Landscapes of the Driftless Area

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.

View North from Winona


View South from Winona




River Bluffs

I took this from the car, I am unsure if it was in Minnesota or Iowa, I suspect Minnesota.

Large Bluffs

The Mississippi is very wide down here, punctuated with countless islands.

Rural Scene

I cropped this picture down a lot, hence the funny shape. I think this was in Iowa, on our way back.

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.




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!

12 thoughts on Landscapes of the Driftless Area

  1. You should check out Horseshoe Bluff/Mines of Spain, Eagle Point Park, and the Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa. Galena, Illinois too.

    • Thank you so much! I have had this vague memory of somewhere in Iowa called ‘Cliffs of Greece’ or something, I thought it looked like a cool place when I saw it on the web, but couldn’t find it again. It was indeed the Mines of Spain, I just got it all mixed up.

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  3. So many wonderful, yet still hosed places throughout the region. Thanks for helping feature this beautiful part of the world.

    • Thanks! And, I added the Driftless Conservancy website to the post, looks like you guys are doing good work!

  4. Er, my comment was supposed to read, “So many wonderful, yet still hidden, places throughout the region.”

  5. Jo Daviess County, IL is filled with amazing examples of the driftless landscape. I encourage you to check out the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation and all the wonderful preserves they have aquired, restored and opened to the public.

  6. Try a run/trip including (in order by travel) Lanesboro, Niagara Cave, Decorah, IA (a MUST), West Union, IA, Volga River State Rec. Area, Elkader, IA, Guttenberg, IA, Galena, IL, Devil’s Lake State Park, WI, the Dells. A lot I know.

    • Thanks for the recommendations! About how long a trip do you think that would have to be in order to properly experience all those places?

      • 3 days if you skip the last three destinations. 4 or 5 if you include the IL and WI stops. Decorah, IA is its own whole weekend to be honest: Phelps Park, Palisades, Ice Cave, Twin Springs, Dunning Springs, and Pulpit Rock (Will Baker Park). ALL primary spots, each unmissable. Much more if you include Upper Dam, Lower Dam, Luther College, (the Upper Iowa River as a whole…up and down river destinations) downtown Decorah, Nordic Fest (known as Nordic Mess by the locals), the fish hatchery which is virtually UNDER the world famous eagle’s nest live camera, and so so much more! Be sure to climb up behind Ice Cave! From the actual cave and to the west is a set of amazing unadvertised fissures and unique rock formations. Hundreds of people drive by Ice Cave only to miss the weird and under-appreciated formations hidden within the city limits. I PROMISE you that this little town hides visual treasures. DO NOT miss out on the many gems of Decorah! Keep seeing you on reddit…keep up the good work!

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