Crawford and Vernon Counties, and the Kickapoo Valley which runs through them, lie in the heart of the Driftless Area. The Driftless Area includes 24,103 square miles, covering all or part of 57 counties in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and a small part of northwest Illinois.
The region’s distinctive terrain is due to its having been bypassed by the last continental glacier. The term “driftless” indicates a lack of glacial drift, the deposits of silt, gravel, and rock that retreating glaciers leave behind.
The Driftless Area is characterized by its steep, rugged landscape, and by the largest concentration of cold water streams in the world. The absence of glaciers gave the rivers time to cut deeply into the ancient bedrock and create the distinctive landforms. Karst topography is found throughout the area, characterized by shallow limestone bedrock, caves, sinkholes, springs, and cold streams.
The western boundaries of Crawford and Vernon Counties are defined by the Mississippi River. The river towns of Stoddard, Genoa, De Soto, Ferryville, and Prairie du Chien offer the range of river activities, from fishing and boating to bird watching to river cruises. The Mississippi is the second-longest river in the world and part of North America’s largest river system.
The Wisconsin River is a tributary of the Mississippi, flowing along the southern boundary of Crawford County and joining the Mississippi at Prairie du Chien. It is Wisconsin’s longest river, with no dams or manmade obstructions in the lower part of the river. This long stretch of free-flowing river is important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, waterfowl, and fish, and a popular place to canoe or camp.
At 125 miles, the Kickapoo River is the longest tributary of the Wisconsin River, meandering from the town of Wilton at its source to Wauzeka, where it joins the Wisconsin. The proverbial crow flying between these two towns would only cover 65 miles. But Kickapoo is an Algonquin word meaning “one who goes there, then here,” and this is a highly accurate description of a river that manages to flow north, south, east, and west for some portion of its length. The West Fork of the Kickapoo River, through careful habitat improvement, is one of the area’s best places for trout fishing.
The Bad Axe River is a short tributary of the Mississippi. Its North Fork rises at the town of Westby and flows generally southwesterly, and its South Fork rises three miles south of Viroqua and flows generally west. The two forks converge and flow five miles to the Mississippi River. Both forks offer great trout fishing opportunities.