Snowy scene of a river and trees (NPS/Gordon Dietzman)
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area offers a respite from the city. (NPS/Gordon Dietzman)

To mark the U.S. National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, adventurer Mikah Meyer has been traveling across America with the goal of visiting all 412 parks within the agency’s jurisdiction.

While visiting northern states, Meyer was struck by the extent to which Native American history is part of so many national parks.

A deer looking up (NPS/Gordon Dietzman)
White-tailed deer are plentiful near the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. (NPS/Gordon Dietzman)

“Which makes sense, because [American Indians] were all here before we were,” he told Voice of America. “They were all over the country, and [theirs is] a really rich history, both culturally and archaeologically.”

The Native American presence is strong at Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota, named for the red pipestone found there. American Indians have always quarried the pipestone, which they carve into pipes used for prayer.

Many American Indians believe that pipe smoke carries prayers to the Great Spirit. At the Pipestone National Monument, the traditions of quarrying and pipe-making continue, providing a link to generations past.

A man sitting with many carved wood pipes (NPS)
At Pipestone National Monument, George Bryan shows visitors the skill of pipe-carving. (NPS)

Another meaningful place for Native Americans is a national monument in Iowa, associated with the culture known today as the Effigy Moundbuilders.

The site’s 200-plus mounds of earth — in the shapes of birds and animals — are located in the Effigy Mounds National Monument, within the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

While the exact purpose of the mounds remains unclear, Native American legends describe them as ceremonial sites, and archaeologists believe they delineated gathering and hunting grounds.

Meyer’s travels also took him to the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, across eastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. Burial mounds, campsites and rock art testify to prehistoric human occupation stretching back 10,000 years, and historic American Indian archaeological sites are also present.

A river bordered by lush green trees (NPS)
At Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, visitors enjoy spectacular vistas year-round. (NPS)

Located about 83 kilometers north of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul), it offers over 320 kilometers of pristine water running through a forested landscape. Meyer went kayaking on the river, which he described as isolated in parts.

He also discovered the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 116-kilometer river corridor through the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. Indian burial mounds are preserved there, and the site provides a sense of nature within a city of 3.5 million people.

Some have called U.S. national parks “America’s best idea.” Learn more about these beautiful places.