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  • Writer's pictureAmy Trudell

Amy's Angle>

Let's Chat About...Itasca State Park

Randy and I bought a motor home last fall, and we used it for the first-time this past weekend. We loaded up our electric bikes and headed to Itasca State Park. I was so impressed that I decided to write a blog about it! This is actually the 2nd time I've camped here; I came with some friends a couple years ago. I just love this place!

Fun Facts:

  • Itasca State Park was the 1st State Park in Minnesota.

  • It was the 2nd State Park in the United States (After Niagra Falls State Park).

  • Established in 1891.

  • Location of the Mississippi River Headwaters.

  • Over 32,500 acres and 100+ lakes.

  • Home to "Old Growth" Pines trees which some are over 200 years old.

Timeline for the development of Itasca State Park:

  • 7000 years ago, this was the hunting grounds for Native Americans.

  • 5000 years ago, was the "Woodland Period" when settlers began to move in.

  • In 1832 explorer Henry Schoolcraft discovered the headwaters of the Mississippi.

  • In the late 19th Century, historian and land surveyor Jacob V. Brower discovered the region was being transformed by loggers and fought to protect it.

  • On April 20, 1891, it was passed through the legislature by a majority of only one vote, that Itasca State Park would be established.

Points of Interest:

  • Mississippi Headwaters

  • Wilderness Drive

  • Aiton Heights Fire Tower

  • Great White Pine

  • Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center

  • Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center

  • Douglas Lodge Area

  • Preachers Grove

  • Peace Pipe Vista

  • Bison Kill Site

  • Itasca Sports Rental

  • Camping / Lodging

  • Hiking / Biking Trails

  • Snowmobile / Cross Country Ski Trails

The Mississippi River Headwaters was discovered by explorer Henry Schoolcraft in 1832 and confirmed by surveyor Jacob V. Brower in 1888. The Mighty Mississippi River winds 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. This beginning point is 1475 feet above the ocean.

There are many miles of road and trails to explore within the park. Highlighted in green on the map above is the bicycle route Randy and I took while we were there. We put on over 23 miles in just one day, while winding through trees and going up & down the many hills. There are also several hiking trails to enjoy that lead to many of the sightseeing areas. Some of the trails include Wilderness Drive, Schoolcraft Trail, Brower Trail, Ozawindib Trail and much more! In the winter there are designated snowmobile and cross-country ski trails available.

The Aiton Heights Trail leads to the Aiton Heights Fire Tower. This observation deck stands 100 feet above ground. The trek to the top is well worth it, providing a panoramic scenic view of the park. Along the way to the top, there are informational checkpoints that give you a bird's eye view of the wilderness below.

The Great White Pine is also a popular attraction for park visitors. Before it's top fell off, it was the largest White Pine in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it no longer retains its full height, but its legacy lives on. The tree stands as a testament to the ancient forests that once covered this region.

The Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwater Center opened in 2005 and was named in her honor for risking her life to preserve the park from loggers. This area offers an outdoor educational exhibit, gift shop and cafe. It is just near the entrance to the Mississippi Headwaters site. The Center is only open during the summer & fall seasons, Memorial weekend through the last Sunday in October.

The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center offer a wealth of information and comfort. It includes an indoor bird viewing area, educational exhibits, gift shop, public bathrooms and vending machines. This 13,000 square foot building was built in 2002 and is open year-round.

The Douglas Lodge area is an incredible site to see. There is the main lodge which offers rooms to rent upstairs and a dining restaurant on the main level. There is a gift shop inside of the Forest Inn building and other cabins on the property that are available to rent.

The Chester Charles II Excursion Boat can be found on the shores of the Douglas Lodge site. The narrated tour follows the same route taken by Ozawindib in 1832 when he guided Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Preachers' grove is a point of interest featuring a serene and beautiful view of Lake Itasca. It was named after a group of preachers who camped here in the 1920's. The area is filled with majestic White and Red Pines which creates an inviting atmosphere for visitors.

Peace Pipe Vista is another observation point. There is a Vista Platform available for you to take in the tranquility and natural beauty of the area. I am not sure how this place was named, but one can only imagine...

Nearly 7000 years ago, the Native Americans hunted wild animals for food in the Itasca State Park area. They would ambush bison, deer and moose at watering sites and kill them with stone-tipped spears. Many years later, archeologists discovered the remains of these animals in this area. The monumental Bison Kill Site can be found along the Wilderness Drive and gives a historical story about the past.

At Itasca Sports you will find many rental options including canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, bicycles, boats and pontoons. This is located within the park near the swimming area and campgrounds.

There are 2 main campgrounds in the park, Pine Ridge and Bear Paw. We stayed at Pine Ridge and had a very good experience. There are many other lodging options as well. There's the Douglas Lodge, Four Season Suites and Headwaters Inn. If a cabin is what you are looking for, you can find them at Bert's Cabins and also in the Bear Paw Campground. There are more options than what I have listed that can be found on the link I have attached below.

For more information about Itasca State Park and how to access visitor or camping passes, click on the link below.

So, I hope you enjoyed reading this blog as much as I did researching and writing it! Please share your thoughts and / or experiences in the comments below!

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