During the ice ages, the Whitewater River and other Southeast Minnesota streams carried large amounts of runoff from melting glaciers to a wide and deep Mississippi River. This runoff etched valleys into the limestone, carving out the bluff lands and depositing sediment in huge alluvial fans and beach terraces along the Whitewater River corridor. These prominent features contribute to the beauty of the Whitewater valley.
In pre-settlement times, the Whitewater River straddled one of the richest landscapes in North America - the transition zone between eastern hardwood forests and western tall grass prairies. Pre-settlement vegetation consisted of hardwood forest, oak savanna, and prairie.
The topography of this region remains very diverse. It includes gently rolling uplands that give way to steep bluffs, rock outcrops, sinkholes and limestone caves. These geographic features are typical of a karst (fractured limestone bedrock) landscape. The limestone bedrock is overlain predominately by highly erodible loess soils.