Most people know all about the Mississippi River, and most of them have a picture of her running through Missouri and the stories of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Most folks know about her way down south in plantation country as she empties into the Gulf of Mexico. However most people know very little about where she starts, way up in northern Minnesota. Here at Itasca State Park she spills out of Lake Itasca and the famous Mississippi River is born. Here is where the start of her 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico begins!
Itasca State Park is a lovely state park. It's Minnesota oldest state park and covers 32,000 acres of northern woods. In this park alone are 100 lakes!
Most people come here to see where the Mississippi begins. It's impressive and a bit overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. The river spills out of Lake Itasca and is little more than a large brook at this point. You can walk across her here on some stepping stones. The water is less than waist deep here. Folks love to go home and brag that they walked across the Mississippi River.
The place were the river is born is simple. There is one rather plain marker sign, stating that this is the birth place. There is little other fanfare, just the rocks to step over the river. Here the river is crystal clear, soon it will be a dirty, muddy river. You are struck at how important this spot is.
When I was here the main parking lot was closed as this area is being redone for a new parking lot and a new interpretive center. The new center should be opened later this year. Throughout the park of gift shops, dining rooms, and interpretive centers. None of these commercial areas are overdone and they keep these facilities very low-key and understated.
Most people come to the park to walk across the river. But the park has so much more to see and do. The first thing you will make note of is how clean and well groomed this park is. The paths are cleared and very well maintained. It's easy for even an elderly visitor to get around here.
You can rent boats, bikes, kayaks or canoes. You can take a boat tour of Lake Itasca or you can take a hike with Naturalists. The park has over 230 camp sites and a rustic lodge to stay in. While I was here, I saw loon, deer, chipmunks, and turtles.
This park is a gem of Minnesota and should not be missed by any visitor to the state.
The park lies 30 miles outside of Bemidji. You can by an annual car pass of $25 or your can enter the park on a daily basis for just $7 per vehicle. I cannot think of a better value.