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Itasca State Park - Family Camping

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

If you can only visit one Minnesota State Park, get to Itasca State Park.

Husband disagrees, as there are sixty-eight State Parks and recreation areas to enjoy and all of them have something worth seeing. Wishing you could see them all? Read about the Minnesota State Parks and Trails Hiking Club and how my family is making our way through the state to do just that!

Back to Itasca, I say this because Itasca State Park is exceptionally well-manicured and contains all of the features a person might like to enjoy. There's a beach, camping, bike trails, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, a nature drive, old growth, fishing, and a sweet little ice cream cafe.

The must-see feature of the park is the Mississippi Headwaters, where the Mississippi River begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

If you visit, I urge you to visit the headwaters early in the morning to avoid the crowds. We ventured to the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Visitor's Center at 6:00 A.M. From there, it's a short walk to a gorgeous view. There was a gentle breeze and spiritual essence as we got to the water. Once we took a few photos and enjoyed the stillness and history of the area, we walked the waterway back to the stairs leading out of the water and up to the path. It was a moving and memorable experience that I'm grateful I shared with my family, especially my little girls, who had a beautiful adventure exploring such a special place in Minnesota.

What to Know Before You Go!

  • If you're camping, take care to store your food properly. There were bears near our campsite when we visited. This was because a family left out hotdog buns overnight. The bears were small and young, and nobody was injured, but it's best to avoid any contact.

  • The mosquitos have been extreme for the past few years. I recommend investing in a $5 mosquito net facemask, and some good bug spray, or wearing layers. My children could not handle the onslaught, and we were only able to walk .5 miles at a time. Bugs are much less intense in early June and September/October.

  • There is an incredible view from the retired fire tower. Prepare to climb 100' for a spectacular experience. Best views at sunrise and sunset.

  • Have your camera ready! There are endless opportunities for amazing photographs!

  • Bring water shoes for the rocky swim area.

  • Prepare for an early dinner if you plan to visit Douglas Lodge Restaurant at the park. Due to seasonal changes and staffing shortages, the Lodge has reduced hours at certain times. I believe it was only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. when we visited. Luckily, we found Lobo's Bar & Grill nearby with amazing wings!

My Favorite Things

The Nature Drive is a lovely loop drive that takes you around a few landmarks including the former largest tree in Minnesota, the Headwaters, and a number of lakes and trails. We enjoyed this loop a half dozen times during our stay.

We camped at Bear Paw Campground, and I recommend sites 1-10, 9 being my favorite. In Bear Paw, near where the campground begins, there is a tucked-away unmarked trail that takes you down to a hidden and beautiful private beach, pictured above.

The bike trail was wonderful. Long and winding, I strolled for miles with my youngest napping in her stroller. It was a glorious way to spend a few hours of my day.

Finally, the memories. Many of the state parks have notable features, but they all blend together in my memory. Itasca stands out. The headwaters are an incredible, historic landmark in my home state, and I'll never forget the magic my family experienced there together.

Visit the Itasca State Park website to plan your visit today!

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