My Adventures at Minnesota's State Parks
Itasca
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Location: Lake George, MN. Appx 30 mi SW of Bemidji or 25 mi N of Park Rapids

Lodging: drive-in campgrounds, walk-in sites, cabins, motel, lodge, hostel, group camps

Activities: hiking, biking, swimming, playgrounds, boating, canoeing

Lake/River: Lake Itasca, Mississippi River, many many small lakes

Special Attractions: Mississippi headwaters, Lake Itasca boat tours, Aiton Heights fire tower

Itasca DNR

My brother & I many years ago...

Okay...I've been to Itasca so many times it's hard to say I don't live there. This is the Hilton of state parks and is VERY busy during the summer. That being said, I've driven up there during the week without a reservation and have gotten a campsite (can't speak for electric site availability since I don't need that). I always camp in the Poplar Loop since those are the most secluded. If you're thinking the walk-in sites in the Bear Paw Campground might be private...think again. They are basically just hanging out on the edge of the campground up on a hill. Raccoons and skunks are a problem so remember to put all food and trash in an animal-proof area. Each walk-in site has a food locker.

I've gone on many of the trails here and would recommend the Brower Lake, Nicollet, Deer Park (though it gets a bit tiresome by the end), Schoolcraft & Mary Lake Trails. The Brower Trail can continue onto the bike trail all the way to the headwaters.

The highlights of the park are the Aiton Heights firetower, Peace Pipe Vista, Preachers Grove, Headwaters and Wilderness Drive. I've biked the Wilderness loop and it went pretty quickly considering how out of shape I was. I'll admit to walking the bike at times up some of the hills. The headwaters are always busy. If you're looking to get a pic of them without any people...arrive early in the morning. I've tried to get a summer pic and there's always been someone there loitering till the sun goes down. If only they'd implement some sort of thing where they'd clear the area for five minutes every hour so people could get a photo without the hoards of tourists in it. The Wilderness Drive also shares the road with bikers so this may be a slow drive due to the narrow road making it difficult to pass them. This has more of an issue obviously on weekends. I would recommend bringing water shoes if going swimming in the lake as the bottom is rocky. Lady Slippers are mostly found down by the docks near the Douglas Lodge. Please remember not to pick them or any other wildflower.

This park is a must see for all Minnesotans and for anyone wanting to see one of the prettiest areas in the state.

Click here to view photos of all 11 backpack sites

Headwaters in fall

Mississippi Headwaters in fall

Stairs to Peacepipe Vista

Preachers Grove

Driving through the park

Vista in Spring

Summer Vista

Winter Vista

View from the fire tower

Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake

Marshy lake area

I think this was across from Elk Lake

Nicollet Cabin.  Nice seating here!

One of the many lakes along the Nicollet Trail. 

Visited here in fall of 2011.  The colors were very nice all over the park.

Headwaters Hell.  This is why I avoid this area like the plague. 

In contrast...if you get to the headwaters at 7 in the morning, you've got the place to yourself!