of birds in the room did not show it. I did recognize another bird from the pictures: a downy woodpecker, with a red spot on the back of its head.

With map in hand, I started my walk southward to the mounds.

Bronnenberg House.

My first stop was the Bronnenberg House. The Bronnenbergs were the family that settled in what is now the park, after their ox-team had the equivalent of a car breakdown. This was in the 1820's. Twenty years later, the family built the house shown here. The house was built from native materials: limestone from the river, wood largely from tulip trees, and bricks fired from local mud. The house was later expanded, as shown from the different color of brick in back. The family also built several outbuildings, including a mill and an outhouse (the latter is still here!). The house was locked -- evidently it is opened only for tours -- but I could see through the windows the narrow stairwell typical of houses of that time.

Further on, I found what looked like it might be a trail. It certainly looked mowed. I may not have been a trail -- it certainly was not on the map -- and it took me to a sign that indicated that I was going the wrong way. But I did reach the mounds in the end.

The Big Mound.

The Big Mound is as reported: A very large circle, surrounded by a deep circular trench and again by a circular wall, open only from the south. From the air, it looks like a "C" with the open side pointing south by southwest. I found later that it is the only mound visible on Google Maps. The entrance into the mound is bound by a fence, so that you can go into the mound but no further. It is just as well: Anyone would have the time of their life trying to climb out of that ditch.

There are three other mounds surrounding the Big Mound.

The Horn Seat.

The trail that goes around the mounds is labeled #1. It is supposed to be designated easy. However, its final length is a steep descent with an intermittent stream in the middle. I had some difficulty going down the trail, trying to avoid stepping in the stream, but not as much trouble as that poor woman trying to climb up!

Trail #1 ends in what looks like a crushed tube, or a strange horn, made out of wood beams bolted together. There is a wood seat inside, with a view of the White River. At this point trail #1 joins trail #5.

Trail #5 runs along the White River, a thick turbulent brown from the rains of the past month. The trail crosses various streams, still burbling for the same reason. Iron pipes carry the streams under the trail. Only once was an iron pipe clogged, with the stream flowing on the trail itself; that was where I saw a crayfish swimming into shelter. I had to walk on some rocks to get over the stream.


I should add here, that in 1897 the Bronnenbergs sold the south half of their land. The company that bought it built a full-featured amusement park that was popular during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Crash of 1929 forced the closure of the amusement park. The park was bought out by a charity that donated the land to the State of Indiana. That was how Mounds State Park came about. Wanting to preserve the park in as natural a state as possible, the rides and boat launches were torn down. This may be what remains of the fun park.

Generally, woods masked the view on the other side of the river. But at one point, a house or pavilion with plastic chairs was visible on the other side.

As I walked down trail #5, the trail pulled away from the river until there was a steep descent from the trail downwards. There were two places marked off by fences to protect visitors from the steep descent; they acted as overlooks. There was also the remains of an old trail that crossed stream-dug ditches leading down to the river. I would advise against walking them: The angle of descent in those ditches is steeper than on trail #1, and you can easily fall and hurt (or kill) yourself.

In time I found a trail that lead from trail #5 to an open cabin called the Woodland Shelter. It comes with picnic tables and two fireplaces, both filled with trash. From there I walked in the newly-mown fields parallel to the road back to the Pavilion parking lot.

Written by Andy West on 30 June 2010.