Itasca State Park & Mississippi Headwaters
Itasca State Park & Mississippi Headwaters

Itasca State Park & Mississippi Headwaters

Detroit Lakes Minnesota Parks & Outdoors

Itasca State Park
& Mississippi Headwaters

Detroit Lakes Minnesota Parks & Outdoors

Itasca State Park marks the headwaters and beginning of the world’s third longest river, The Mississippi, as a small stream. Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest State Park. In this 32,000 acre sanctuary, the Mississippi River begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Among the many points of interest are old growth pine at Preacher’s Grove, Peace Pipe Vista, bison kill site and over 100 lakes. The park is a great birding site for Common Loon, Black-backed woodpecker, Alder Flycatcher, Winter Wren and more. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks.

Wildlife: The diversity of vegetation in the park supports many wildlife species. Birding is excellent and visitors are encouraged to help spot and record the bird life they see in the park. Some birds you can expect to see include loons, grebes, cormorants, herons, ducks, owls, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets, vireos, tanagers, finches, and warblers. Trails in the park are shared with deer, chipmunks, and squirrels. Beaver, porcupine, black bears, and wolves also reside in the park.

Park Highlights

  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Cross-country ski trails
  • Historic Sites
  • Unique Ecosystem
  • Old Growth
  • Bird checklist PDF
  • Mississippi Headwaters

Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center: Gateway to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River! Learn about the natural and cultural history of this national landmark in the outdoor interpretive center before departing on a short walk to see it for yourself! Be sure to stop at the Mary Gibbs Gift Shop and the Headwaters Cafe for a quick bite and souvenirs; open seasonally.

Outdoor Interpretive Center: OPEN year-round: Mary Gibbs Gift Shop: OPEN daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.
Mary Gibbs Cafe: OPEN daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm for walk-up window service. Mary Gibbs Cafe Menu PDF

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center: The Visitor Center features area information, educational exhibits and an interactive play areas for children. Sit and relax in the fireplace lounge and watch the birds through large observation windows. Stop by the visitor services desk for assistance from a park associate. Gift shop, vending machines and restrooms also available.

Restrooms / Showers / Water

  • Vault toilets are available throughout the park.
  • Modern restroom facilities are open at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, in the Douglas Lodge / Forest Inn parking area and at the swimming beach.
  • Modern restroom facilities, vault toilets, showers and drinking water are available in Bear Paw and Pine Ridge Campgrounds.
  • The sanitation station is open in Bear Paw Campground.
  • Outdoor drinking water fountains are available at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center and the Lake Itasca picnic grounds.
  • Ice is available for sale at the Campground Registration Office, Headwaters Cafe and Itasca Sports. Purified water is available for sale at the Campground Registration Office.

Buildings / Attractions / Services

  • Vehicle permits may be purchased at the South / East or North Entrance Pay Stations.
  • The Campground Registration Office is open daily from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
  • The Mary Gibbs Cafe is open for walk-up window service. Open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Indoor dining remains closed.
  • The Douglas Lodge Restaurant is open for curbside service. Open Thursday-Sunday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Indoor dining remains closed.
  • The Mary Gibbs Gift Shop is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00.
  • The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center and Forest Inn Gift Shop are closed until further notice.
  • Interpretive programs are back! Check out the Events Calendar for more details.
  • Itasca Sports is open daily from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Outdoor recreation rentals, sales and service.
  • Coborn’s Lake Itasca Tours is running boat tours daily at 2 pm.
  • Wilderness Drive, all hiking trails and the paved bike trail are open.
  • Water access sites and fish cleaning buildings are open.
  • Picnic grounds are open.
  • Playgrounds are open.
  • The Lake Itasca swimming beach is open.
  • The Lakeside Museum located at the picnic grounds is closed until further notice.
  • The Aiton Heights Observation Tower is closed until further notice.
  • Firewood is available for sale at the Campground Registration Office from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm daily, or may be purchased locally from approved firewood vendors.

Itasca State Park Winter Facilities & Activities

Features: 33.7 km (21 mi) of trails, visitor center/warming house, skate skiing, restroom facilities, parking permit required.
There is 15 miles of trail groomed for skate ski. Snowshoe rental is available for $6/day. A warming area is located in the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Winter camping and Itasca Suites are available to rent. View website for more information.

Snow Depth and Groomed Trail Conditions

Classic/Skate Ski trails include: Bike Trail from the Headwaters south to Douglas Lodge. South Entrance Road from the junction with the East Entrance south to Red Pine Trail access. Ozawindib from Douglas Lodge south to Red Pine Crossover. Wilderness Drive East from Mary Lake to Aiton Heights fire tower access road. Wilderness Drive West from Aiton Heights fire tower access road to DeSoto Trail.

Classic Trails include: Deer Park North from Douglas Lodge south to Myrtle Lake Crossover. Deer Park South from Myrtle Lake Crossover to McKay Lake Crossover. DeSoto from Wilderness Drive to McKay Lake Crossover Aiton Heights Trail from Ozawindib Trail to fire tower road. Myrtle Lake Crossover from Ozawindib Trail to Deer Park Trail. McKay Lake Crossover from DeSoto Trail to Deer Park Trail. Red Pine Trail from South Entrance Road to Ozawindib Trail. Backcountry skiingThose skiers who prefer the more remote trails will need to break their own trail at this time.

Snowshoe and Walking Trails: Snowshoe Trails include: Dr. Roberts Trail, Brower Trail, Schoolcraft Trail, self-guide trail by the visitor center, Twinkle Light Trail in Bear Paw Campground. Walking Trails include: Twinkle Light Trail in Bear Paw Campground and the main footpath to the Mississippi Headwaters. Be aware of slippery spots. Hikers and snowshoers are reminded to not walk on the groomed ski trails. You can snowshoe anywhere in Minnesota’s state parks and recreation areas, except on trails that are specifically groomed for another activity, such as skiing or snowmobiling.

Snowmobile Trails: 31 miles of snowmobile trails in the Itasca State Park that circle the park perimeter and connect with other trails that lead to Park Rapids, Walker, Bemidji, Bagley, Mahnomen and Detroit Lakes.

Twinkle Light Trail: Trail located in Bear Paw Campground. There is 3/4 mile of trails illuminated nightly from November 24 through the snow season. Lights are on from dusk to 10 p.m.

Other things to do in the park: Walk down to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River as the water flows year-round. Fresh snow is always a nice time for winter photography. Winter bird are here! Watch for Evening and Pine grosbeaks and Redpolls. Animal tracks are seen in the fresh snow, watch for red fox, deer, and weasels. Park lakes are frozen, but park users should use caution around any bodies of water, especially near the Mississippi Headwaters.

The trail(s): The trail offers a beautiful look of the mixed forests in northern Minnesota. Travel through wooded areas, around lakes and through one of the most popular parks in the state. Through out the trail, you may see a variety of wildlife, including deer, squirrels, fisher, wolves, fox and otter.

Facilities: The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The lobby is open as a warming shelter after regular business hours. Winter Camping is available in Pine Ridge Campground and the backpack sites. Campers can register at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. For lodging: The Itasca Suites are available to rent year round; featuring seating area, kitchenette, bedroom, and bath. The Headwaters Inn is open for winter rental and features 6 individual rooms and a common area.

Winter Trails: Ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, walk or ride! Learn more about trail conditions and snow depth.

  • Ski Passes: Sold at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Learn more about ski pass options.
  • Snowshoes Rentals: Available at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center for $6.00 a pair.
  • 31 miles of snowmobile trails in the Itasca State Park that circle the park perimeter.
  • Twinkle Light Trail: Located in Bear Paw Campground. This 3/4 mile trail is packed for walking, snowshoeing or skiing (no tracks) and illuminated nightly from dusk to 10:00 p.m. through the snow season. Pets on leashes are welcome.
  • Wilderness Drive Scenic Route: CLOSED through the snow season.
  • More seasonal information available on the seasonal updates page.

Contact: Itasca State Park
Phone: (218) 699-7256; Email: (link sends email)
Winter contact hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily.
Itasca State Park

Getting there: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, MN 56470
The trailhead is located in the park, which is 21 miles north of Park Rapids off of Highway 71 (East Entrance) or using the North Entrance along Highway 200. Follow park road to the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center or the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center parking lot. Parking is available at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Itasca State Park & Mississippi Headwaters Gallery

Park History: Some 8,000 years ago, Indian hunters pursued wild animals for food in the Itasca State Park region. These early people ambushed bison, deer, and moose at watering sites and killed them with stone-tipped spears. The Bison Kill Site along Wilderness Drive in the park gives visitors more history about this period. A few thousand years later, a group of people of the Woodland Period arrived at Lake Itasca. They lived in larger, more permanent settlements and made a variety of stone, wood, and bone tools. Burial mounds from this era can be seen today at the Itasca Indian Cemetery.

In 1832, Anishinabe guide Ozawindib, led explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca. It was on this journey that Schoolcraft, with the help of an educated missionary companion, created the name Itasca from the Latin words for “truth” and “head” by linking adjoining syllables: verITAS CAput, meaning “true head.” In the late 1800s, Jacob V. Brower, historian, anthropologist and land surveyor, came to the park region to settle the dispute of the actual location of the Mississippi Headwaters. Brower saw this region being quickly transformed by logging, and was determined to protect some of the pine forests for future generations. It was Brower’s tireless efforts to save the remaining pine forest surrounding Lake Itasca that led the state legislature to establish Itasca as a Minnesota State Park on April 20, 1891, by a margin of only one vote. Through his conservation work and the continuing efforts of others throughout the decades, the splendor of Itasca had been maintained.

Geology: The landscape region in which the park is located was formed at the leading edge of repeating glacial advances. This northern pine moraine forms ranges of hills containing coarse, gravelly materials and boulders pock-marked with countless lakes, ponds and bogs. This terrain is sometimes referred to as “knob and kettle.” The knobs are mounds of debris deposited directly by the ice near the glacier’s edge or by melt-water streams flowing on or under the glacier surface. The kettles are depressions, usually filled with water, formed by stagnant ice masses buried or partially buried under glacial debris. The retreat of the ice left many lakes of varying size.

Landscape: At Itasca State Park, the mighty Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Established in 1891 to preserve remnant stands of virgin pine and to protect the basin around the Mississippi’s source, this park has become a famous natural and cultural landmark in North America.

Location: Address: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, MN 56470 | Tel: 218-699-7251 | Email: | Itasca State Park Website | Distance from The Lodge on Lake Detroit • 55 miles

Detroit Lakes Parks & Trails

The Detroit Lakes area abounds with beautiful parks, lakes, rivers, hiking & biking trails and more. Detroit Lakes, Becker County, and the surrounding area offers so many recreational and outdoor activities that it is difficult to fit them into one visit. With over 400 lakes within a 25-mile radius, and with beautiful rivers and streams (not to mention the Mississippi Headwaters), many parks and trails have been created to provide public access.

Parks, such as the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, provide cross-country and snow mobiling trails in the winter– and even more trails for hiking and biking during the spring, summer and fall months. You can also enjoy the natural beauty from your car. The Lake Country Scenic Byway is an 88-mile corridor that follows Highways 34 and 71. Along its route, the Byway uniquely spans three different types of geographic terrain.

View Detroit Lakes Parks & Trails Guide

Lakefront Hotels In Detroit Lakes

About The Lodge on Lake Detroit & The Spa Within
Our Detroit Lakes Minnesota lake resort is the perfect setting to relax and enjoy brilliant sunsets and memorable nights on Big Lake Detroit. Nestled in a lovely tree-filled setting on a private 550 foot wide sandy beach, you’ll find the latest hotel style and amenities. The Lodge is independently owned and operated by Holland Hospitality, Inc., now in its third generation of providing excellence in hospitality.

With our modern amenities and thoughtful design, we stand out among other lodging choices in Detroit Lakes, MN. For couples or family getaways, we offer a variety of rooms and suites with king, queen or two queen beds. Our free hot breakfast (currently using Grab & Go Bags while Covid precautions are in place), free local calls, indoor heated pool and fitness center make the hotel a great place to recharge between enjoying Detroit Lakes attractions and activities. View hotel detail.

All rooms feature lakefront views, free Wi-Fi and wired internet, flat-screen TVs with extended channels. Rooms are equipped with mini-frige, microwaves, and coffee makers and are pet and smoke free. View accommodation detail.

Detroit Lakes Day Spa: The Spa Within at The Lodge offers an extensive menu of select spa treatment services, many of which are signature treatments exclusive to this spa. These revitalizing treatments include the use of warm and cold basalt stones for face and body, and a variety of facials and massage therapies that are sure to induce a state of deep relaxation.

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Your Guide to Year-Round Detroit Lakes Recreation & Fun!

With over 400 lakes within a 25-mile radius, Detroit Lakes lives up to its reputation as a great place for year-round outdoor activities. Whether your activity choice is in, on or below the water (or even on land) Detroit Lakes offers a great variety of things to do for your entire family.


There’s a lot going on at The Lodge year round. Be sure to subscribe to our eNews and keep an eye on our Facebook page to keep up with live musical events (Live at The Lodge), Summer Thursdays, Wine Tastings, Murder Mystery Events, Girlfriend Getaways, and so more.

“Perfect spot for Business Meetings with time to Relax, Rejuvenate and Reconnect with your clients. Want a Perfect spot for your next Business Meeting, a Group Meeting and or small conferences with time to Relax, Rejuvenate and Reconnect with your clients. Great hospitality welcomes you to The LODGE on Lake Detroit with friendly customer service, outstanding lodging environment from the comfort of your room to the sounds of the Minnesota Loons on Lake Detroit. A great selection of restaurants and golf courses are just minutes away. Close to the downtown area, great location for fishing, and all seasonal things to do and events for all to enjoy year-around in the Detroit Lakes area.”


“We enjoyed our stay at The Lodge in Detroit Lakes, Mn. The staff was very helpful and very friendly. We stayed in the Resort Room adjoining to the Retreat Room. It was very nice for our family so we could have access to each others room and to have use of a Kitchen. We were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary and our son was participating in the Pine to Palm Tournament. Nice location to golf course & downtown. The rooms were clean and the amenities of having a dock for our boat and use of paddle boat & Kayakes was especially nice. We enjoyed the complementary breakfast; especially the waffles and pancakes.  The Ice water cooler was very refreshing. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at The Lodge & will be back on any future trips to the Detroit Lakes area.”


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