ITASCA STATE PARK,
If you love the outdoors, Minnesota’s spectacular parks may be your version of paradise. The state is home to America’s second-oldest state park system, the only lake-based national park and the nation’s premier canoe wilderness.
Then there are the almost 5 million acres of magnificent national forests with
extensive campgrounds and recreational lands, and the extraordinary regional
parks in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul—ranked first and second,
respectively, by The Trust for Public Land for best city parks in the nation.
Minnesota’s 67 state parks ( 75 if you add recreation areas) cover more
than 200,000 acres spanning every corner of the state and the full diversity
of Minnesota’s natural environment. Most are on lakes or rivers with
opportunities for boating, canoeing, fishing and swimming; with hundreds
of miles of hiking trails through forests, bogs and grasslands; and along
riverbanks and lakeshores. In winter, state parks have some of the finest trails
for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and a fair number have heated
cabins, camper cabins and yurts for simple but comfortable winter lodging—
not to mention winter camping for the hardiest souls.
No license is required for fishing in state parks (except for a small percentage
of waters requiring a trout stamp), as long as the angler has a vehicle permit to
enter the park. One-day vehicle permits are $7, or you can pay $35 for a year of
Camping facilities are as numerous as they are diverse. Most are semi-modern,
with showers and indoor toilets. Some have simple tent sites, and others provide
water and electric hookups for recreational vehicles. For those who prefer a more
secluded camping experience, many parks offer primitive and hike-in sites.
Itasca State Park, home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, was
established in 1891, launching what is now the second-oldest state park system in
the nation. Itasca’s 32,800 acres make it the second-largest in the state, just after
St. Croix State Park. The headwaters are a top attraction, marked by a signpost
where generations of visitors have walked across the Mississippi with their
children, and their children’s children.
In addition to more than 200 individual campsites and several large group
camps, Itasca is home to Douglas Lodge, the only full-service lodge and
restaurant in a Minnesota state park. Built in 1905, the historic log building
features a spacious lobby and stone fireplace, as well as accommodations in
suites and cabins in the lodge building and nearby.
Docked near the lodge, the Chester Charles II excursion boat takes visitors
on a two-hour, 10-mile narrated history and wildlife tour of Lake Itasca. Guides
share stories of the discovery of the headwaters in 1832, as well as Native