If you’re stationed in Warner Robins or otherwise find yourself in Middle Georgia, there’s a great place to hike in the footsteps of indigenous people dating back 17,000 years: Ocmulgee National Monument. This free-entry area offers a natural and historical experience with plenty of parking, gentle trails and ample signage.
SPOILER ALERT: what you’ll be viewing at the monument are mounds of grass. This does not necessarily make for a scenery “wow.” Where the “wow” comes from at Ocmulgee National Monument is the history. Maybe this just shows how much I don’t know, but I hadn’t thought about the millennia of human history in this area.
Although I normally like to hit the trails as soon as I have a map, I recommend stopping in the visitor center and museum for a quick look, at least, before you head out to the mounds and trails. That way, you can see what the area was like when it was inhabited. Use your imagination to superimpose the dwellings and dwellers. The museum covers all historical times at the site through present day, but it focuses on what life was like for the “Mississipians” from 900-1100 CE.
This isn’t a monument that will leave you scratching your head looking for the trailhead, wondering where to start.
At the top of this gentle hill, you’ll find one of the most stunning attractions, Earth Lodge, which is America’s Oldest Ceremonial Lodge, according to National Park Service signage.
It’s been reconstructed so you can go inside and see what this sacred space was like. This area is behind glass to protect 1,000 year old clay floor.
If you have a few hours, you can walk or hike more than one of the many short trails.
My favorite was the Opelofa Trail, from which you can see the Great Temple Mound and Walnut Creek.
You may see some wildlife such as alligators or great white egrets.
This area isn’t even quite outside of Macon – if you visit the McDougal Mound, you will find yourself suddenly walking from a fairly dense wooded area into a grassy field next to a neighborhood. Indeed, it may be a little jarring to go from the solitude of chirping birds to the bass of a passing low-rider on Main Street! But it’s all part of the experience.
Ocmulgee National Monument is no stranger to modern society’s infringement on its historic spaces.
In the 1800’s, railroads were cut right through it. Eh, what’s 17,000 years of continuous human habitation compared to an extra mile or so of track… I know, that’s spoken like a non-engineer! But this aerial view makes it apparent how the rail was cut with absolutely no regard for the epic history of the area.
Fortunately, our federal government safeguards this space and its history now. Our nationally-protected lands are one of the greatest treasures the U.S. has to offer. It is up to us (citizens, tourists AND policy-makers) to keep them safe, clean and accessible to all.
Be a Trailheader: Ocmulgee National Monument near Macon, Georgia
Local fuel: Make a stop in downtown Macon at Amanda’s Cakery for an Apple Pie or Strawberry Fields cupcake.
Soundtrack: The Otis Redding Foundation is right by the cupcake shop. “Try a Little Tenderness” or “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” reflect Redding’s dedication to “to improving the quality of life for our community through the education and empowerment of its youth.”