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.
- 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org | 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