Itasca State Park
Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park. It is home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Visitors to the park can walk across the mighty river as it starts its journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
This famous state park has a rich history. Some 8,000 years ago, Indian hunters pursued wild animals for food in the Itasca State Park region. They ambushed and killed bison, deer, and moose at watering sites. 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 stone, wood, and bone tools. Burial mounds from this era can be seen today at the Itasca Indian Cemetery.
In 1832, an Anishinabe guide led explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca. It was on this journey that Schoolcraft and a missionary created the name Itasca. The Latin words for “truth” and “head” were joined by linking syllables: verITAS CAput, meaning “true head.”
In the late 1800s, Jacob Brower, a 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. He was determined to protect some of the pine forests for future generations.
Brower worked tirelessly to protect the pine forest surrounding Lake Itasca. His efforts led the state legislature to establish Itasca as a Minnesota State Park on April 20, 1891, by a margin of only one vote.
Through this conservation work and the continuing efforts of others throughout the decades, the splendor of Itasca has been maintained. Awesome stands of virgin pines are found throughout the park. In fact, the park has some of the biggest red pines and white pines in the state.
Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes. The diversity of vegetation in the park supports many wildlife species. Some birds you can expect to see include loons, herons, ducks, owls, warblers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, and sometimes some bald eagles.
Trails in the park are shared with deer, chipmunks, and squirrels. Beaver, porcupines, black bears, and wolves also live in the park. Wilderness Drive winds past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota’s seven National Natural Landmarks.
Itasca State Park is open year-round. The entrance to the park is twenty-one miles north of Park Rapids on U.S. Highway 71. From Bemidji the park is thirty miles south on U.S. Highway 71.