Mississippi Headwaters

Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Friday, July 3rd, 2015
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 26th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★☆(4/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.5 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain Mostly flat
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible Yes


Hike Summary

Itasca State Park is Minnesota's first state park and the second oldest state park in the United States behind Niagara Falls State Park. With approximately 500,000 visitors annually (a similar attendance to Redwood National Park in Northern California), it is an understatement to say that this is a popular destination (on a crowded day you might spend more time waiting to have your picture taken than actually hiking to the headwaters). Despite the crowds, this is a worthwhile experience for anyone exploring Minnesota or the Midwest -- where else can you hop a few rocks and say you've crossed the Mississippi River?

This trail is short, paved, and accessible, so anyone can enjoy this hike. Dogs are allowed on leash, but consider another hike if your dog does not handle large crowds well.

Starting from the visitor center, follow the paved trail in either direction until you arrive at the headwaters. Take a picture with the sign (like me below) and look across the beautiful Lake Itasca. Your photos will probably look better than mine; there was a large wildfire in Canada and smoke blew south creating the haze you see in my pictures.

Lake Itasca in a smokey haze from Canadian wildfires

Lake Itasca in a smokey haze from Canadian wildfires
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Me posing with the sign at the start of the Mississippi River

Me posing with the sign at the start of the Mississippi River
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When you're done, return by taking the other half of the loop trail back to the visitor center. This hike will take you no time at all, so be sure to check out the rest this large state park has to offer, such as the Aiton Heights Fire Tower!


Itasca State Park is approximately 4 hours from the Twin Cities. Head west on Interstate 94 towards St. Cloud. In Monticello, take the exit for Minnesota Highway 25, then turn left onto Park Blvd. Turn left onto U.S. Highway 10 and continue on this highway for about 2.5 hours until you reach Verndale. Turn right onto County Road 23. After 15 miles, turn left onto Minnesota Highway 27, then take a quick right onto Hubbard Road/County Road 6. Turn left on Minnesota Highway 87, then turn right on U.S. Highway 71. Continue on this highway for about half an hour, then turn left on Minnesota Highway 200, then left again onto County Road 48, following signs for Itasca State Park. When the road ends at a T intersection, turn right onto Park Rd. Pay the vehicle entrance fee at the visitor center on the right, then continue heading north on Park Rd following signs for the Mississippi Headwaters. There will be a large parking lot and building on the left after the road curves and heads to the south.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). The large paved lot is adjacent to the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center with bathrooms, information, exhibits about the park, and even WiFi.

Nearby Hikes

The smoky wilderness of Itasca State Park from the top of the fire tower
Aiton Heights Fire Tower
Itasca State Park, Minnesota
The lake view at the end of the bog walk
Bog Walk Hiking Club Trail
Lake Bemidji State Park, Minnesota
You can see evidence of logging on this trail
Old Logging Trail
Lake Bemidji State Park, Minnesota
Looking across Lake Erin in fall
Lake Erin Loop
Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota

External Links