Ole Man River… The mighty Mississippi… It rolls on and divides our country in two, creating a great boundary between east and west, spilling out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Where does this great river begin? What is its source? This was a great debate for many years as explorers attempted to discover the true source. Several options were considered over the years, but finally, scientists and geologists agreed—Lake Itasca was the true source of this great river.
Lake Itasca and Itasca State Park are great places to relax, hike, and make a trek to the humble beginnings of the great Mississippi. From Breezy Point, the park is about 70 miles to the northwest. It is a beautiful drive through this vacation land of fishing and hunting. You pass through great pine forests and by Leech Lake (once thought the source of the Mississippi and another very popular vacation area).
We entered through the southeast gate of the park. It was immediately evident that this is a very popular park for biking. There were many bikers and bike trails, as well as a full bike outfitter located in the park. The lake and woods are very beautiful, and there are several stops where one can enjoy the view. We parked at a lakeside stop with a museum that contained interesting information about the park, the river’s beginnings, the logging industry, and forest growth and regeneration. From this point, we could see that it was less than one-half mile to the headwaters. We could have driven but instead chose the very pleasant hike through the forest.
At the beginnings of this river, the water flows north out of the lake to the city of Bemidji and then winds south through Brainerd, on through the Twin Cities, and off towards the Gulf. While already at Brainerd, the river looks as one might expect it to look with its wide expanse. At the headwaters, it is narrow and shallow. All of us, including our children, could easily wade across the river’s beginning. There is a rock crossing as well as a bridge, so virtually anyone can cross and see both sides of this river’s headwaters.
While the Mississippi headwaters are a highlight of Itasca state park, there is much more to the park, including some great hiking, biking, and driving trails. A driving trail not to be missed begins near the headwaters area and continues for 10 miles around the undeveloped side of the lake. There are several stops with nice short hikes of about one-half mile each where one can experience the forest and wildlife.
The views and scenery of the park are incredible, and this is a place not to be missed and that can be enjoyed by young and old.