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. Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. 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.
496,651 annual visits
Naturalist programs are available year-round.
The diversity of vegetation in the park supports many wildlife species. Birding is excellent and visitors are encouraged to help spot and record the bird life they see in the park. Some birds you can expect to see include loons, grebes, cormorants, herons, ducks, owls, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, kinglets, vireos, tanagers, finches, and warblers. Trails in the park are shared with deer, chipmunks, and squirrels. Beaver, porcupine, black bears, and wolves also reside in the park.
Some 8,000 years ago, Indian hunters pursued wild animals for food in the Itasca State Park region. These early people ambushed bison, deer, and moose at watering sites and killed them with stone-tipped spears. 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 a variety of stone, wood, and bone tools. Burial mounds from this era can be seen today at the Itasca Indian Cemetery.
In 1832, Anishinabe guide Ozawindib, led explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca. It was on this journey that Schoolcraft, with the help of an educated missionary companion, created the name Itasca from the Latin words for “truth” and “head” by linking adjoining syllables: verITAS CAput, meaning “true head.”
In the late 1800s, Jacob V. Brower, historian, anthropologist and 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, and was determined to protect some of the pine forests for future generations. It was Brower’s tireless efforts to save the remaining pine forest surrounding Lake Itasca that led the state legislature to establish Itasca as a Minnesota State Park on April 20, 1891, by a margin of only one vote. Through his conservation work and the continuing efforts of others throughout the decades, the splendor of Itasca had been maintained.
The landscape region in which the park is located was formed at the leading edge of repeating glacial advances. This northern pine moraine forms ranges of hills containing coarse, gravelly materials and boulders pock-marked with countless lakes, ponds and bogs. This terrain is sometimes referred to as “knob and kettle.” The knobs are mounds of debris deposited directly by the ice near the glacier’s edge or by melt-water streams flowing on or under the glacier surface. The kettles are depressions, usually filled with water, formed by stagnant ice masses buried or partially buried under glacial debris. The retreat of the ice left many lakes of varying size.
At Itasca State Park, the mighty Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Established in 1891 to preserve remnant stands of virgin pine and to protect the basin around the Mississippi’s source, this park has become a famous natural and cultural landmark in North America.