The Upper Iowa River runs strong in the spring. PHOTO BY DARREN BUSH
The Upper Iowa River runs strong in the spring. PHOTO BY DARREN BUSH
Like most people who live on the coasts, I grew up thinking of Iowa as a giant cornfield, flat and boring. My guess is most folks from Iowa would like people from California or New York to go on thinking that. If they knew how beautiful it is here, they’d probably sell their Land Rovers (black ones that have never seen mud) and move there. Until January. Then they’d die off in the cold.

I am a fan of Iowa. The people are nice, the taxes are relatively low and their politics, for the most part, are sensible. When you pass another vehicle on a backroad, the oncoming Iowa drivers always wave. Always. Sure, our hands never lose contact with the steering wheel, the palm steering while the fingers rise in unison. But they wave. I like this.

I am not a long vacation person. Generally I like extending long weekends by a day or two, which means I don’t want to waste a whole day on either side driving. My home base of south-central Wisconsin has a bounty of beauty, all less than a tank of gas away. But I wanted to go see Iowa. It’s close.

The Driftless Area that was untouched by glaciers extends from southwestern Wisconsin across the Mississippi to northeastern Iowa. It’s just a little chunk of that state, but it’s gorgeous. Its coulees and ridges could easily be in Appalachia. 

Where there are ridges, there are valleys. And where there are valleys, there are rivers.

There are several rivers that flow into the Mississippi from the Minnesota stateline down to Dubuque, a lovely river town whose only blight is a riverboat casino. Most of these aren’t really paddleable, but there some gems here. I decided to take three days off and paddle two of them.

To read Darren Bush's full account of paddling the Yellow and Upper Iowa rivers, check out the July 2014 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To order a copy, call 888-706-4045. Or subscribe online and never miss another issue.