The Driftless Area is a region of primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa which did not experience glaciation in the most recent glacial period. This means that, in contrast to the rest of the Upper Midwest (except areas around the Great Lakes which have hilly terrain) it has a large amount of bluffs and deeply carved river valleys. It is generally located in Southeast Minnesota, in cities such as Red Wing and Winona; in Southwest Wisconsin; Northeast Iowa; and a little bit of Northwest Illinois. It extends down the Mississippi River into Iowa. The map below, from the Driftless Area Restoration Effort, shows its extent.
The Driftless Area harbors some unique ecosystems, such as the Algific Talus Slope (a fascinating read, this ecosystem only occurs here). On a day trip to Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is located in the heart of the Driftless Area in Iowa, there were some great opportunities for landscape shots.
On our way down, we stopped in Winona, Minnesota, to look at the Garvin Heights Scenic Overlook. It was a nice, quick stop with only a short walk to these vistas. The first picture is looking north, back the way we came down. The second is looking south, on towards Iowa. And, there is one there that shows part of the city.
We visit areas in the Driftless Area fairly often, normally Red Wing. These photos highlight the terrain further south, and capture some of the overall feeling of the Driftless Area. We were constantly bordering the Mississippi, so it was fun to pass through the small river towns on our way down. I will get a post up sometime on the Effigy Mounds as well, it was a very nice place to visit.
While reading about the Driftless Area, I found an interesting organization called the Driftless Rivers National Park Foundation. Their goal is to establish a large national park in the Crawford County area of Wisconsin, which would preserve part of the Driftless Area and provide a nearby National Park for the Midwest. I don’t know about the underlying politics and ramifications of that, but it is a neat idea, and their website does have a lot of information on the Driftless Area if you want to read more.
Another website you could visit to support and learn about the Driftless Area is the Driftless Area Land Conservancy.
Here are just some of the many attractions in the Driftless Area.
- Great River Bluffs State Park, Minnesota
- Frontenac State Park, Minnesota
- City of Red Wing, MN (particularly Barn Bluff and Memorial Park)
- City of Winona, MN ( Garvin Heights Park with overlook, Sugar Loaf and nearby trails)
- Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
- Driftless Area Scenic Byway, Iowa (website has information on other places in the Driftless Area in Iowa)
- Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
- City of Dubuque, Iowa
- Mines of Spain (near Dubuque, includes Horseshoe Bluff)
- Yellow River State Forest
- Pikes Peak State Park
- Black Hawk State Park
- Gays Mills
- Kickapoo River Valley
- Wildcat Mountain State Park
- Amish Country
- City of La Crosse, Wisconsin
- Cave of the Mounds
- Devil’s Lake State Park
- Governor Dodge State Park
- Yellowstone Lake State Park
- Wyalusing State Park
If you know somewhere else that should be in the Driftless Area attractions list, let me know in the comments and I will add it!