Established in 1891 as an effort to preserve the headwaters of the Mississippi River and its surrounding woodland, Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park. Located 100 miles north of Alexandria, and covering an area of more than 32,000 acres, this mixed woodland is dotted with more than 100 lakes, in what is known as “knob and kettle” terrain, formed by glacial deposits and depressions. Within the park, Lake Itasca has a long history of Native American occupation, with many artifacts and burial mounds having been discovered in the area. Today, Itasca State Park gives visitors an opportunity to learn about much of this natural and cultural history, as well as enjoy an abundance of outdoor recreation, including camping, hiking, fishing, boating and more.
Itasca State Park offers two campgrounds with more than 220 sites: Bear Paw and Pine Ridge. Both are located in the northeast section of the park, on the east side of Lake Itasca. These locations can accommodate RVs up to 60 feet, and most sites have electrical hookups. There is a limited number of ADA accessible sites in both campgrounds, and Bear Paw has 11 cart-in campsites. Amenities in the campgrounds include drinking water, vault and flush restrooms, showers, and recycling stations; a dump station is available at the entrance to Bear Paw. If you want to get away from the crowds to enjoy the wild side of the park, there are several backpacking camp areas on some of the smaller lakes. Services within the park include a visitor center, interpretive exhibits, boat and bike rentals, gift shop, groceries and a restaurant. Campsite rates range from $15–$31/night.
There is no shortage of outdoor fun to be had in the park. Start with a boat tour on Lake Itasca to the headwaters of the Mississippi, on the same route used by Henry Schoolcraft in 1832. There are also seasonal interpretive programs and naturalist tours that highlight the diverse flora, fauna and geology within the park, as well as ample wildlife watching opportunities. If you’re up for some hiking or biking, you’ll find nearly 50 miles of hiking trails, 16 miles of paved bike paths, and a few barrier-free paths to satisfy your wandering whim. A portion of the North Country Trail runs right through the park. There are fishing piers at Lake Itasca and Ozawindib, a swimming beach at Lake Itasca, and boating is permitted at several of the larger lakes. Additional points of interest include the Pioneer Cemetery and Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.
We started the 2019 camping season early and spent the first weekend in May exploring Itasca State Park. We parked at the trailhead near Lake Josephine and took the Red Pine Trail about three miles to our site. We were happy to find BP5 as quiet and secluded as it appeared on the map, and not nearly as close to other sites as some of the other remote options.
The best part about the site is easily the stunning view of Mckay Lake, where we saw a beautiful sunset and sunrise. We also appreciated the bench, vault toilet, and rope left to hang our bear bag. The clearing fit our two tents easily. Overall, a great site if you're craving some distance from the grind for a while.
Campground is not private. Shower houses close by. We had raccoon visitors both nights. Took advantage of the bike trail as a means of travel. Lots of opportunity for foraging.
Visited Itasca State Park in July 2016. It was an awesome trip, despite our 3yo getting sick and having to go to Park Rapids for Urgent Care.
We camped with three other families at Pine Ridge Campground and had sites next to one another. It was awesome to be just a path away from our friends. There were eight adults and nine kids age 1.5-6 and there was so much to do, despite the young age of the kids. We hiked to the Fire Tower, with several of the group making the climb to the top. The park was a lovely setting for afternoon drives to catch a nap. The beach was crowded, but a lot of fun. We attempted fishing for the first time and played at the playgrounds. One of our favorite activities was visiting the Headwaters of the Mississippi and walking across the "river" on the rocks.
Sites were nice and large, as two of our four had the REI Kingdom 8 tent. Our site had a large screened canopy.
We haven't been back yet, but it's definitely on the list of campsites we would revisit. Just trying to get to all the MN State Parks first!
I camped at one of the remote camp spots and a few friends camped at the cart in spots so I got to experience both areas. I personally enjoyed the remote camp spots more because it felt more like real camping. Though, the cart in spots had enough space to separate you from your neighbors.
I did enjoy the cart in spot because it was a short walk to my car that I had my kayak on. Lake Itasca and the surrounding smaller lakes (remote in spot) were beautiful and a perfect getaway. I look forward to camping here again in the future!
BP7 on Myrtle Lake was the perfect remote spot for me since it wasn't too far of a hike to meet up with friends at their cart in spot.
As a native Minnesotan who relocated to Oregon just a few years ago, I miss my regular summer visits to Itasca State Park in Northern Minnesota. From May through October, I have enjoyed tent camping and biking the trails there. Every visitor should plan to stay at least 2 days to take in all the activities they can here, including walking (or wading) across the Mississippi headwaters, hiking the volumous and beautiful trails, and if possible plan to bike one of the trail routes or rent a kayak or canoe to enjoy the lake. The tent sites are well-spaced, with plenty of privacy between, due to the thick woods. Be prepared for lots of mosquitos, woodticks, deer ticks, and occasionally biting flies… a heavy duty insect repellent with DEET is your best bet. This area is teeming with wildlife, too: watch for bald eagles, deer, fox, coyote and bears. The bears are most active around the campgrounds at night, so be sure all food and fruit-scented products are locked up in your vehicle to be safe. These are typically smaller black bears, which are easily scared off by dogs or noise, and I've never met an experienced camper who was afraid of them. However, as with all wildlife they can be unpredictable and you should always take precautions for your safety. Enjoy the wild beauty, the historical sites from early settlers, the call of loons at night, and the fabulous smell of the freshwater lake through the pine trees!
Cleanliness is a virtue, they say, and this campground was a direct reflection of that! One of the cleanest ones I've visited, however, because of the popularity of the area (it's a wonderful state park), the campsites are rather close together. But despite all the family chatter and children's giggles, everyone was very respectful and quiet time was just that….quiet. And even at the beach, where I tested my Matador Nano Towel, there was plenty of space for all to enjoy!
We live near Itasca State Park, so are very familiar with the trails and campgrounds, but I've never stayed at Bearpaw, so we decided to make a quick overnight trip, just for fun! Great time to enjoy the beach, the sunshine and a little campground fun.
This campground has mostly drive-in sites (which are RV friendly), but there are a few walk-in sites too (there are other campsites/campgrounds at Itasca, but this one is the only one with walk in vs drive in or hike in). Walk-in sites are those where you can park your car, grab a cart, load your gear, and walk to your campsite with all your thing. Usually less than a hundred yards…touchdown!
Although the sites are close together, there was a decent amount of room at most of them, although ours seemed remarkably small, but we still had space to do what we needed. Most of the walk-ins had much more space to set up camp. We were at site #74. All have a picnic table, bear box for your food fire ring and the tent sites seemed fairly level. It's nice that there is paved roadway through this campground, even near the walk-in sites, so it's a great place to let kids bring bicycles, non-motorized scooters, etc. They can loop around and around while you enjoy the fire. Not to mention, the main paved trail that runs the length of the park (about 5 miles of it), is just down the hill, so it's very easy to access from the campground. You can ride to the beach, other sites and even the Headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in less than 15 minutes! So make sure to bring your bikes, or simply your hiking shoes.
*Note: The RV sites were very close by, and you could hear the hum of the generators, but it didn't seem bothersome to me.
The campground bathrooms and shower houses look fairly normal from the outside, but the insides are beautiful!! Seriously…raving about a bathroom is something you just don't normally do when you go camping, unless you've been backpacking, and then flush toilets are like heaven! But seriously, the walls and ceiling were varnished wood, the floors were tile and everything looked new. It was lovely.
There is drinking water at spigots, but there isn't very much of it. What I mean is that there aren't many places to collect this water. So, yes, you can find it, but don't expect to find it easily late at night. But you don't have to filter lake water, unless you want to.
They do have firewood available for purchase, but it's very expensive. Unfortunately, you can't collect dead wood at this park, and can't bring your own, so you have to purchase it if you want a fire. We did run into the campground hosts, as they were cleaning up bits of garbage, and they told us that someone had left wood at the next site, and asked us if we wanted it. Very kind!
After setting up camp, we headed to the beach to test out my Matador Nano Towel! The beach was very nice with clean sand, although very rocky (watch your feet!) and the water had been cleaned up as well. What I mean is that they clean an area off the lake at the beach for the sake of swimming, and then set up buoys to mark off the area. It was very well done. And even at the outside edge of the buoys it wasn't much deeper than 6 feet. Perfect for families and kids! A very slight, gradual deepening from the beach to the edge of the swim area. There as also a picnic shelter, grassy area to set up blankets under the trees, changing house and bathrooms and only about 20 yards from one of the nicest playgrounds I've seen. Lots of unusual play equipment that entertained for a long time!
As a Ranger for They Dyrt, I have the awesome pleasure of reviewing gear from amazing companies in exchange for honest reviews. This time, Matador allowed me to test a Nano Towel, which absolutely rocked!
The Nano towel comes in two sizes with two different price points. I chose the large which is two foot by four foot and is perfectly sized to serve as a shower/beach towel. Now, that doesn't sound huge, but let me tell you, it won't let you down.
It comes in a sort of silicone bubble-type pod that can fit in the palm of your hand. Open on one side to allow it to be stuffed in and pulled out, with holes on the other to aid in air flow and drying. On the top, is a pretty hefty caribeener so you can clip it anywhere (and for me, it's mainly my backpack). Two different colors are offered: a muted, earthy green and a charcoal grey. The silicone matches the towel. Perfect for his and hers on a trip. At about $35, they seem a bit pricey, but I promise, they are worth every, single, hard-earned cent.
I took this gem to the beach, and broke it out when I was ready to dry off. The fabric seems as if it wouldn't hold more than a misting of water, it's really thin, but that's it's strong suit. That's what makes it magic! This fabric is unlike anything I've seen before. Very light, very thin, but very durable and holds water like a sponge! They say it holds 2.3x it's weight in water, and I believe it. I dried my entire body and wrapped my hair (and I have medium length hair). It sucked so much water from my hair that my locks dried in no time, and then…as and added bonus…the fabric is thin enough that you can wrap and knot it at your waist like a wrap skirt! No joke, I could wear it as a skirt at the beach (I don't think it would fit every body type and size, but I'm a size 6 and have hips and had plenty of fabric to tie a knot). Absolutely not why I got this towel, but what a great bonus!
Now, I mention the fabric as thin, but that's not a hit against the product. That's a brilliant thing! They've managed to create a fabric that is not only functional and purposeful, but durable and thin so that it packs small and you actually want to take it with you as a luxury item!
And as an added bonus, there is a great little loopy tab on the long side, that fastens with a snap (whoever thought to add the snap was a genius) so that you can pop it open and fasten it over a clothesline or a branch. And as if it didn't dry fast enough anyhow, if there happens to be a breeze or sunshine, the process is even quicker. And if you get both elements involved, it's almost instant. Okay, maybe not instant, but you won't wait long for a dry towel to take skinny dipping again.
Bottom line, despite the crowded campground and kiddos galore, everyone was very respectful of sundown and noise levels, so I'd camp there again with the family for certain. Especially since it's so convenient to the trails and kid friendly activities. And as for the Matador Nano Towel, take that $35 you've been saving for a new Iphone case and buy the towel instead. I guarantee, it'll last longer and be more useful in many more ways than that new pink silicone cover with rhinestones.
I love all the wildlife around the area! There was a camp host and rangers available if needed, campsite was clean, and bathrooms were cleaner than most.
I really like Itasca state park- I just wish that it were closer to me! The paved trail from the visitor center to the headwaters is in incredible shape- I regret not bringing roller blades. One of the most important things to know for avid hikers is that it seems like most park visitors are there to relax and maybe do the one paved trail, which leaves a lot of the trails overgrown. We were able to take the trail to the fire tower which was nice. There was an attempt to take a trail that seemed like it would have a nice view of one of the smaller lakes that you pass as you drive in, but it was extremely over grown and there were no real clear views of the lake from the trail. The lake is amazing for swimming- there are also rentals for canoes, kayaks, and bikes.
I absolutely loved the on-site restaurant- wild rice pancakes were phenomenal and the view is great. We stayed at a cart-in site at Bearpaw campground and our friends rented one of the nearby Bearpaw cabins. The site was nice and private enough, but a huge storm came through at night (so much lightning that my husband and I could see each other for around a solid minute) came through on the second night and we had to retreat to our car to avoid being smooshed by a tree. The cabin was nice and cozy- it had a tiny kitchen that was sufficient enough for a few meals but definitely plan on bringing your own kitchen tools in case they don't have what you need.
My husband, toddler and I spent two nights at the park. The Park Rangers were kind and helpful. Our site was clean and the campground was quiet. We were pleased after our last camping experience a weekend prior in Northern Minnesota to find that Itasca Park has less mosquitos and we didn’t see any ticks. The rental facility was great and reasonably priced. We were able to rent a baby carrier for our bikes and rode their 17 mil paved loop which took us to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, a fire tower among other sites. We then were able to rent a canoe and venture out on to Lake Itasca. We were really pleased with our stay there and would recommend it.
Pros: kid friendly, lots to do, not crowded (mid week, late June)
Cons: no mountain bike trails
Unfortunately we were completely rained out for most of our trip but we were able to enjoy some of it! We went to the head waters right away in the morning which was amazing since there was hardly anyone there. The only down fall was the gift shop and cafe were not open. We can back later to enjoy the gift shop and had some pizza at the cafe. it was as pouring rain while we went and it was still busy so I can’t imagine how bad it would be on a normal Saturday!
We camped at site 232 and I wouldn’t reccomend the site unless you had small tent. It was a small site and had a weird slope down with a clearing. Not sure what it was for.
Drive slowly people drive like maniacs!