A Complete Guide to Aztalan State Park
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Aztalan State Park is considered to be the largest and most important archeological site in Wisconsin. It is located in Aztalan town, Jefferson County. The park is renowned as the grounds where tribes of Native Americans thrived between AD. 1,000 and AD. 1,300.
Their existence is evident from the flat-topped mounds they left behind, influenced by the Middle Mississippian culture. Today, the 172-acre park serves as a recreation and protected National historic landmark.
Complete Guide to Aztalan State Park
A visit to Aztalan State park offers exciting insights into the lives of the people who used to live in Aztalan centuries ago. There is a lot to see and do here as you are about to find out.
History of Aztalan State Park
The way of life of the early settlers on Aztalan was largely influenced by the Middle Mississippian tradition. Most of the Native Americans practicing this tradition settled in Cahokia, but some are believed to have streamed into Aztalan and created another settlement here. Just like in Cahokia, you will find mounds (made from the earth) and stockades (made from logs), some evidence of pottery, and some evidence of farming.
The early life of Aztalan residents
The archaeological exhibits collected from the mounds in the park show that the Native Americans who lived here practiced a hybrid form of life. They were farmers, fishermen, and hunters. The proximity to bodies of water (such as the Crawfish River) turned them into prolific fishermen. They used crude tools to till their land and the corn they harvested was stored in the mounds they had created.
They also lived in a close-knit society, with rectangular and circular houses concentrated in one location. Archaeologists believe that this kind of settlement was also important as a security feature. By being close together, they could quickly mobilize and protect their villages.
Aztalan Mounds and Stockades
The mounds were believed to have served several purposes. Some say that they were used for storing the agricultural produce, or housing the village political leaders, while others say that they may have been reserved for religious ceremonies and rituals in the community.
Today, only three mounds remain in Aztalan State Park and excavation was halted after the land became a protected site and registered as an important historical landmark in 1966, 12 years after it was opened to the public as a state park. The mound in the northwestern region of the park was used as a burial site.
The Princess Burial Mound
This mound was built to mark the burial ground of a young woman. The careful way in which the young woman was buried depicts that the woman was an influential person and hence the ‘princess’ title. The archaeologists who discovered her could not find any similarity to the way she was buried with the other bodies they found.
They felt that she must have been an important figure in her society to warrant such a send-off. Her hands adorned ornate belts and beads and she was laid on her back, and her hands carefully placed on her sides before the grave was filled up.
The stockades are believed to have been designed for protection purposes. A series of logs set vertically from the ground were reinforced by weaving willow through them and then covering them with clay and grass. Some stockades were built in layers, offering several protective shields and a good base to shoot arrows at the enemies.
Most of the stockades on the park were later ruined as people tried to reclaim the land for agricultural purposes. It took the intervention and reconstruction efforts by friends of Aztalan to give this land the protected status as a way of trying to preserve the history and tradition of the Native Americans. Today, you will see some of the reconstructed stockades near the Crawfish River.
How Aztalan became a State Park
The process of converting this piece of land into a state park began in 1922. Local Jefferson residents were concerned that the diggings around the mounds would quickly erode the historical significance these mounds held. Originally, the state park was called Mounds Park because of these mounds. There were more than 40 mounds in this park at one time.
Once the flattening and erosion of these mounds started, the residents came together and decided to purchase part of the park as a conservation effort. They turned the park to Wisconsin Archeological society. More land was later purchased (and other parcels donated by the residents) to create what is officially recognized as Aztalan State Park today.
No form of digging or archaeological excavation is allowed on the grounds of this park today, as a way of protecting this middle Mississippian tradition.
The Aztalan Museum
Lake Mills-Aztalan historical society was mandated to operate the Aztalan museum. This historical society was instrumental in the preservation of the land and the culture of the locals here. They donated some of their lands to the park. When visiting Aztalan, head over to the museum that is located on the North of the park to have a self-guided tour and learn more about the park. There are two old church buildings on this location as well.
Is Aztalan State Park Haunted?
There have been rumors that the State Park is haunted. No one can prove that but people say that the park has a certain ‘feel’ to it when you visit here.
Many people believe that many eerie things have happened in the park, especially close to the burial mounds. People say that they develop a feeling of being ‘watched’ whenever they visit the park, especially when they are exploring these mounds. Y
ou feel as if someone else (someone you cannot see) is there with you, watching your every move. The locals believe that the native Americans who settled there many centuries ago were angered by the destruction of their final resting place. Many of these settlers are believed to have come from Cahokia in search of a place to create home and build farms.
The mysterious disappearance of the Natives
No one knows definitively why these native Americans abandoned Aztalan. Some archeologists and historians believe that the community dispersed in search of better places to stay after environmental degradation while others believe that they may have been driven away by conflicts from other tribes, or by some sort of natural calamity.
How these Native Americans disappeared from the location remains a mystery as well. No one seems to know about where they went, or why they left the place. The other tribes that lived in the area during that time have a well-documented history to the present day. What happened to the Aztalans? Where did they go?
Evidence of butchered bodies
Some researchers found butchered bodies and human heads, adding to the weird mystery surrounding the park. Many wondered whether these Native Americans were cannibalistic and although it has not been proven, it makes the place seem eerie, especially at night.
Aztalan State Park Camping
So, there is no camping in Aztalan State Park. Unlike other parks in Wisconsin, Aztalan is great for a day exploration (or a weekend excursion) but not ideal for adventurers seeking to camp for many days, unless you are en route to other attractions within the State. There are great campgrounds close to the park you can explore if you decide to camp here.
Duck Creek Campground
More information: Duck Creek Campground Website
Amenities: WiFi, laundry, Dog Park, sandpits, basketball court
This is a small, family-owned campground. It has 4 rustic cabins and 4 rental trailers. 81 of the 134 campsites are seasonal sites. From this location, you can visit the Aztalan State Park and other key attractions within Aztalan, including shopping malls and the Ho-Chunk casino.
Blackhawk County Club
More information: Blackhawk country club website
Amenities: Bowling alley, golf, laundry, WiFi
Blackhawk is an old and popular campground in Aztalan and with its proximity to Aztalan State Park, it offers the perfect setting for relaxation after a long day of walking the park’s grounds.
Jellystone Park Camping resort
Amenities: Game room, Fishing, laundry, restaurant, golf
More information: Jellystone park website
You will find comfortable cabins in the campground at the Jellystone resort. They offer numerous outdoor entertainment options, including visits to Aztalan State Park and other spots within the county.
Aztalan State Park Activities
Aztalan Water Sports: The Crawfish River
The Crawfish River is an important part of the park’s history. You will find the ceremonial center of the village on the banks of the river, something that suggests that the villagers used the river for many purposes (such as religious rituals), besides being a source of food and water for irrigation. It was also an important transport and trade route for these early inhabitants.
You can go fishing in the Crawfish River. Keep in mind that Fishing licenses apply.
Canoeing and boating
Although there is no special boat launching pad, canoeing and fishing is a popular activity on Crawfish River. If you love fishing, you may enjoy catching a good stock of catfish, walleyes, and northern pikes that are plenty in this river. Kayaking and paddling also happen on this river, although the section that passes through Aztalan is calm and ideal for paddling or beginner kayakers.
We put together a Wisconsin State Parks Bucket List Free Printable for you – to keep track of all the state parks and nature areas you visit. Get it here: Crazy Camping Girl FREE Wisconsin State Parks Bucket ListDownload
Walking/hiking at Aztalan State Park
The hiking trails in Aztalan are short and numerous plaques and boards strategically placed along these routes offer you comprehensive information about whatever you come across. You can take amazing photos of these attractions here as well. There are lots of wildflowers (especially on the banks of the Crawfish River) which offer the perfect setting to have a great picnic with your family.
Length: 1.9 miles loop
The longest walking trails here are only 1.9 miles, which makes the park an ideal location for a day hike. You can take on the trail that leads to the West bank of the river, then onto the mounds, or take the trail in the South of the building that takes you through the wildflowers and onto the mounds.
Kids can enjoy sighting birds or collecting bugs in the foliage, or run in the open as you push your way from one mound to the other. No guided tours are offered in this park.
Aztalan Trail Map
Aztalan State Park Biking
Biking is allowed in Aztalan State Park. You will need a state park sticker though. There are areas you are prohibited from biking or driving inside the park as a way of conserving the environment and the property located there.
Cultural celebrations in Aztalan State Park
The Ho-Chunk/Winnebago tribes are the ones who took up the role of keeping the middle Mississippian traditions in Aztalan alive through enacting their way of life in dances and festivals that happen annually.
The friends of Aztalan organize different events during the year, including a Native American Day that occurs in July. it features a colorful display of the way of life of the Native Americans, with traditional dances, exaggerated clothing, and traditional rituals. They communicate and offer more information about these festivals on their website.
Aztalan State Park Hunting and trapping
Although hunting and trapping are allowed in this park, you have to conform to the regulations of Wisconsin’s State Park. For instance, if you are hunting with a bow/crossbow, you can do so from 15 December to 6 January although the hunting and trapping season opens on November 15.
You are also not allowed to discharge a firearm within 100 yards of a building. You can inquire at the state’s center for more information if you are interested in this spot.
Aztalan State Park in Winter
As this is a day park, you will find a lot less “planned” activities for winter. Cross-country skiing is allowed, but trails are not groomed. Snowshoeing and winter hiking are permitted.
Please note: sledding is not permitted at the park. It is illegal to sled on the mounds as these are culturally tied into Native American religion. Please be considerate.
Aztalan State Park and Dogs
Let’s start with the obvious: dogs shouldn’t be left unattended and you should pick up the poop. Waste should be disposed of in dumpsters or trash receptacles.
Pets are allowed only in designated areas and they must be on a leash and under control at all times. You will find maps with areas you can take your dogs all around the park. Always pick up after your dog and do not let the dogs wander onto the preserved sites. Carry enough food and water for the dog as well.
ID tags are a good idea if your dog isn’t micro-chipped. If you do lose your pet you can contact the Jefferson County Humane Society (920) 674-2048.
Rabies could be a thing as there are wild animals like raccoons your pooch could come in contact with so make sure your pooch has all current vaccinations.
How to get to Aztalan State Park: Directions
The town of Lake Mills is just about a half-mile away from Aztalan State Park. This makes it convenient for people who would like to stop and replenish their supplies, or fuel. There used to be a small trailer in the visitor center but I would advise you to carry your food and supplies.
There is sufficient parking, both in Aztalan and in Lake Mills town. From Lake Mills town, at Exit 259, take a detour and drive on for a few minutes to get to the State Park. If you are coming from the West on Interstate Highway 94, get to County B by going south on State highway 89 to the Lake Mills town.
If you are coming from the east on Interstate Highway 94, take the State Highway 26 south to Johnston Creek to get into highway B then follow the road to Lake Mills.
You will need a Wisconsin State Park System vehicle admission sticker to get into Aztalan State Park. This permit also allows you to get into all the state parks, forests, and recreation parks in the State.
When to visit
The park is open daily from 6 am to 11 pm. Entry fees are charged at the center. The museum is opened from Thursday to Sunday from 12 pm to 4 pm. The best time of the year to visit is from mid-May through late September or early October.
Restaurants near Aztalan State Park
Here are some of our favorite restaurants;
Tyranena Brewing company
Location: 1025 Owen Street, Lake Mills. This is home to the famous Tyranena beer. Enjoy a weekend of fun, music, and great food while sipping the local brew.
Location: W6376 County Road A Johnson Creek. If you love eating fish, pop into this restaurant for their delicious fish fry, burgers, seafood, and sandwiches.
Pyramid Event Venue
Location: 117 S Main St Lake Mills. This is an event venue that serves great food and cocktails as you enjoy numerous performances daily.
El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant Lake Mills
Location: 102 E Madison St Lake Mills. This is one of the best Mexican in the State and they serve Mexican and other exotic cuisines. Pop in for great-tasting margaritas and tacos.
The Grist Bar and Table
Location: 103 S Main St Lake Mills. This is a small but great location which offers you amazing views of the downtown. The ambiance is set perfect for people seeking to have a great, relaxed, and exciting night.