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Minnesota Destinations: Itasca State Park

Travel Destination: Itasca State Park

Looking for a great little getaway that's still close to home? Pack up the family, grab your hiking gear, and point your vehicle toward Park Rapids.

Park Rapids is the undisputed Gateway to Itasca State Park and the south entrance is a 19-mile drive from Park Rapids north on Highway 71. The east entrance is only a couple miles farther north of the south entrance, and then another mile or so west on Hwy 200 - you'll find it easily at the junction of Highway 71 and Hwy 200.

On the drive north from Park Rapids on Highway 71 visitors can find several quaint shops and recreation areas to stop at along the way. Also, some fabulous restaurants are located just off of Highway 71 that are sure to satisfy any appetite.

Itasca State Park encompasses Lake Itasca, the official source of the Mississippi River, and a scenic area of northern Minnesota that has remained relatively unchanged from its natural state.

Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota's oldest state park. Today, the park totals more than 32,000 acres and includes more than 100 lakes. Stand under towering pines at Preacher's Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann's Cabin, landmarks of centuries gone by. Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota's seven National Natural Landmarks.

But the main attraction will continue to be walking across the headwaters of the Mississippi River on stones at the mouth of Lake Itasca. But there are plenty of other activities to do at the park. Other outdoor activities include taking an excursion boat on Lake Itasca, exploring along Wilderness Drive, biking or hiking along more that 30 miles of designated trails, fishing in one of the many lakes, observing the wild flowers in season as well as birding. Like the entire Park Rapids area, wildlife can be seen throughout the park.

For more information about the park events and schedules, call Itasca State Park headquarters at 218-699-7251 or go to

Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center

The Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center affords a "river of stories" for guests. The visitor center is named after the brave young park commissioner, Mary Gibbs.

The "Rivers of the World" sculpture is the focal point, interpretive signs identify the earth's waterways and the Centennial Plaque, Time Capsule and International Peace Pole also engage visitors.

Outdoor exhibits in a portico allow the center to be open 365 days a year and as visitors enter the portico, they are greeted by quotes from the park's premier explorers - Ozawindib, Henry Schoolcraft, Jacob V. Brower and Jean Nicollet.

Visitors get acquainted with the Headwaters' natural history and gain an understanding of the area's attraction for thousands of years. The changes in transportation are documented through the eras - from Native American travel and trade, to US settlement and expansion to logging.

Along the trail to the Headwaters, kiosks draw guests to learn the river's story with a natural history angle. Park visitors become attuned to its aquatic species, birds, animals, exotic species and plants.

Douglas Lodge

One historic landmark that has welcomed visitors to the park since the beginning of the 20th century is Douglas Lodge. The lodge, a two-story pine log building at the south end of Lake Itasca, has been serving guests since 1905. Few changes have been made to the original lodge, which was built with green, newly cut pine logs harvested in the park.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center

The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center - the largest visitor center in any of Minnesota's state parks - starts its fifth year of service in May. The 13,000-square-foot facility has exhibits on the Ojibwe, explorer and pioneer history of the area around Itasca. Land surveyor Jacob Brower lobbied hard to designate this area as a state park in 1891 to protect the pines from logging.

For more great ideas on vacations and daytrips in Minnesota, see our entire magazine at