When the last five to ten glaciers bulldozed their way across North America, they spared most of southeast Minnesota . Though their icy lobes slid around this area, the torrential meltwaters rushed right through it, carving away hundreds of feet of sandstone and limestone.
The gorgeous result is a rugged region of steep valleys capped by limestone bluffs and lined by wildly meandering streams. This unique region is often errantly called the Driftless Area. The true Driftless Area is a 10,000-square-mile wedge across parts of Wisconsin , Illinois, and Minnesota that wasn’t gouged by any glaciers over the last million years—in Minnesota it only encompasses a thin strip along the Mississippi River in Winona and Houston Counties.
The rest of the region beyond this, which some geologists call the Pseudo Driftless Area, was buried by earlier glaciations, though it is visually identical to the real thing, hence the confusion. Even geologists can only differentiate it by locating the scattered pockets of thin, highly eroded glacial till that remain.
There is a lot of variety in this little corner of the state. Moving inland from the spectacular 500-foot bluffs and historic river towns hugging the Mississippi you’ll find blue-ribbon trout streams, the state’s most popular bike trails, Minnesota’s largest Amish settlements , and cosmopolitan Rochester .
The land levels out as it moves west, slowly fading into the Great Plains.