Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park. The park is located about 20 miles north of Park Rapids and within its boundaries is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
The park totals more than 32,000 acres. A day trip to Itasca is a journey you won’t regret. If you want to come the evening before your full day of activities, and you are on a tight budget, try pitching a tent and, for a very reasonable price, stay in one of the campgrounds close to Lake Itasca. Cabins are available for rent.
Either way, be sure to make a reservation in advance. Reserve by phone: 1-866-85PARKS (1-866-857-2757) 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Here is a schedule of activities to make your one-day stay at Itasca State Park most memorable.
9 a.m. — Stop for breakfast at the Douglas Park Lodge that dates back to 1904. Inside the restaurant, diners can look out at the beautiful pine trees and Lake Itsaca. After breakfast, have a second cup of coffee in order to savor your surroundings in this beautiful, old lodge.
10 a.m. — A minute’s walk from Douglas Lodge are the steps that will take you down to Lake Itasca. Take the short trail, only a 5 to 10-minute walk, and visit the Roberts log cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.
A trail guide for the Dr. Roberts Trail is available if you want to take an extended hike, for about a half hour to 45 minutes.
11 a.m. – Younger people will head for a half-hour hike to the old fire tower, where people from all over the United States climb to the top to see a spectacular view of Itasca State Park. Those in the party who would rather relax can stay in Douglas Lodge near the fireplace, reading a book or sipping on a cup of coffee.
Noon — Order a bag lunch from the Douglas Lodge restaurant, or make one of your own (convenience store located on north side of the park) and head to one of the picnic grounds at Itasca State Park. Enjoy your lunch as you sit among the pines and birches.
1 p.m. — Go to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Here, the river begins its 2,300-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Each summer thousands of people, June through August, cross the river atop rocks, at its source. Others wade knee-deep in the tiny river that later becomes a giant before reaching New Orleans.
2 p.m. — Take a swim or relax at the swimming beach. Whichever you choose, the amazing thing, as you look across Lake Itasca, is that you see nothing made-made. The shoreline across the lake is just like it was a century ago.
3. p.m. — Take in canoeing, pontoon rides or bike riding. Rentals (from the same location) are available, at reasonable costs. Two people can canoe in about 15 minutes to the headwaters, or take a different route and stop at Schoolcraft Island. Biking trails have been enhanced and provide lots of enjoyment for families.
4 p.m. — Preacher’s Grove is a good place to stop and relax. Stand under the towering red pines and take a short walk. Shade from the large pines provides a cool place even when temperatures reach the 80s, 90s or higher.
5 p.m. –Stop at the gift shop (Forest Inn) near Douglas Lodge and take a close look at souvenirs and some free, educational exhibits about Itasca State Park. Take some last-minute photos before departing for home.
Cherish the final minutes, and take along home some lasting memories of your visit to Itasca State Park.
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