3 days in itasca state park, minnesota

itasca state park, minnesota | planning a trip to the headwaters, aiton fire tower, or douglas lodge? this guide will help you make the most out of your vacation to one of minnesotas greatest state parks!

i might be biased, but i think minnesota has the. best. state. parks. honestly, we’re a little spoiled here in the land of 10,000 lakes, but i wouldn’t have it any other way.

this past weekend, we spent 3 days in itasca state park. besides being the oldest state park in minnesota, itasca also houses the headwaters of the mississippi river. we made sure to hit up all the best parts of the park and i am here to tell you allllll about it. so, our 3 days in itasca starts out with…

day 1

we drove into the park at about 4 in the afternoon. after checking into our campsite, we promptly started a fire and cooked up a mean dinner. priorities, guys. priorities. (psst: you can read all about what we ate while camping and food staples we always bring on trips right here!)

we camped at bear paw campground. we got a site that was pretty isolated and had great trees for hammocking. bear paw had 3 bathrooms (one of them even had showers!) and it cost $23 a night, which is pretty average for a campground. besides our run-in with a raccoon on the first night (yes, a raccoon!!) we had a great stay at bear paw!

after dinner, we went up to the headwaters to explore around a bit. it was a sunday at about 6:30pm and no one was there except us. now, i’ve been to itasca a few times and the headwaters are always so crowded with children that i can only handle about 10 minutes before i need to get the heck out. but guys, this was the perfect time to go. we ended spending about an hour and a half there just exploring around and taking pictures.

back at bear paw, we make the short walk from our campsite to the lake shore to watch the sunset. if there’s one thing in this world i will never get sick of, it’s a minnesota sunset. even if during that minnesota sunset you spot another raccoon in a tree 20 feet away from you (yes, another raccoon!!!!!).  

day 2

our second day in the park didn’t officially start until noon. since we mastered the hammocking set up at our campsite, we actually ended up taking a morning nap in them! feeling refreshed and relaxed (and a little bit anxious because of the whole raccoon situation), we headed on over to the rental shop on lake itasca. this shop had bikes, paddle boats, fishing boats, pontoons, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. we decided to take some kayaks out on the lake, and for only $12 we paddled around for 2 hours! sarah got a little sun burnt, but being out on the lake on such a beautiful day was definitely worth it.

after returning the kayaks, we drove north to a beach area to have a late lunch. it was a super cute beach, but there were too many people here for our liking, so after we finished eating we decided to head back up to the headwaters and do a little gift shopping. the mary gibbs center has sooo many cute souvenirs, which i am such a sucker for, so it was hard not to buy everything in the store! however, i managed to restrain myself and only buy a mug and some saltwater taffy.

after hanging around the gift shop for a bit, we decided to visit the peace pipe vista. this is such a cute lookout area that is easily accessible from the main road, but once we got there we realized there was a hike that led directly from our campground! it’s called brower trail, and to get to the vista it’s an easy .75 miles from bear paw campground and 1.5 miles from douglas lodge. we stayed at the vista for a few minutes to enjoy the view, but ultimately decided to make the hike from our campground right before sunset.

brower trail follows lake itasca, and for most of the trail it has a westward view, which is perfect for sunset viewing. the trail isn’t too steep, and is definitely a manageable distance. perfect outdoorsy fun for everyone 🙂

day 3

our last day in the park started with yet another early-morning-hammock-nap. with views this cozy, how can you say no??

besides the headwaters, one of the most iconic parts of itasca state park is the aiton heights fire tower. if you don’t like heights, then you might want to skip over this next part.

the trail to the tower was not difficult (a 3 mile loop from douglas lodge) but the bugs were vicious, so don’t forget bug spray! sarah and i completely blanked and didn’t even think to put it on, and we were miserable the whole way. we even had this one fly that kept buzzing both of our heads and would not leave us alone, so i will say it one more time in all caps for emphasis: DO NOT FORGET BUG SPRAY!

after a quick browse through the gift shop at douglas lodge and a quick snack in the car, we were on our way back to civilization, but i will definitely be back to explore more of itasca- hopefully some of the lesser known attractions 🙂

have you ever been to itasca? what was your favorite part? or do you think that your state has better state parks (i’ll deny it to my last breath, but i will be willing to hear you out)? let me know in the comments below!!


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  1. Did you decorate your car with lights? It looks so cool! I LOVE LOVE LOVE naps in the hammock! Did you guys bring a hammock with you on this trip? All your photos are so awesome and it’s so great that you both blog together! Solo blogging is A LOT OF WORK!

    1. Thank you, Nancy! Yeah, we strung some battery powered lights from the ceiling and I love it! So cute 🙂 And we did bring hammocks- I just recently learned how to tie mine up and i am obsessed with it!