Aerial view of parents and kids walking at Peebles’ Serpent Mound (photo by Casey Rearick)

Visit Southwest Ohio’s Ancient Earthworks

Created by cultures that lived here long ago, Fort Ancient and Serpent Mound have extraordinary stories to tell.

Inside the visitor center’s museum at Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve, a unique timeline outlines the saga of Ohio’s Indigenous inhabitants from the Ice Age to European contact and beyond. It reveals that while the Greeks were establishing the Olympic games and Rome grew from a city to an empire, Native Americans were mastering the art and science of earthen architecture.
Constructed for spiritual purposes by people of the Hopewell culture, Fort Ancient is North America’s largest hilltop enclosure, spanning over 100 acres across a lofty plateau near Lebanon.

“Visitors often comment that Fort Ancient seems like an earthen cathedral because it inspires a sense of awe,” says archeologist Bill Kennedy, who manages both the Fort Ancient and Serpent Mound sites for the Ohio History Connection.

In 2023, UNESCO recognized the monumental importance of Fort Ancient and seven other earthworks by selecting them for Ohio’s first World Heritage Site. Collectively called the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, they include the Great Circle and Octagon Earthworks in Newark and the restored Mound City complex near Chillicothe.

“The World Heritage designation confirms that Ohio’s ancient American Indian earthworks are as outstanding and significant as the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge,” Kennedy says.

Although Serpent Mound is still awaiting World Heritage status, it is widely considered the nation’s most famous — and spectacular — effigy earthworks. The snake-shaped mound curls for a quarter mile across an isolated Adams County ridge, and its head rests at the edge of 300-million-year-old crater.

During guided tours of Serpent Mound and Fort Ancient, visitors marvel at how the mound builders embedded their knowledge of astronomy into the earthworks. Visit Fort Ancient for the summer solstice on June 20 to witness the sunrise through a strategically placed gap in its walls, or head to Serpent Mound to watch the setting sun align with the serpent’s head and listen to modern-day Shawnee tribe members discuss why the site was sacred to their ancestors.

From June 20 through 23, the Friends of Serpent Mound group also hosts a Summer Solstice Celebration Festival at nearby Soaring Eagle Retreat, where you can learn more local history and enjoy time-honored music, crafts and activities.

Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve: 6123 St. Rte. 350, Oregonia 45054, 513/932-4421; Serpent Mound: 3850 St. Rte. 73, Peebles 45660, 800/752-2757;