Upper Iowa River

The Upper Iowa River, a 150-mile tributary of the Mississippi River, is 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 and 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 watershed boasts water falls, cold water trout streams, hardwood forests, bucolic farms and small villages and towns. The public and private partners along the river and in the watershed take pride in working independently and with others to restore and protect the river and its watershed so that it can be enjoyed by many generations to come.

Watershed Plan

The Upper Iowa River Watershed Resiliency Plan, which was developed by the Upper Iowa River Watershed Management Authority and their partners, seeks to improve and protect ground and surface water quality; reduce the risk to and impact of flooding to social, economic and ecological systems; and build human and landscape resiliency. It is a comprehensive plan that calls us all to action and is sets the stage for success.


The Upper Iowa River Watershed is a recreational mecca, known for its rugged topography, high quality cold trout streams, wild river, caves, waterfalls, beautiful hardwood forests, restored prairies, trails, bird watching and unforgettable outdoor experiences. This is a remote, rural watershed, where hundreds of different species of birds still sing, native brook trout survive, eagles raise their young and people hike, bike, canoe, kayak, cross country ski and enjoy just being outside.

Upper Iowa River

by the Upper Iowa River Alliance

Water Quality

Local private and public watershed partners have been working to better understand the Upper Iowa River Watershed since 1998 when they first began collecting and analyzing water samples from the mouth of every sub watershed and at several places along the river. Today, the UIR partners boast one of the longest running and extensive watershed monitoring efforts in Iowa. They collect water quality data from 30 locations across the watershed, in Iowa and Minnesota. There are also USGS Gauging Stations and Iowa Flood Center Bridge Stream Gauges.


Private landowners own the majority of the land in the Upper Iowa River Watershed. They work together and with partners through the Upper Iowa River Alliance, a 501c3 nonprofit, to promote, protect, and enhance the Upper Iowa River so that it will remain an amazing private-public resource for many generations. Thanks largely to the private landowners and the organizations who own and care for it, the river corridor has retained its scenic and natural character and remained a premier recreational river that is shared by local families, anglers, bird enthusiasts, campers, hikers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Explore Conservation Options on Your Farm
Interactive Paddling Map


Are you inspired to take action? There are many opportunities for watershed residents, organizations and others to make a difference in the UIR Watershed. If you own or manage property in the UIR Watershed, consider helping the UIR WMA implement their Strategies. If you are interested helping other implement projects, consider working with a partner organization to complete stream bank restoration, restore a prairie, lead a river clean-up or implement a social media project.


If you just don’t have time to take on one more project, but you do have a few extra dollars to invest in the Upper Iowa River or its watershed, there are lots of great organizations and partners that would love a pat on the back and some financial assistance so they can continue their great work.