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The Upper Mississippi River Blufflands is the land of Mark Twain, ancient civilizations, small communities and bustling cities, rich cultural diversity, caring people and timeless scenic beauty.


The Upper Mississippi River Blufflands includes all or part of 35 counties in southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and northwest Illinois. But the region’s cultural, ecological and economic values are internationally significant.

The landscape

The Blufflands region was bypassed by the last continental glacier, resulting in a steep and rugged landscape – often in sharp contrast to flatter land just miles away. The land’s diverse topography, soils, and plant communities harbor many globally-imperiled natural communities with amazing contrasts: from hot-dry sites with prickly pear cactus and “goat” prairies to ice age holdovers like Pleistocene snails on cold air slopes.

Here, prairie, oak savanna, wetlands and deciduous forests remain part of a mosaic of farms, suburban and urban areas. The once free-flowing and meandering Mississippi River has been modified – but never completely tamed. Rather, as Congress declared in 1986, the Upper Mississippi River is both a nationally significant ecosystem and commercial navigation system.

This special place is designated as highest priority for all four State Wildlife Action Plans. But the plants and animals already knew that. In addition to its resident species, this corridor is part of a major transcontinental migratory flyway for birds that nest in the north during the summer and fly south to the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America in winter.

Experiencing it

Unlike more famous parks and wilderness areas, the Mississippi River Blufflands area is not isolated or remote from popuation centers. This region offers a classic, American outdoor experience for all ages and income levels: from walking or biking along the many riverside trails, to picnicking or camping in numerous public parks, to hiking, hunting or fishing in the wilder areas. Connecting all of this, along with the Blufflands and river itself, is the Great River Road (part of the 3000-mile, 10-state, Canada to the Gulf National Scenic Byway), the Mississippi River Trail (a designated national millennium trail connecting communities and getting people outdoors) and the Audubon Great River Birding Trail – a series of hundreds of designated and mapped Important Birding Areas to watch birds and enjoy this beautiful area – The Heart of America.  See our outdoor recreation and accomplishments sections for other highlights. With additional investment and promotion, this region could help millions of Americans experience nature not just for vacations but as an integral part of a healthier, richer lifestyle.