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Iowa Geography

During the most recent Ice Age large parts of central and northern Iowa were covered by glaciers. When those masses of ice retreated (or melted) they left their mark across this land.

In north central Iowa, the large expanse of fertile land known as the Des Moines Lobe, was once covered by an extension of the Wisconsin Glacier. It's a very flat area that's punctuated by a scattering of gently rolling hills. This area is famous for being the most productive corn-producing land in the entire United States, and possibly the world. Further to the south the Southern Drift Plains (prairie land west - forest in the east) cover about one third of Iowa.

In the far northeast the elevated deeply-ridged bedrock that fronts the Mississippi River is called the Paleozoic Plateau. In the far west the Loess Hills (or low mountains) stretch along much of the western border with Nebraska, then giving way to the 250-foot-high bluffs that rise above the Missouri River. Further to the north in the rolling hill's landscape of the Northwest Iowa Plains sits the state's highest point.

The Mississippi and Missouri are Iowa's most important rivers. The Mississippi rises in northwestern Minnesota, then flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, just below the city of New Orleans. It is a significant transportation artery and when combined with its major tributaries (the Missouri and Ohio rivers) it becomes the third largest river system in the world at (2,339 miles) (3,765 km) in length.

The Missouri rises in southern Montana in the Rocky Mountains, first flowing north then generally southeast across the heart of the United States, ending at the Mississippi River, just to the north of St. Louis, Missouri.

Many dozens of small lakes are scattered about the state, and additional rivers of note include the Cedar and Des Moines.

For a detailed look at the topography of Iowa, view this map.

See Also

Iowa Photographs

des moines river, Iowa

Des Moines River

Iowa Cities, Counties & Area Codes

City County Area Code
Greenfield Adair 641
Corning Adams 641
Waukon Allamakee 563
Centerville Appanoose 641
Audubon Audubon 712
Vinton Benton 319
Waterloo Black Hawk 319
Boone Boone 515
Waverly Bremer 319
Independence Buchanan 319
Storm Lake Buena Vista 712
Parkersburg Butler 319
Manson Calhoun 712
Carroll Carroll 712
Atlantic Cass 712
Tipton Cedar 563
Mason City Cerro Gordo 641
Cherokee Cherokee 712
New Hampton Chickasaw 641
Osceola Clarke 641
Spencer Clay 712
Guttenberg Clayton 563
Clinton Clinton 563
Denison Crawford 712
Waukee Dallas 515
Bloomfield Davis 641
Lamoni Decatur 641
Manchester Delaware 563
Burlington Des Moines 319
Spirit Lake Dickinson 712
Dubuque Dubuque 563
Estherville Emmet 712
Oelwein Fayette 319
Charles City Floyd 641
Hampton Franklin 641
Sidney Fremont 712
Jefferson Greene 515
Grundy Center Grundy 319
Panora Guthrie 641
Webster City Hamilton 515
Garner Hancock 641
Iowa Falls Hardin 641
Missouri Valley Harrison 712
Mount Pleasant Henry 319
Cresco Howard 563
Humboldt Humboldt 515
Ida Grove Ida 712
Williamsburg Iowa 319
Maquoketa Jackson 563
Newton Jasper 641
Fairfield Jefferson 641
Iowa City Johnson 319
Anamosa Jones 319
Sigourney Keokuk 641
Algona Kossuth 515
Fort Madison Lee 319
Cedar Rapids Linn 319
Wapello Louisa 319
Chariton Lucas 641
Rock Rapids Lyon 712
Winterset Madison 515
Oskaloosa Mahaska 641
Pella Marion 641
Marshalltown Marshall 641
Glenwood Mills 712
Osage Mitchell 641
Onawa Monona 712
Albia Monroe 641
Red Oak Montgomery 712
Muscatine Muscatine 563
Sheldon Obrien 712
Sibley Osceola 712
Clarinda Page 712
Emmetsburg Palo Alto 712
Le Mars Plymouth 712
Pocahontas Pocahontas 712
Des Moines Polk 515
Council Bluffs Pottawattamie 712
Grinnell Poweshiek 641
Mount Ayr Ringgold 641
Sac City Sac 712
Davenport Scott 563
Harlan Shelby 712
Sioux Center Sioux 712
Ames Story 515
Tama Tama 641
Bedford Taylor 712
Creston Union 641
Keosauqua Van Buren 319
Ottumwa Wapello 641
Indianola Warren 515
Washington Washington 319
Corydon Wayne 641
Fort Dodge Webster 515
Forest City Winnebago 641
Decorah Winneshiek 563
Sioux City Woodbury 712
Northwood Worth 641
Eagle Grove Wright 515

About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on April 7, 2017.