region M Area 105 larger picture

Northern Mississippi Valley Loess Hills

Wisconsin Driftless Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains.

Area includes portions of the following states:
52% in Wisconsin
23% in Iowa
20% in Minnesota
5% in Illinois

Total Land Area 17,950 square miles (about 46,515 square kilometers).

Towns/cities include:
Eau Claire, Menomonie, Prairie du Chien, Platteville, and Richland Center, Wisconsin.
Mason City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Rochester and Winona, Minnesota.

Numerous State parks are throughout the area.

The Richard J. Dorer Memorial State Forest makes up almost the entire northeast one-quarter of the part of this area in Minnesota. Much of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge is in this MLRA.


Cambrian sandstone, with some shale and dolomite layers, is exposed in the northern part of the area. The sandstone also underlies Ordovician sediments in the more deeply eroded river valleys. Sandstone, shale, dolomite, and limestone units of the St. Peter Formation and Prairie du Chien Group are at the surface, in road cuts, and in valley walls along the major rivers in the part of the area in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the southern part of the area, younger Ordovician shale and dolomite units occur at the surface. Some karst areas have formed where the carbonate rocks are near the surface.

The area consists mostly of gently sloping to rolling summits with steeper valley walls that join small to very large flood plains. Scenic landscapes are characteristic of the area. They include deep valleys, abundant rock outcrops, high bluffs, caves, crevices, and sinkholes. Stream valleys are deep, narrow, and V shaped and have irregular slopes and steep cliffs. The valleys commonly take abrupt, sharp-angled turns, indicating that the local drainage network is controlled by joint patterns in the underlying bedrock.

In Wisconsin, this area is often referred to as the 'Driftless Area' because it has undergone only limited landscape formation by glacial ice.

Topography -

Elevation ranges from 660 feet (200 meters) on the valley floors to 1,310 feet (400 meters) on the highest ridges.
Local relief is mainly 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters).

Relief can be as much as 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) on valley walls along the major streams and is as much as 250 feet (75 meters) on the Mississippi River bluffs above the river valley floor.


The average annual precipitation in most of this area is 30 to 38 inches (760 to 965 millimeters).
Most of the rainfall occurs as high-intensity, convective thunderstorms during the summer.
The average annual temperature is 42 to 50 degrees F (6 to 10 degrees C).
The freeze-free period averages about 175 days and ranges from 145 to 205 days.

Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

Name Code Extent*
Upper Mississippi-Maquoketa-Plum (0706) 38%
Upper Mississippi-Black-Root (0704 ) 33%
Wisconsin (0707) 19%
Rock (0709) 7%
Chippewa (0705) 2%
Upper Mississippi-Iowa-Skunk-Wapsipinicon (0708 ) 1%

* this is the percent of area drained by each named hydrologic unit

The Mississippi River flows through much of this area, forming the boundaries between Minnesota and Wisconsin and between Iowa and Illinois.

The Zumbro, Whitewater, and Root Rivers flow into the Mississippi River from the part in Minnesota. The Upper Iowa, Turkey, Yellow, Volga, and Maquoketa Rivers all flow into the Mississippi River from the part in Iowa.

The Kickapoo, Wisconsin, and Pecatonica Rivers are in the part of this area in Wisconsin.

The Apple, Plum, and Rock Rivers are in the southeast corner of the area, in Illinois.


Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
Public supply surface water 2.1% ground water 4%
Livestock surface water 0.2% ground water 1.2%
Irrigation surface water 0% ground water 0.2%
Other surface water 88.2% ground water 3.9%

Total daily withdrawls average 2,650 million gallons per day (10,030 million liters).
9% Ground water sources
91% Surface water sources

The surface water is abundant and generally is of good quality. Poor water quality in stream reaches is primarily the result of nonpoint sources of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides from agricultural land or wastewater discharges downstream from the larger cities.

Ground water is abundant in glacial outwash deposits in most of the river valleys in this area. This water is moderately hard or hard but is generally of very good quality. The level of total dissolved solids is typically less than 250 parts per million (milligrams per liter).

The supply of ground water varies in the uplands. The sandstone and dolomite layers in the Jordan and Prairie du Chien aquifers usually provide adequate yields to wells. The water from these aquifers is suitable for all uses, although the level of total dissolved solids approaches 1,000parts per million (milligrams per liter) in some areas.


  • Mesic soil temperature regime.
  • Udic soil moisture regime.
  • Mixed mineralogy.
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Alfisols
  • Entisols
  • Mollisols
  • The soils are moderately deep to very deep and range from well drained to moderately well drained and loamy.

    Great Group Series Location
    Hapludalfs Downs, Fayette, Mt. Carroll, and Seaton series formed in loess
    Dubuque, La Farge, Norden, and Nordness series formed in loess over residuum on uplands and benches.
    Paleudalfs Valton series formed in loess over residuum on uplands.
    Argiudolls Tama series formed in loess on uplands and terraces.
    Udifluvents Chaseburg seriesformed in alluvium on flood plains and alluvial fans.
    Udipsamments Plainfield seriesformed in glaciofluvial deposits on outwash plains, terraces, and valley trains.

    Fauna and Flora

    The soils on uplands support native hardwoods. Oak, hickory, and sugar maple are the dominant species. Big bluestem, little bluestem, and scattered oak trees grow on some sites.

    The soils on lowlands support mixed hardwoods, mainly elm, cottonwood, river birch, ash, silver maple, and willow.

    Sedge and grass meadows and scattered trees grow on some of the wetter lowlands.

    Some of the major wildlife species in this area include whitetailed deer, coyote, gray fox, red fox, beaver, raccoon, muskrat, opossum, fisher, otter, mink, cottontail, fox squirrel, gray squirrel, red squirrel

    Bird species include Canada goose, sandhill crane, bald eagle, red-shouldered hawk, goshawk, peregrine falcon, osprey, Cooper's hawk, turkey vulture, turkey, ruffed grouse, woodcock, great horned owl, wood duck, hooded merganser, pileated woodpecker, and red-bellied woodpecker.

    Land Use

    49% - Cropland - private
    14% - Grassland - private
    1% - - Federal
    27% - Forest - private
    4% - Urban development - private
    2% - Water - private
    2% - Other - private
    1% - - Federal

    Nearly all of this area is in farmed. Cash crops, such as corn and soybeans, and feed grains and forage crops for dairy cattle and other livestock are the principal crops.

    About one fourth of the area, mainly the more sloping parts, consists of farm woodlots used for commercial timber production or for farm products.

    The Mississippi River and its major tributaries provide opportunities for recreation.

    The major resource concerns include water erosion, depletion of organic matter in the soils, and poor water quality.

    Conservation practices generally include systems of crop residue management (especially no-till, strip-till, and mulch-till systems), cover crops, nutrient and pest management, contour stripcropping, grassed waterways, terraces, manure management, pasture and hayland planting, tree planting, and grade-stabilization structures.

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