Allamakee County Discovery Area

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Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center


Allamakee County Trout Streams – Iowa

The coldwater springs and streams in the Driftless Area make trout fishing a popular pastime throughout the region. Each state manages their streams differently so check for information about limits, catch and release, and seasons within each state. There are 15 spring-fed creeks in Allamakee County that comprise over 77 miles of fishable water, three of Iowa’s 10 most-visited trout streams and the longest coldwater trout stream in Iowa known as the Yellow River. Located in the heart of Iowa’s trout region, Allamakee County’s high relief, pre-glacial landscape is home to some of the most popular trout fishing destinations in Iowa. Anglers are attracted to this area for its high concentration of prime trout waters, fish counts, increasingly high numbers of natural reproduction, and the active trout stocking plans. Iowa is also the only state in the Driftless Area that allows trout fishing year-round. Different streams support different opportunities to catch naturally reproducing or stocked brook, brown and rainbow trout. On average, the Iowa DNR stocks approximately 50,000 catchable trout into catchable stocked streams within Allamakee County from April 1 – October 31. Patterson Creek is the only stream not stocked with catchable trout in July and August. Of the stocked catchable trout, approximately 85 percent are rainbows and 15 percent are brooks. The Iowa DNR also stocks over 58,000 brown trout and 50,000 rainbow trout fingerlings in put-and-grow streams. Pine Creek is the only stream with public owned access that is stocked with fingerling brown trout. In addition, excess brood trout, or adult trout that typically measure between 14 and 24 inches in length and weigh anywhere from two to eight pounds, are released into streams each year.
Any fees?: Day-use, No Fees, Fish License and Trout Stamp required for fishing
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Managing Agency: Iowa DNR Fisheries
Phone: (563) 382-8324

*For a pocket-sized guide to each of the 13 publicly accessible trout streams, please visit

Great River Road National Scenic Byway – Iowa

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway in Iowa follows the Upper Mississippi River through the heart of the Driftless Area. It weaves through the river valley between limestone bluffs and the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. This byway provides access to dozens of county, state and federal parks and wildlife areas that have karst features and recreational opportunities. The overlooks along this route provide an opportunity for you to slow down and see the unique landscape from some of the tallest bluffs in the Driftless Area. Watch for overlooks along the road north and south of Guttenberg, just a short drive up the hill to Mount Hosmer Park in Lansing, hiking trails that lead to spectacular overlooks in Effigy Mounds National Monument, easy access but stunning overlooks in Pikes Peak State Park, multiple overlooks that you can reach by driving up one-lane roads into the center of Yellow River State Forest. Views at river level are also abundant including in Harpers Ferry and at Guttenberg’s River Walk. If you’re looking for waterfalls, don’t miss Big Springs City Park just outside Guttenberg (not to be confused with Big Springs along the Turkey River), and Bridal Veil Falls in Pikes Peak State Park (just a short hike along a boardwalk). Many of the local and state parks along the Great River Road in Iowa boast coldwater trout streams. Yellow River State Forest is a great place to pursue an elusive trout, but is perhaps most well known as a designated World Birding Area, not only for bird diversity but also because it harbors many threatened and endangered species that you may not see in other places. The Driftless Area of Iowa is a especially known for its high quality birding opportunities and the Great River Road National Scenic byway might just be the best way to experience the diversity of species that enjoy the hardwood forests, wetlands, blufftops and riverine habitats of the Driftless Area. To find out more, stop in the Driftless Area Education and Interpretive Center just south of Lansing.

Any fees?: No (visitation); Yes (overnight camping [vary by park])

Managed by: The 10-State Mississippi River Parkway Commission

More Info:

Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center

The Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center is located just south of the town of Lansing in the shadow of the region’s characteristic limestone bluffs and at the confluence of Village Creek and the Mississippi River. It is the only visitor center for the Driftless Area and the Driftless Area Scenic Byway and a priority stop for visitors along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Visitors can learn about the unique geology and karst topography of the Driftless Area, come face to face with local wildlife, and learn about the rich history of the area at this visitor center. The large windows and expansive decks also provide beautiful views of the Upper Mississippi River Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Any fees?: No, it’s free!

Dog Friendly?: Yes (on the grounds); No (inside buildings)

Time to Complete: 1-2 hours

Managed by: Allamakee County Conservation Board

More Info:

Driftless Area Scenic Byway – Iowa

The Driftless Area Scenic Byway weaves through Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties. The sites in this Discovery Area are located within the “corridor” of the byway, which includes all of Allamakee County and a large portion of Winneshiek County. Northeast Iowa Karst topography dominates the Driftless Area Scenic Byway (DASB) Corridor. The rugged terrain is well developed with caves, sinkholes, springs, cold water trout streams, exposed bedrock, and steep, highly erodible slopes. The natural resources include the most popular cold water trout streams in the Midwest, one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species in Iowa, a Globally Important Birding Area, and one of the greatest bird flyways in the world. They also include the only national monument in Iowa and one of only four major state forests. The DASB route meanders adjacent to rivers that are nationally recognized for their natural resources, including the Upper Mississippi River (Pool 9), the Yellow River, which is Iowa’s longest and largest cold water trout stream, and the Upper Iowa River, which was the only river in Iowa and one of the first in the nation to be nominated for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic River Program.

Managed by: Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation & Development

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Upper Iowa River Access – Iowa

The Upper Iowa River, a 150-mile tributary of the Upper Mississippi River, is primarily located in the Driftless Area of Northeast Iowa. One of the most beloved rivers in the Midwest, it is the only Iowa river to be nominated for inclusion in the nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Program. Canoeing the Upper Iowa River has been recommended as one of the top 100 adventures in the United States by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

The remote nature of the river, towering limestone bluffs, public natural areas, exceptional fishery, and abundant wildlife, draw visitors from around the world. The Upper Iowa River Watershed boasts waterfalls, dozens of coldwater trout streams, native prairie, hardwood forests, bucolic farms and small villages and towns. After decades of private and public watershed conservation efforts, the Upper Iowa River and its streams are restored to function as a coldwater system, with trout moving back and forth between the river and its tributaries. In addition to paddling to see the spectacular bluffs, visitors enjoy bird and wildlife watching, fishing for trout, walley, and bass, or just feeling isolated from the world as they drift through the remote Upper Iowa River Valley. A must see karst feature on the river is the Bluffton Bluffs, a 300 foot bluff that towers over the river just upstream of Bluffton, Iowa. This river remains both scenic and wild so be prepared. Both the landscape surrounding the river and the character of the river change dramatically as the river winds its way to the Upper Mississippi River and the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge so be sure to pick up a map and check out the 360 video to plan your trip.
Fees: Day-use, No Fees
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Managed by: Public-Private Partnership
Phone: 563-864-7112
Time Needed: 1 to 5 days

Rossville Roadside Park/Sinkhole

This small roadside park is one of the few places that you can get up close look at an active sinkhole. It is located very near the Ludlow Creek Watershed, which is a unique subwatershed of the Yellow River Watershed where the karst subterrain is so well-developed that ALL the surface water flows into sinkholes and bedrock fissures so that it has no above ground streams. Tens of thousands of sinkholes have been mapped in Iowa’s Driftless Area. Ludlow Creek watershed along contains an estimated 1,188 sinkholes and depressions, more per acre than any other watershed in Iowa’s Driftless Area.

Fees: No Fees

Dog Friendly?: Yes
Managed by: Allamakee County Conservation Board
Phone: (563) 538-0400


Time Needed: 15 minutes

Yellow River State Forest

The Driftless Area Scenic Byway weaves for over 5 miles through the hills and valleys of the Yellow River State Forest. This beautiful Forest includes six different units that encompass a total of over 8,900 acres of Iowa’s Driftless Area in Allamakee County, one of which is only accessible by boat. It is home to stunning views, beautiful woodlands and meandering trout streams. It offers numerous outdoor recreation opportunities including camping, equestrian riding, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and more. It is home to Iowa’s only fire tower, built in 1963 (no public access). This public Forest, like many private forests in the Driftless Area provides habitat for mammals, waterfowl, migratory birds and raptors. Because it provides habitat for Cerulean Warblers, Red-shouldered Hawks and other threatened and endangered bird species, it has been designated by the Audubon Society as a Globally Important Birding Areas (Yellow River Forest/Effigy Mounds National Monument IBA). Visitors explore this forest on miles of remote trails that parallel streams, and climb hills to rocky bluff tops where overlooks provide exceptional views of the landscape. A limited number of campsites are tucked into the valleys near coldwater trout streams. This state forest was named as one of Outside Magazine’s top 50 hiking spots. The Paint Creek Unit of Yellow River contains 6,000 acres of un-fragmented forests that grow in this karst region of Iowa. It is also where most of the recreational opportunities are located at the Forest. There are 40 miles of trails, campgrounds, backpack camping, a camping cabin, picnic areas, trout streams, and hunting. There are also three overlooks that are accessible by vehicle and the trail system. The Luster Heights Unit offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River that are arguably some of the best in the area. There are two overlooks located here that are only accessible by hiking or biking. While walking on the nearly three miles of soft substrate trail visitors can take in the breathtaking views, white pine stands, oak-hickory ecosystem, and small goat prairies of this driftless region. Forest-Paint Rock Unit has multiple overlooks of the Mississippi River valley through the mature hardwood forests. The north overlook in particular is a must see. It is surrounded by Native American mounds and goat prairie. There are 8 miles of trails all located in the high bluff lands of Allamakee County. There is also multiple conical, linier, and effigy mounds located throughout this hiking adventure.

Fees: Day-use, No Fees

Dog Friendly?: Yes-six foot leash or less, no pets allowed in cabin
Managed by: Iowa DNR
Phone: (563) 586-2254


Time Needed: 2-4 Hours per Unit

Harpers Ferry: Lock & Dam #9 Riverwalk

This two-mile gravel spillway trail stretches from shore all the way to Lock and Dam #9. It provides an opportunity to experience a unique view of the Driftless Area bluffs that rise 100 to 600 feet above the Upper Mississippi River. This stop also provides an exceptional opportunity for bird watching. Located just north of Harpers Ferry, this area is included in an area designated by the Audubon as a Globally Important Birding Area, (Yellow River Forest/Effigy Mounds National Monument). This Riverwalk is surrounded by the Upper MIssissippi River Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which is also designated as a Globally Important Birding Area and as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar). Hundreds of thousands of birds migrate through the Refuge and through the broader Driftless Area. Many rest or nest in hardwood forests, in the rocky bluffs, or in the wetlands and backwaters of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Fees: Day-use, No Fees

Dog Friendly?: Yes
Managed by: Public Partnership

Old Stage Road Cut

There are 14 limestone cuts along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway. One of the newest and most impressive is the Freeport-Old Stage Road Cut, which cuts through the bedrock as the road travels over/through the bluff that separates the Upper Iowa River Valley from the Trout River Valley. As you travel east along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway route you will encounter other nearby older road cuts when you climb out of the Trout River Valley. Many of the most impressive cuts along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway are located where the Driftless Area Scenic Byway route travels out of the Upper Iowa River Valley or the Yellow River Valley. Road cuts provide a perfect opportunity to view the bedrock in the Driftless Area.

Mt. Hosmer Lookout and Park

Mt. Hosmer Lookout and Park is located in Lansing, Iowa. This 104 acre park sits 450 feet atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Areas. The overlooks provide sweeping views of the river, its islands and backwaters, the historic Blackhawk Bridge, and across the river to the Driftless landscape in Wisconsin and Minnesota. An extensive network of trails winds through the park, allowing visitors to experience Northeast Iowa’s dramatic bluffs and lush woodlands.

Driving Instructions: Drive west along Lansing’s Main Street, turn onto 6th street and continue up the winding road until you reach the top of the bluff.
Fees: Day-use; no fees.
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Managed By: City of Lansing, IA

Army Road

Army Road is a two-mile gravel road/trail that extends east of New Albin into the backwaters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. It ends about half-way between the Iowa bluffs and the Wisconsin bluffs, at Army Road boat landing where there are picnic tables, informational kiosks, restrooms and a fishing platform. It provides views of the Mississippi River floodplains and backwaters and most significantly, opportunities for visitors to take their time to get a close-up view of wildlife that they might otherwise miss as they are traveling in the Driftless Area. The beginning of the trail boasts a wildlife viewing station and spotting scope. The trail provides opportunities for byway travelers to spot birds and other wildlife including everything from otter, beaver and deer, to turtles, muskrats and frogs. As many as 150 bird species have been documented at this site during bird counts. Sandhill cranes nest in the wetlands adjacent to the road, bald eagles and their nests are visible from the boat landing at this site. Other birds, including prothonotary warblers, kingfishers, herons and geese are also common. This overlook is also a high-quality location for viewing the fall migration associated with the Upper Mississippi River flyway. In spring or early summer, visitors enjoy the sounds of the birds, frogs, and other animals at this overlook as much as they do the scenic aspects of the site.
Fees: Day-use, No Fees
Dog Friendly?: Yes

Bear Creek

There are 14 limestone cuts along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway. One of the newest and most impressive is the Bear Creek Road Cut. There are additional road cuts nearby as you continue along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway west into Winneshiek County. Many of the most impressive are located where the Driftless Area Scenic Byway climbs out of the Upper Iowa River Valley. These road cuts provide a perfect opportunity to view the bedrock in the Driftless Area.
Directions: Take Bear Creek Road (A26) west off of State Highway 76 (North of Waukon). The road cut is located just after the road crosses over Bear Creek in Allamakee County and begins ascending to the west up the hill and out of the Upper Iowa River Valley.
Location: Along the Driftless Area Scenic Byway on Bear Creek Drive