Plan Your Getaway to Beautiful Itasca State Park!

Photos by Deb Rose/Minnesota Department of Natural Resoures
Photos by Deb Rose/Minnesota Department of Natural Resoures

As the days start to finally cool off, you might find yourself searching for the perfect way to enjoy the crisp temperatures and beautiful outdoors! Look no further than the majestic Itasca State Park, and all the natural beauties it has to offer! 

Connie Cox (she/her), the Lead Interpretive Naturalist at Itasca State Park explains, “Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park and is known for having the beginnings, or headwaters, of the mighty Mississippi River. Here visitors can see the beautiful Lake Itasca and walk across the infant Mississippi River as it leaves the north end of Lake Itasca on the river’s 2552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.” She adds that, importantly, “The area around Lake Itasca is the traditional home to the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples.” Lake Itasca and the headwaters of the Mississippi draw visitors from all over the world to Itasca State Park, but as Cox includes, “visitors have commented on for over 100 years, ‘We came for the river, we return for the pines.’ Itasca is known for its vast pine forests interspersed with over 100 lakes!” Expansive forests and lakes provide the perfect escape into nature for everyone looking to enjoy the crisp Autumn air. Cox describes the scene perfectly: “Autumn is a popular time to enjoy touring Itasca. The colorful sights as the green fades from the leaves, revealing the leaf’s hidden colors of red, orange, or yellow, and breathing in the earthy aromas are things visitors like to capture and remember, whether in photos or just experiencing the moment on a trail. The dry smell of pine resin fills the air, mixed with the crisp and slightly sharp or ‘earthy’ smell of leaves and plants dying and moldering. Add the pleasant smell of your campfire smoke and you have the ingredients for a great day outdoors as the seasons change to fall.”

Itasca State Park is full of fun things to do. In addition to enjoying the natural beauty of the area, the park boasts nearly fifty miles of hiking trails, all at different difficulty levels. Cox says, “[hiking] trails range from gentle slopes that are a third of a mile in length and adjacent to park buildings and visitor centers to more rolling and primitive trails over nine miles in length along the section of the National North Country Trail as is crosses through the southern section of the park.” Cox also notes that paper maps are available to those looking to explore the area, as well as downloadable PDFs of the maps, which do not require internet to use. Spending a day (or more!) hiking through the forests definitely will not disappoint. Cox says, “Shaped by glaciers over 10,000 years ago, the rolling landscape conceals over 100 lakes within the pine, spruce, birch, oak and maple forests. The trails can be hilly and rolling but the views are worth it.” Many visitors comment on the beauty of the pine trees, some of which are estimated to be around 300 years old.

Itasca State Park is also known for its gorgeous and numerous lakes. Cox reports that there are over 100 lakes, with “Lake Itasca, Ozawindib, Elk and Mary Lake [being] the larger lakes with easy drive-to or walk-to access.” Cox also mentions the many water-related activities you can participate in at the lakes: “Enjoy water recreation such as fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or canoeing on these lakes. Both Lake Itasca and Lake Ozawindib have fishing piers, perfect for those people who prefer fishing with their feet ‘on the ground.’ Or simply find a bench, sit back and enjoy the view. The sunsets are often lovely. Although Autumn can be chilly, Lake Itasca has a well-developed swim beach that is a popular spot in the summer. A larger playground adjacent to the swim beach is perfect for young families enjoying the lake.” Want to have a more secluded lake experience? Hiking many of the trails, you’ll find breathtaking lakes in the wilderness, abundant with wildlife. Cox says, “Wildlife abounds around the water, including seeing the playful otter, hearing the startling “whack” of a beaver slapping on the lake surface, hearing the loons’ haunting wail or enjoying the free spirit of the bald eagle soaring overhead.”

Camping is another can’t-miss experience at Itasca State Park. Cox says, “Itasca has been a camping tradition for families for many generations. With over 220 drive-in sites in two campgrounds, there are sites ideal for the tent camper as well as the glamper with electric and water hook-ups for their campers (160 electric sites). For those wanting to have the ‘feeling’ of remote camping, try one of the 11 cart-in sites in Bear Paw Campground. They offer the perfect tenting experience with the convenience of modern restrooms/shower buildings.” Any and all of your exploring needs and desires can be met at Itasca, and the fall is the perfect time to set up camp. If glamping and drive-in camping isn’t your exact cup of tea, there are many different levels of camping experiences. Cox says that “The truly adventurous campers like to reserve the backpack sites on the north side of Hernando DeSoto Lake, accessing these campsites via canoe.” The perfect camping fit is available for you!

Non-camping lodging is also available in Itasca. Cox says, “From single guest rooms to larger group lodging with kitchens, stay the night in one of 65 individual lodging options throughout the park, many [of which] were constructed in the 1930s by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).” For more information on lodging, log onto the Minnesota DNR website or call toll free at 866-857-2757. Call center hours are listed at the end of this article!

The best part about Itasca State Park is that everyone is welcome here. Whether you’re looking for an intense hiking and camping experience, or a serene walk through nature and dinner at a delicious local restaurant—or anything in between—Itasca State Park is the place for you. Cox also says, “The Minnesota DNR is opening the outdoors to people with disabilities by working hard to update its public spaces and programs. This summer Itasca State Park acquired an All-Terrain Track Chair to help visitors explore areas of the state park that are not suitable for regular wheelchairs. To learn more or to reserve the track chair, [click on the link below]!”

Don’t miss out on the beauty of nature this fall. Enjoy the great outdoors at Itasca State Park!

Call Center Hours
October 1 through March 31: 
8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday – Friday and 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

April 1 through September 30: 
8 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily.

Closed on holidays.

Minnesota DNR Lodging Reservations:

Track Chairs:

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