Geology & Uniqueness of The Driftless Area


“Less than 1/1,000,000 of the world’s surface water travels in rivers, and of that, less than 1/1,000,000 of 1% flows in trout streams, and of that, 1/1,000 flows in spring creeks.”

– Ted Leeson, Jerusalem Creek


“600 spring creeks.  24,000 square miles.  4,000 miles of trout streams.  Brown, brook, and rainbow trout.  Dramatic limestone bluffs.  Solitude.  Freedom to explore the streams you choose.  Driftless Love.”

– Nate Martin, Spirit Streams


The Driftless Area.  The true spring creek paradise.  With this section of our website we strive to share the geology and uniqueness of this extraordinarily rare region that we live, fish, and explore.  This will be an ever-evolving page as we continue to explore new sections, read more books, and talk to more people.


Where is the Driftless Area?




The Driftless Area encompasses the corners of southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and northwestern Illinois.  This equates to an area the size of 24,000 square miles.  This area was left untouched by the last glaciers, called the Wisconsinan glaciers, some 10,000 – 12,000 years ago.  Glaciers leave behind deposits such as silt, clay, sand, gravel, and boulders which are called drift.  Hence where the name, Driftless Area, comes from…no glaciers = no drift = Driftless.








Topography of The Driftless Area

Unlike so much of that classic, flat, glaciated Midwest, the Driftless Area retains a landscape completely opposite.  The area is characterized by dramatic limestone bluffs, river valleys, and thick forested hillsides.  Limestone streams disappear into sinkholes, travel through underground caves, and magically reappear as springs creating the spring creek paradise that we so much associate with the Driftless Area.  This generates one of the world’s greatest concentrations of limestone spring creeks, totaling about 4,000 miles of streams.


Driftless Spring Creeks

Springs and streams appear wherever the water table is exposed at the surface.  As you are out exploring our streams, you will see and hear many springs and feeders that help form the main stream.  Beneath these streams there is rock called limestone.  Dissolved limestone in our streams is what makes them such a fertile trout-producing haven.  It is also what gives them that gray-green tint.  The dissolved limestone infiltrates calcium and magnesium carbonates into the groundwater and flows over a streambed that contains even more nutrients.  This creates a stream environment so rich in aquatic vegetation that it produces enormous amounts of insects to keep our trout healthy and pristine.


Since the entire water supply for a spring creek is an aquifer (or other groundwater source), it pushes a strong year-round flow of 48°-50°F water, providing the stability and temperature that trout require to thrive.  This also allows our streams to flow during the winter and not freeze over like the rivers and lakes.  Which in turn causes our streams to not get too warm and lose volume in the summer like so many out East.  The end result is an absolute perfect balance for year-round fly fishing.



The Driftless spring creeks are something special.  Something real special.  They create such an intimate experience that you truly do become closer to not just yourself but everything else around you.  We try our best to portray this in words through our blog posts, but only through the experience and the experience alone, will you then fully understand.


Hard Work & Dedication

This area wasn’t always such an abundantly rich trout factory though.  It took the efforts of many groups and individuals, over many years, that held the same vision of rebuilding and then preserving this spring creek paradise that we enjoy today.  Due to the extreme vulnerability to degradation that spring creeks have, it will continue to be important that we keep employing this same focus and drive to keep this extraordinarily rare and unique area thriving as we see it today.


Videos illustrating the uniqueness of The Driftless Area

2 Responses to Geology & Uniqueness of The Driftless Area

  1. Jack Johnson says:

    Your assessment of the topography is fascinating. I will continue to follow along.

  2. Jim Newman says:

    I happened to enter your site by accident on the web. Interesting to say the least. I had no idea this area existed. Please include me in any posts that occur in the future.

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