Itasca State Park MN

ITASCA STATE PARK MN

Itasca State Park EntranceItasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest park and is located in Northern Minnesota. It is known for the origins of the mighty Mississippi river which flows from Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota through multiple states as it makes its way South before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico…. yes, this mighty river connects us all in so many ways, for some communities it’s industrial, and for others it’s a leisure spot. As the river travels, in some parts it flows fast, in other parts it’s a leisurely stroll. For some, it’s a childhood friend having grown up and lived on the river, for others it’s a bucket list item and people will travel from all over the world to take a trip down river Mississippi.

We lived in Minnesota for so many years and had gotten accustomed to the waters of river Mississippi, so when we crossed the lower Mississippi on our way from Texas to Florida, we were quite fascinated by the thought of having seen these waters in the Northern part of USA, we had covered so many miles having gone through Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, Arizona and Texas so crossing the Mississippi (a familiar thing) was a BIG DEAL to us. Check out our post about crossing the lower Mississippi here Aferican Journeys rosses the lower Mississippi (Dec 2020)While in Minnesota (where we lived as a family for 7yrs), we never really thought about taking this trip to the headwaters of Mississippi however, having travelled through many states in the USA, we quickly recognized that we had missed out on an important geographical aspect. Travelling the states expanded our awareness and perspective and made us realize what is important.

River Mississippi connects many of us in ways that we can see and ways that are invincible. Collectively, water from 13 states is transported to the Gulf of Mexico through the main channel of the Mississippi; The River Connects Us All and provides nutrition for the dense vegetation, refuge for animals, nesting area for animals, wild habitat for river mammals. Many people partake in activities such as fishing, biking, hiking or simply sigh seeing.

Our trip to the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi was a camping trip, so we booked a tent site for the night via the Itasca website. You can make a camping or lodging reservation up to 120 days before your arrival date. Link to make reservations is Itasca State Park camping reservations

Having secured out accommodation, it was time to park and plan for the trip. The trip would take 2hrs 40min from Sauk Rapids MN to the Itasca state park, so we were looking to cover a total of 152miles (one way). We packed important stuff like water, food, propane stove (due to the dry weather and wildfires, campfires were not allowed), tent, (we actually had a screen in the tent bag so we never really brought the tent…oops), air mattress, blankets, life jackets etc. We planned to leave for the trip right after breakfast and get there in time to explore the headwaters before checking in to our campsite

Itasca State Park Mississippi HeadwatersOur trip to the Itasca State Park went really well and we passed plenty of towns e.g. Rice, Little Falls, Pine River, Walker, Leech Lake, Lake George etc. We also spotted our 1st bear!!! Yes, having lived in Minnesota for a while and even travelling across the United States, we had not had the experience of seeing a bear (other than at museums). We arrived at Itasca State just after lunch and at this time we were super hungry, so we used our propane stove to warm up our food (we had prepared a home cooked meal and gluten free cupcakes) and ate prior to heading to the headwaters. There were not too many people at the headwaters of Mississippi and this gave us a chance to maximize our experience; the water level was very low due to lack of rain in Northern Minnesota, so we were able to carefully tiptoe across the headwaters of Mississippi river and walk on the channel where the river starts. It is written in history records that the name Itasca comes from the Latin words for “truth” and “head” Apparently, there was conflict on where the true source of the mighty Mississippi is, and these areas/locations have been previously claimed to be the source of the mighty Mississippi, Leech Lake, Cass Lake, Lake Giulia, Lake Turtle and the area around the northwest angle. In reference to the Northwest angle, history records indicate that if the Mississippi’s source had turned out to be above the border in what is now Canada, Britain would have been in a strong position to argue that it should control shipping on the entire length of the river. This was a critical decision back in the day. 

Fun fact-It takes about 90 days for a drop of water to travel from the Mississippi River headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.

After exploring the headwaters, we headed to the beach as the kids were very eager to swim in the lake and play in the sand. There is a playground as well, so our kids spent some time playing and interacting with other kids.Itasca State Park Camping

There is also Mary Gibbs Interpretive Center. Mary resisted efforts to log the park’s tall pines as this was destroying the lakes shoreline. At this center there are outdoor displays interpreting the Mississippi River, the ecosystem, and the people surrounding the area. There is also the Headwaters Cafe and a gift shop. We only went to the gift shop and did not have time to explore the center.

There is also the Douglas Lodge which is located along the south shore of Lake Itasca, per history records, this lodge is the oldest surviving building in the state park system. WE did not go to the Lodge as we did not have time and we had our own accommodation plans

In the early evening, we headed to our campsite and as were setting up the camp, we realized that we did not have a tent! We had spotted a bear earlier in the day and we knew that this was a bear territory but faith in what we were doing as well as the company of many other guests who primarily had their RVs made it easier for us to accept things the way they were and so we set up the screen, and that’s where we spent the night.  Our camping location was right next to a small playground and the bathrooms, our 5yr old had a little accident-she went to use the bathroom and dropped her precious pink Columbia Jacket in the potty…Well lesson learned-do not let your kids use the porter potty when alone ha-ha.

Itasca State ParkSince campfires were not allowed, we quickly fell asleep after enjoying our dinner, the hammock was a great source of entertainment for our 3kids, and we ALL slept deeply at night. 

In the morning, we made some breakfast sausage and oatmeal on our propane stove, packed our stuff and headed for the trails (we enjoy hiking and can easily cover 4-5miles hike) Our experience, was different this time, we wanted to hike the Nicolet trail but after walking for almost 1mile, we turned back because there were too many bugs. Our family has hiked in may places across the USA, so hiking in a bug infested area is our least favorite (prior to travelling, we hiked in several places in Minnesota and had built tolerance with bugs, however our travel lifestyle and the experience we have had across the United States has spoilt us 😊

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