Sam and I have explored quite a few state parks in Minnesota and if you were to ask me which one my favorite is, I would say without hesitation, that it’s Itasca State Park. My first visit was the summer before I turned 16 and I fell in love! I honestly didn’t know that this was the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. So, I was pleasantly surprised at the discovery and was excited to wade across the water. It’s not just the fact that it’s where America’s largest river starts, but also has museums, cute little shops and restaurants, a great lake to swim in, kayak, or canoe and a quiet place to camp with your family. The park is so big that it’s impossible to see everything in one day.
Sam would periodically ask me where I wanted to go for our next adventure, and I almost always answered with Itasca State Park. He didn’t understand at the time how great it is, but from where we live, it’s about a 3 hour drive one way so it’s not like we can just hop in the car and expect to be there and back at a decent time. Due to time and distance, we continued to put it off until the weekend before Memorial Day. In some ways, this worked in our favor because we didn’t have to deal with large crowds, traffic was minimal, and we could explore whatever we wanted without a lot of people. At times, it felt like we had the place to ourselves because it wasn’t officially tourist season yet.
The downside of this was that all the little shops and restaurants were closed for the season. We could tell they were cleaning the place up to get it ready, but we sadly missed it by a week. While exploring around, we also discovered the park has a dinner cruise that was obviously closed until Memorial Day. However, we do intend on going back in the summer when we have more time.
Upon arriving to the visitor center to pay for our day pass, the lady at the counter told us about all the things available to see. One of which is the Fire Tower, which is a 500-foot climb. Sam is the thrill seeker in the relationship and was beyond excited when she told us about it. If you’re anything like me and dread heights, you understand how terrifying the thought of climbing 500 feet is. But I had a feeling I was about to get over my fear of heights, whether I was ready or not.
The distance from the parking lot to the tower is about a ¼ of a mile but it seemed much longer because I knew what was at the end of that trail. Approaching the tower, I told Sam, I’ll go as far as I can, but he really wanted me to achieve my goal. Along the way up, my fear of heights paralyzed me, and it didn’t help that the higher we got the narrower it became. People were coming and going, which created more anxiety, but Sam was very patient and was honestly the reason why I took just one more step until I reached the top. At some points I closed my eyes as he guided me up the stairs. I’m not gonna lie, I was shaking like a leaf! After experiencing that with Sam by my side, it was all worth it. The view was incredible. I honestly couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, who knew I was capable of climbing to the top when I didn’t believe in myself. Sometimes husbands know best!
As we drove around the park, we took a short stop to view Preacher’s Cove. There’s really not a whole lot going on here and in reality, would probably take a person about 15 minutes to experience but is a nice location for a picnic to enjoy the scenery. It is right on the lake and you are in the midst of tall pine trees. If you catch it on a good day, the stunning glimmer of the sun reflecting on the water beyond the trees is inviting. You can’t help but stop and take a look. Along the path laid before you is covered with pine needles and pine cones. You hear nothing but the birds chirping and the occasional car passing by. The smell of it is just breathtaking. It’s truly picturesque and I bet it would be just as stunning on a foggy day.
We tried to fit in as much as we possibly could in one day but we had to be choosy. We enjoyed driving around, checking out the scenery, and reading the plaques they had displayed. We wished we had brought our bikes along as there were bike trails as well. The bike trail is very nicely paved and allows you to utilize it almost throughout the whole park. We originally wanted to ride the tandem bike but found out it was too expensive to even justify. It was fun giving it a test drive around the parking lot though! If you’ve never ridden a tandem bike before, you are definitely working together as a team. If you are in the back seat, you can’t see anything, so you’re completely trusting your partner. We decided against the tandem bike because we could not justify the cost of renting it so we got a couple of bikes instead.
From there we rode our bikes to the Headwaters of the Mississippi. Sam was brave enough to wade in the cold water but I, however, walked across the foot bridge. The air was too cold for me to get my feet wet. It was fun experiencing this park with my husband and hearing him say that he wanted to go back. You may wonder what else there is to do there. There are so many hiking trails, it’s unbelievable, and the park is open all year long. There are cabins if you decide to stay during the winter season and they keep their trails groomed for cross country skiing as well as snowshoeing. Of course, we plan to visit in the winter to see how the trails then.
Tell me what your favorite state park is and why, we would love to explore it sometime.