Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia, is a prehistoric Native American site that preserves over 10,000 years of history. It was first populated during the Ice Age, and mounds were built by the South Appalachian Mississippian culture around 900 AD. Ocmulgee National Monument is open daily until 5pm and charges no admission except for special events.
The visitor center is located just inside the entrance. Rangers are available to give more information and suggest what to see based on your time and interest. A short 17 minute orientation film is also available to view.
The visitor center contains a small archaeological museum about the history of the site. Over 2,000 artifacts are on display dating back to 10,000 BC, and there are detailed dioramas depicting important events that occurred there.
The Earth Lodge is the mound nearest to the visitor center and is just a short walk away. Because it’s the only mound at Ocmulgeee National Monument you can enter, it’s also the most popular mound to visit.
The Earth Lodge is the oldest ceremonial lodge in the country, with carbon dating back to 1015. The original clay floor is intact, and the lodge was rebuilt with a concrete shell to protect it. 50 concrete seats around the edges were for men attending political and religious ceremonies.
Near the Earth Lodge is the Cornfield Mound, which was named for the charred corn cobs found during excavation. It was probably used for ceremonial purposes. Two trenches were also found nearby, but their purpose is unknown. A trail past the trenches leads to the McDougal Mound, which we didn’t visit.
From the Earth Lodge, it’s also possible to see the effect of the railroad on the site, cutting through what was once a field that may have been used for playing games. In 1843, Central Railroad and Canal Company laid tracks and partially destroyed the Lesser Temple Mound. In 1873, the same company moved the tracks and destroyed half of the Funeral Mound. Both times, they exposed artifacts and prehistoric burials. The 1873 railroad line is still in use today, and the road leading to the Funeral Mound follows the 1843 line.
Another section easily accessible from the visitor center is the old Dunlap plantation. The Dunlap House, built in 1856, is one of the oldest houses in Macon. It was used as a park office in the late 1930s, and in 1940 it became the park superintendent’s office. It was remodeled in the 1950s to its present appearance and is still used as a residence for park staff.
Macon’s two minor Civil War battles both took place on the farm. The house was occupied by Union troops on July 30, 1864, during the Battle of Dunlap Hill. The only cannonball to hit Macon was fired from the site, striking the home of Judge Asa Holt (now known as the Cannonball House). Nearby is a Civil War earthwork built by Confederate troops to protect the railroad during the Battle of Walnut Creek on November 20-21, 1864.
The Dunlap Mound, which was built by Native Americans, is also located near the house. It has been damaged over the years due to development of the site.
The previously mentioned road through the park, following the 1843 railroad cut, leads to parking lots and trails where more of Ocmulgee National Monument can be explored. The road passes through a railroad overpass made of brick, which is highly unusual. Most overpasses in that time were made of stone, iron, and wood.
At the very end of the road is the Funeral Mound, where community leaders and important people were buried. Over 100 burials were discovered inside the mound. As mentioned before, the mound was once 50 feet tall until it was destroyed by railroad construction in 1873. As a result, it’s now 20 feet tall. You can get the best look of the Funeral Mound from the top of the Great Temple Mound.
Great Temple Mound
The Great Temple Mound and the Lesser Temple Mound stand next to each other. They were the center of life in a large city built by the Mississippians, and there were probably wooden structures on top of the mounds. The structures were most likely used for religious and ceremonial purposes.
It’s possible to climb to the top of both mounds, and we chose to go to the top of the Great Temple Mound. A stairway leads to the top, where there are great views of the wetlands, the entire site, and downtown Macon. You can see the top of the Lesser Temple Mound as well.
From there, we wanted to hike on one of the trails. There are six miles of trails at Ocmulgee National Monument, all well-connected. We took the Opelofa Trail, crossed the main road, and passed two more important structures before arriving back at the Great Temple Mound parking lot. The trail starts downhill from the stairs of the Great Temple Mound, and a notice warns to beware of alligators in the area. It’s mostly on gravel and boardwalk with some bridges.
The trail passes through wetlands and a forest. You can also see Walnut Creek from one part. A one mile extension, the River Trail, leads to the Ocmulgee River, but we decided not to hike it.
After crossing the main road, the trail led to the Southeast Mound, which is only three feet high. It has been heavily damaged by erosion and plowing.
Finally, our last stop before turning back to the parking lot was a trading post site built in 1690. An English trader from Charleston, South Carolina, built the post to trade with the Muscogee people (also known as the Creek) in a village on the site. It lasted until 1715 when the Muscogee abandoned the village. Wooden beams show where the trading post once stood, but it’s better seen from the top of the Great Temple Mound.