The lack of any serious development makes this the only river in Iowa eligible for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River, though it has yet to attain this status. The Upper Iowa River is excellent for canoeing, taking paddlers through the scenic bluff country. A number of wildlife refuges and preserves dot the river's basin. Bird sightings on the river usually include bald eagles, great blue herons, turkey vultures, and barn swallows.
In 1964, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed a major habitat improvement project on Bee Creek, a tributary to the Upper Iowa River, to support a trout fishery. While the uplands of Bee Creek’s drainage area are used for row crops, the narrow stream valley remains about half woodlands and half pasture.
The Upper Iowa was sometimes historically called the "Iowa River," creating confusion with the larger Iowa River to the south. The Upper Iowa was also called the "Oneota River," and the large number of Late Prehistoric sites along its bluffs caused the early archaeologist Charles R. Keyes to name the Oneota Culture for the river.
What's being done
Monitoring and assessment
- Upper Iowa River, Mississippi R-Reno, Mississippi R-La Crescent Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Report (wq-ws3-07060002b)
- Upper Iowa River Watershed Stressor Identification Report (wq-ws5-07060002a)
Strategy development for restoration and protection
The MPCA has no active projects in this watershed at this time but looks forward to working with local partners to gauge the health of waters in this area and take action to protect or restore them.
For Bee Creek, a tributary to the Upper Iowa River, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has set a long-term goal of maintaining the trout population.