Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota is known around the world as the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the largest watershed in North America. Native Americans call it ‘the Father of All Waters.’ The Ojibwe word for “the great river” is Gichizibi.
Bruce and I both grew up on the Mississippi River, he in Davenport Iowa and I farther south in southern Illinois. He fished with his father on the river’s banks. I learned to swim and water ski in its muddy waters south of St. Louis.
My family, who still lives within the Mississippi’s reach, has spent too many stressful days and nights fighting its flood waters.
For that reason, we wanted to join the many who visit northern Minnesota each year to jump across the mighty Mississippi.
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The Mississippi Headwaters in Minnesota
Itasca was Minnesota’s first state park, established in 1891. In addition to Lake Itasca, where the Mississippi bubbles to life, the 32,000 acre park has more than 100 lakes.
Beautiful campgrounds, historic sites, biking and hiking trails, massive trees, fishing spots and so much beautiful remoteness make this as enjoyable as a national park.
Park rangers told us they are always flabbergasted that most people simply come to the park, walk 600 feet past the Mary Gibbons Headwaters Center to this pile of rocks that marks the beginning of one of the world’s greatest rivers. They splash around a while, take a few selfies, then leave the park without enjoying any more of what it has to offer.
We had planned to explore more of the park while we were there, but unfortunately buckets of rain extinguished our plan to bike along some of the trails and take a boat ride out on the lake. You can see the clouds gathering in the photos Bruce shot.
Where to Eat at Itasca State Park
We enjoyed a FABULOUS lunch at the Douglas Lodge restaurant. I had Minnesota wild rice soup. Of course. But the whole menu is devoted to Minnesota foods, such as walleye. The homemade pies from local berries were delicious and the selection of Minnesota wines and beers is pretty impressive as well.
The Douglas Lodge restaurant offers picnic lunches/dinners so you can enjoy this great food outside surrounded by Mother Nature. So that’s what I recommend you do when you make it to Itasca State Park. Plan to spend a night or two camping or in the wonderful lodge and cabins built during the Great Depression by the WPA and CCC.
Definitely schedule time to get your toes wet in the frigid water that becomes the Mississippi. But allow plenty more time to explore this deeply forested and environmentally rich destination that is Itasca State Park.