Mississippi headwaters, Itasca State Park

Experience Outdoor Beauty, Scandinavian Culture and the Mississippi Headwaters

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The Mississippi headwaters at Itasca State Park / Kvidt Creative
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Experience Outdoor Beauty, Scandinavian Culture and the Mississippi Headwaters

By Explore Minnesota

Discover a changing terrain as the prairie meets the northwoods. You’ll travel the shores of some of Minnesota’s largest lakes and visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River. There will be some amazing small towns with all the charm you can imagine. You can visit specialty shops, unique regional museums and dining experiences to please any palate.

The Fire Tower at Itasca State Park

The Fire Tower at Itasca State Park  / Kvidt Creative


Begin in Park Rapids and the Nemeth Art Center. The NAC exhibits contemporary art from both local and non-local artists. Browse the downtown shops and grab lunch on your own. Arrive at the Headwaters of the Mississippi. Imagine walking across the very place that the mighty Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park, offers an abundance of recreational opportunities. Examples include nature viewing and birdwatching, biking, canoeing/kayaking, boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, hunting, geology, crosscountry skiing and snowmobiling. Dinner is all-you-can-eat family style at Rapid River Logging Camp. Take a leisurely walk after dinner before departing on the 30-minute drive to Walker and the Northern Lights Casino & Hotel.

The Lost 40 trail in the Chippewa National Forest

The Lost 40 trail in the Chippewa National Forest  / Paul Vincent


Depart for Bemidji, a 40-minute drive. First stop, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at the Tourist Information Center. The towering icons are a great photo op. While at the center check out the well-known Fireplace of States. Visit nearby Headwaters Science Center and enjoy the calming beauty of a 210-gallon saltwater tank.

Head to Blackduck, about 30 minutes away, and take a one-mile trail hike at Lost 40. Witness red and white pine some 300 to 400 years old and 22 to 48 inches in diameter. It’s on to Camp Rabideau, one of three preserved Civilian Conservation Corps camps. Interpretive displays and a guided onemile trail tell the camp’s story. Depart for Crookston and enjoy the relaxing two-hour drive.

Arrive in Crookston and check in at the Crookston Inn & Convention Center. Refresh and depart for dinner at RBJ’s Family Restaurant, a local favorite since 1981.

The Hopperstad Stave Church at Moorhead's Hjemkomst Museum

Marvel at the replica stave church at Moorhead's Hjemkomst Museum / Neil Jordheim, courtesy HCSCC


Have breakfast and take the 15-minute drive to Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge. A windshield tour provides a great way to see wildlife and habitat on this beautiful combination of tallgrass prairie, wet meadows and open marsh. From there, it’s a 90-minute drive to Moorhead. The first stop is the enormous Hjemkomst Viking Ship, a replica of a Norwegian burial ship. The ship was built in Moorhead, transported to Duluth, sailed to New York City and eventually sailed to Bergen, Norway. The ship was returned to Moorhead in 1983 and is a great representation of Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage. On the grounds is the Hopperstad Stave Church Replica. Christian and pagan influences contribute to its unique design.