By Mike Steely
East Tennessee has numerous Native American mounds including in and around Knox County but nothing in the state compares to Pinson Mounds in West Tennessee’s Madison County.
Pinson Mounds State Archeological Park has the second highest Native American mound in the nation. The 72-foot tall Saul’s Mound was discovered in 1820 during a survey of the area. There are 16 smaller mounds within and near the park and the tall mound dates back about 2,000 years ago. The park was named for a surveyor, Joel Pinson.
Carrying dirt to build the mound must have taken years, basket after basket, and the exact purpose of the mound is not known.
It takes about five hours to drive from Knoxville to the state park and the easiest way is along I-40 to Jackson and then south on Highway 455, turning left at the park sign onto State Route 197. My wife and I stayed at Cedars of Lebanon State Park on the way down and the nearest state park campground to the mound complex is 17 miles south at Chickasaw State Park near Henderson.
The park has a video presentation, group tours with a ranger, a gift shop, picnic area and playground plus hiking and bike trails. While individual camping is not offered there is a group camp with a lodge and two bunkhouses.
Aside from the huge mound, which you can climb 124 steps to a viewing platform and historic marker at the top, the park’s museum is absolutely full of pre-historic and historic Native American artifacts, everything from period arrowheads to effigy pottery.
Every third weekend of September, Pinson Mounds hosts an event featuring Native American culture and history with tours, guest presenters, crafts and vendors.
The park’s museum and gift shop is open every day except state and federal holidays. You can call the park at (931) 988-5614 or online at tnstateparks.com.
Nearby attractions include the Casey Jones Restaurant and Museum and Cypress Grove Park in Jackson and the Britton Lane Civil War Battlefield in Medon, 22 miles from the park.
There’s lots to do and see on your way to Pinson Mounds including various state parks and waterfalls, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, weekend flea markets, etc. You may also want to take a drive along part of the Natchez Trace in Nashville or stop in Monterey and see the Standing Stone monument there.
Don’t be confused with signs for Standing Stone State Park, which is many, many miles away from the original Standing Stone monument. The same is true for Natchez Trace State Park west of Nashville which is also miles away from the original historic trace. Both parks have signs along I-40 but neither park is anywhere near their namesakes.