Regions of Wisconsin
Regions of Wisconsin
Five Geographical Provinces
Wisconsin is historically divided into five geographical regions.
Three of these geographical provinces are uplands and two are lowlands. These provinces are related to the use of the land by plants, by animals, and by man. Each differs from the others in roughness or smoothness of topography, infertility or sterility of soil, in climate, in adaptation to occupation by wild plants (including forests), by cultivated plants (including crops and orchards), by animals, and by man, as well as in the extent to which men have developed such resources during the march of Wisconsin history.
The boundaries of all five provinces are determined largely by the variations of texture and structure in the underlying rocks. The geographical regions have internal unity and significant contrast with neighboring regions in uses of the land by living things, including man.
The Western Upland is the geographical region covering much of the western half of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. It stretches from southern Polk County, Wisconsin in the north to the state border with Illinois in the south, and from Rock County in the east to the Mississippi River in the west.
The Western Upland is a rugged, hilly region deeply dissected by rivers and streams. The area is characterized by rocky outcroppings and numerous small caves, as well as sharp and frequent changes in altitude. The elevation in the region ranges from about 600 feet above sea level in the Mississippi River Valley to more than 1,700 feet above sea level at Blue Mound State Park, in Iowa County. The Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kickapoo, Black, and Chippewa rivers all carve deep gorges through the upland. Even most small creeks and streams have coulees penetrating some two to three hundred feet deeper than the surrounding land. Meanwhile, highlands like Military Ridge, the Baraboo Range, and a host of unnamed ridges have elevations that are in excess of 1,000 feet above sea level. Before the last ice age, most of the land in the northern United States was similar to the land of today’s Western Upland, with rugged ridges and valleys. But as glaciers came to cover the continent, they toppled the ridges and filled in the valleys, creating smooth plains. The Western Upland of Wisconsin is part of the Driftless Area, a region that has avoided being covered by glaciers for the past several million years. This explains why the region has retained its rugged landscape.
Farmland is prevalent in the Western Upland anywhere where the slope of the land is gradual enough to permit it, generally on the ridge tops and the valley bottoms. Both fields and pastureland are common in the region. The hillsides and narrow ravines that are unsuitable for agriculture are covered in forests. Oak, hickory, maple, and birch trees dominate the woodlands of the Western Upland. Several small cities are scattered along the ridges and valleys. With a population of 59,498, the largest city in the Western Upland is Janesville in the extreme southeast corner of the region. La Crosse, with a population of 51,818, occupies a more central position along the Mississippi River. Other principal cities include Beloit, Monroe, Platteville, and Sparta.
Eastern Ridges and Lowlands
The Eastern Ridges and Lowlands is the region in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Wisconsin, between Green Bay in the north, and the border with Illinois in the south. Lake Michigan lies to the east of the region.
The Eastern Ridges and Lowlands region is primarily a plain with elevations between 700 and 900 feet above sea level, but the region slopes to form two broad ridges running from north to south that exceed 1,000 feet above sea level in some places. One ridge runs along Lake Michigan from the Door Peninsula to the Illinois border. The other ridge is on the western edge of the region, stretching from Marinette County in the north to Dane County. Between the two ridges is a lowland carved out by the glaciers of the last ice age. The lowland includes the Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, and several other small rivers and lakes. While there are some escarpments along the ridges, the region is primarily flat and the changes in elevation are usually gradual. The flatness of the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands region makes it especially suitable for agriculture. The majority of the region is covered by farmland. Forests are scarce except for in the far northern part of the region. Besides farmland, the area includes a significant amount of urban and suburban development, and a large proportion of Wisconsin's population. Many of Wisconsin's largest cities are located in the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands region, including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Appleton, and others. The abundance of cities in the area make it Wisconsin's most populous region.
The Central Plain is the geographical region consisting of about 13,000 square miles (34,000 km2) of land in a v-shaped belt across the center of the state. Beginning in the west, the Central Plain originates in Burnett and Polk Counties and runs southeast to Columbia County, where it turns northeast and reaches its end in Marinette County.
The Central Plain region generally takes the form of a flat sandy plain with elevations between 700 and 800 feet (240 m) above sea level. There are variations on the flatland, however. Hills in Barron County possess the region’s highest altitudes, reaching more than 1,200 feet (370 m) above sea level. This section of the region is primarily a hardwood forest of maple, birch, and aspen, but there are several areas of agriculture scattered across the area. The plain is occasionally broken by rolling hills throughout its western half. Plains which were once the bed of Glacial Lake Wisconsin dominate the south central part of the region. Farms, fields, and cranberry bogs cover the landscape, and sandstone buttes and mesas are not uncommon. The Wisconsin River dissects the plain here, creating the Wisconsin Dells. East of the river, moraines and small kettle lakes are interspersed throughout the plain. Forests and wetlands mark the northeastern section of the region.
For the most part, the Central Plain is a rural area of farmland and forests. Population is sparse. The city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin is located on the southern border of the plain’s northwest end, and is the region’s largest city with a population of 61,704. Other principal cities in the Central Plain region include Chippewa Falls and Menomonie in the northwest, as well as Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids along the Wisconsin River.
The Northern Highland is the geographical region covering much of the northern territory of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. The region stretches from the state border with Minnesota in the west to the Michigan border in the east, and from Douglas and Bayfield Counties in the north to Wood and Portage Counties in the south. While most of northern Wisconsin is within the Northern Highland region, a short belt of land along the coast of Lake Superior is not included in the area, and is instead part of the Lake Superior Lowland. Outside of Wisconsin, the highland stretches northward in Canada through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario and Quebec to Labrador and Hudson Bay.
The Northern Highland was once a mountain range similar to the Alps or Rocky Mountains of today. Over hundreds of millions of years, these mountains were worn down and flattened out by erosion and glaciation. Today the region is mostly a smooth plain, but it remains higher than the rest of the state and some hilly regions continue to exist. Located near the center of the region, Timms Hill in Price County is the highest point in Wisconsin. It has an elevation of 1,951 feet above sea level. Other hills such as Rib Mountain also approach this elevation.
Whether hilly or flat, most of the Northern Highland is covered in woodlands. The most common trees of the Northern Highland are the Sugar Maple, Aspen, Basswood, Hemlock, and Yellow Birch, as well as Red and White Pine. A large amount of the forestland in the region is included within the 1,519,800 acre (6,150 km²) Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. State and county forests also cover a significant part of the region, and only a small portion of the land is devoted to agriculture. There are also few urban areas. The largest city in the region is Wausau, with a population of 38,426. Other principal cities include Merrill, Rhinelander, and Ladysmith. Despite the absence of large cities, tourism is an important part of the local economy. The region’s numerous lakes and forests make it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts during the summer season.
This is part of a northern Wisconsin area colloquially referred to as "up north."
Lake Superior Lowlands
In the U.S. state of Wisconsin, the Lake Superior Lowland, also known as the Superior Coastal Plain, is a geographical region located in the far northern part of the state bordering Lake Superior. It covers about 1,250 square miles (3,200 km2) or 3237 square kilometers, and does not extend beyond 20 miles (32 km) from the Lake Superior shore.
The Lake Superior Lowland is defined by a plain that slopes gently downward towards the north. While the area is mostly flat, the altitude ranges from about 600 feet (180 m) to 1000 feet (or 300 meters) above sea level. The higher altitudes are located on the Bayfield Peninsula, where the characteristic plain gives way to more rugged hills. Northeast of the peninsula are the Apostle Islands, which have been designated as a National Shoreline.
Woodland covers most of the Lake Superior Lowland. Much of the forested area is dominated by aspen and birch trees, with some conifers interspersed throughout the forest. Some pasture and cropland has been established on the plain. Marshes and wetlands exist in a few places in the region, and several rivers drain the region into Lake Superior, including the Brule River, which is surrounded by a State Forest. Two Ojibwa Indian reservations are located along the shores of Lake Superior, the Bad River Indian Reservation and the Red Cliff Indian Reservation. The largest city in the area is Superior, Wisconsin. Other cities include Ashland and Washburn.