(Last Updated On: March 6, 2023)

River at Itasca State Park on a clear day

Minnesota is blessed with several wonderful state parks and Itasca State Park ranks as one of the best of them.

Home of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, where the river begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, the park covers over 32,000 spectacular acres, just 30 minutes north of Park Rapids.

Visitors can explore its extensive network of trails. One of which takes you direct to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, where you can walk across the river on a series of footbridges.

They can also enjoy opportunities for boating and fishing on its numerous lakes and rivers.

In addition to its recreational opportunities, Itasca State Park also has a rich cultural history, containing notable historical sites like the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.

Mainly, however, it is a place to rest and relax and become at one with nature. For those who want to do this, it also has an excellent campground in which you can stay.


Visitors to Itasca State Park can engage in a range of outdoor recreational pursuits.

Outlined below is a selection of some of the main activities you can do while you are there.

Boating at Itasca State Park

If you enjoy boating, the park offers plenty of opportunities to get out onto its several lakes. This includes Lake Itasca, which is the source of the Mississippi River.
Visitors can bring their own vessels or can rent boats, canoes, and kayaks from the park’s concession stands.

There are specific rules and regulations for boating at Itasca State Park that need to be adhered to. This includes regulations related to boat size, speed, and the use of life jackets.

Before heading onto the water, guests should familiarize themselves with these regulations and should follow them at all times to ensure a safe and enjoyable boating experience.

official start of Mississippi River at Itasca State Park

Swimming at Itasca State Park

Swimming is not a recommended activity at Itasca State Park due to the presence of many hazards, including steep drop-offs, underwater debris, and strong currents.

Subsequently, there are no designated swim beaches or areas in the park.

Fishing at Itasca State Park

Fishing is a popular activity at Itasca State Park, enjoyed by many anglers who visit the park from within Minnesota and the surrounding states.

The park offers fishing opportunities on several of its lakes, including Lake Itasca, allowing visitors to catch a variety of fish species, including northern pike, walleye, sunfish, and bass.

Fishing is allowed on boats and from the shore, but there are specific rules and regulations for fishing in the park, including restrictions on the size and number of fish that can be caught.

You will also need a valid Minnesota fishing license before you can cast a line in any of its waters.

If you didn’t bring your rods and reels with you to the park, you can hire fishing equipment whilst you are there.

Hiking at Itasca State Park

For those who want to explore the park further, there are several hiking trails within it. Ranging from easy walks to strenuous backcountry treks, visitors can enjoy scenic views of the park’s forests, lakes, and wetlands.

Some popular hiking trails in the park include the Headwaters Trail, which leads to the source of the Mississippi River, the Douglas Lodge Trail, and the Cedar Bog Boardwalk Trail, which takes visitors through a pristine cedar swamp.

welcome sign at Itasca State Park

Visitors should be prepared for their hikes, including wearing appropriate footwear and clothing, bringing plenty of water and snacks, and using insect repellent during the summer months.

It is also important to follow all park rules and guidelines about trail use – including those related to trail marking and trail maintenance – to help protect the park’s delicate ecosystem and preserve its natural beauty.

Birding at Itasca State Park

As the park is home to a diverse range of bird species, you will want to bring your binoculars with you if you are into birding.

The park’s diverse habitats, such as forests, lakes, and wetlands, provide ideal conditions for a range of permanent and migratory bird species to thrive. This includes the likes of Bald Eagle, Common Loon, Northern Harrier, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, and the Woodpecker who all reside there.

Some popular birding spots at the park are its campgrounds, picnic areas, and the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.


Pets are welcome at Itasca State Park, but they must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet and under control at all times.

They are also not allowed on park trails or in park buildings, including rental cabins. Visitors are responsible for cleaning up after their pets and dispose of pet waste properly.

If you are considering bringing your four-legged friend with you, it is worth contacting the main office for a full overview of the park’s pet policy.


For those who want to stay overnight, the park offers a variety of camping options, including drive-in campsites, backpack campsites, and rental cabins.

The drive-in campsites offer electric and non-electric options and some also have showers and flush toilets available. The backpack campsites offer a more primitive camping experience and are accessible only by hiking.

Reservations are recommended for camping at Itasca State Park, especially during peak season. Visitors should bring their own camping gear, including a tent or recreational vehicle, and should follow all park rules and guidelines.

In particular, they should be mindful of the regulations related to campfire building, food storage, and waste disposal. This will help protect the park’s delicate ecosystem and preserve its natural beauty.

Park Location

Itasca State Park
36750 Main Park Drive
Park Rapids, MN 56470
Phone: 218.699.7251

Park Website



Here is a short YouTube video showcasing several attractions at Itasca State Park: