on January 21, 2013
Itasca State Park MinnesotaWhen reading through one of our many travel books we came across this place and discovered that this is where the headwaters of the Great Mississippi; where the big mighty river starts on its journey. Just before we went we noticed that Trevor MacDonald was presenting a three part series about the Mississippi and the last programme was the part of the great River Road that we planned on driving.Itasca State Park was a good three hour drive from where we were staying in Onamia and obviously we had to drive back again so it was a full day trip. We took a packed lunch and set off early as we wanted to make sure we had enough time in the park.This was a long drive and an awful lot of it was along long straight roads with trees either side so not a lot to see and quite boring after a while. We did make it a circular tour and came back a different way from the way we went and called in to see a big Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley and we also made our way to Bemidji right on lake Bemidji where there was another large Bunyan statue with Babe the blue Ox as well. You can see there were a limited number of things to see and do in the area as we drove all day and added an extra hour each way to get to Bemidji!! We are mad I know but we do like to find odd things to see and they don’t come much odder than these huge statues.PERMITS AND OPENING TIMES$5 Daily permit for car and its occupants$25 Year-round vehicle permit$18 Additional vehicle permit$12 Special permit (requires proof of handicap and proof of vehicle ownership)$20 Motorcycle permit (fits in a wallet; not attached to windshield)Disabled veterans and active duty military personnel can get discounted permits.The park is open year round but the visitor centres are only open from 8:00 a.m. – 10.00 p.m. every day of the year.ITASCA STATE PARK The park is Minnesota's oldest state park and was originally created in 1891.The park covers more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes. Its biggest claim to fame is that here you can actually walk across the Mississippi as it starts its 2,552 miles journey to the Gulf of Mexico. We had limited time for our visit so we planned on going to two of the visitor centres and then to the Headwaters for a paddle and some photos before making our way on to Bemidji.We took the Main Park drive which was six miles around and passed the Jacob V. Bower Visitor Centre then onto the Mary Gibbs Centre and the Headwaters area.JACOB V. BOWER VISITOR CENTRE This centre is open every day except Christmas and Thanksgiving Day but times do change so check times on the website if you are going . This centre had exhibits about the park’s culture and natural history. More specifically there were exhibits about the parks special red and white pine forests which apparently Itasca contains 25% of those remaining original trees.and how they were exploited and now protected. There was also a really good exhibit about how the Mississippi river was explored and how it was used over the years and how it has changed.There were also nice clean toilets here which we made use of before going on our way. This centre is also a nice warm place to shelter along the trail when cross country skiing. There is also a small gift shop but we passed on this as we try to avoid buying bits we have to find a home for when we get back. For those staying in the park or who want to check on the internet there is wifi access available here.MARY GIBBS VISITOR CENTREThis was a bit bigger than the previous centre and had a cafe so we decided it was coffee time as we had been driving for about three hours plus. The cafe was clean and the coffee good and I enjoyed a muffin while my husband chose a sandwich.We didn’t hang around too long as we were anxious to make our way to the headwaters before thousands of other people were there to get in our photos. My husband has a pet hate of having unknown people in our photos!THE HEADWATERSApart from being able to walk across the Mississippi in the shallow waters paddling through chilly water across pebbles that are not very easy to walk on. You can also balance on the stepping stones but again these are slippery so do be careful. Here the river is a tiny twelve feet across which makes it hard to imagine it becoming the huge river only a few miles away.After walking across , paddling and exploring the river we then went and had the obligatory photo standing next to the sign." Here 1475 feet above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 1552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico."THERE IS SO MUCH MOREThere are of course many trails which can be used for hiking and in winter for cross country skiing and more. Other trails are used in winter for snow mobiles and others for snow shoes . There is a board walk trail for wheel chairs and wheel chairs can get down to the headwaters too. A paved trail for bikes is popular in summer.There are also boat launching ramps on the lakes, camping grounds with cabins and facilities and so on.The park is a beautiful unspoilt area with huge trees and local wildlife. We were not there long enough to see any wildlife but did enjoy the Main drive and the two visitor centres and of course the Headwaters where we had our paddle and took lots of photos.RECOMMENDED?If you like unusual things then visiting the place where the Mighty Mississippi begins has to be on the list for you. This park is not really near anywhere and Minnesota is a very rural state so you do have to be prepared to drive for long distances to see anything.We did enjoy following the Mississippi river up from Dubuque in Iowa right to the Headwaters in Itasca . We saw some interesting sights along the way from the huge dams and the long barges and many lovely little towns . It is a journey i would recommend if you are happy driving and like to go with the flow, changing plans when you find something of interest and not having any really set in stone places to see along the way.
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