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Itasca State Park Guide: Fire Tower, Tours, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Itasca State Park, in beautiful Park Rapids, Minnesota, is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and one of Minnesota’s oldest and most popular state parks. Boasting many diverse attractions, this park has something to offer for everyone. From historic sites that take you back in time to hiking trails that lead you through incredible scenery, Itasca is a place of wonder and adventure.

How To Get to Itasca State Park

Where Is Itasca State Park?

Itasca State Park is in northern Minnesota. Sprawling across 32,000 acres of beautiful woodland and pristine waterways, this majestic park is home to an astonishing 100 lakes.

What makes Itasca truly special is that it is the starting point of the mighty Mississippi River, which begins its epic 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Itasca in the peaceful confines of this serene and beautiful park.

Itasca State Park
Image Credit: Minnesota DNR

Itasca State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

Itasca State Park is open all year round, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. However, some facilities might only be open seasonally. You should call to confirm that everything you plan to see and experience will be available during your visit.

Nearest Airports to Itasca State Park

The closest airport to Itasca State Park is Bemidji Regional Airport (BJI), about 40 minutes away from the park by car. This airport provides daily round-trip flights to and from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). Delta exclusively services this airport. Upon arriving at Bemidji Regional Airport, you can easily get to the park by arranging a ride or renting a car.

Driving to Itasca State Park

If you’re coming from Park Rapids, the park is about 21 miles to the north along U.S. Route 71. For those coming from Bemidji, the park is about 30 miles to the south along the same highway. Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, the park is easily accessible and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

Taking the Train to Itasca State Park

There is no train service to Itasca State Park.

Taking the Bus to Itasca State Park

It is important to note that there is no direct bus service to Itasca State Park. However, you can take Greyhound bus to Bemidji, which is about 40 minutes away from the park. You can arrange a rental car or ride-share service from the Greyhound station in Bemidji to get to the park.

Getting Around Itasca State Park

The best way to explore the park is by driving. Plenty of parking areas are available where you can leave your car and get out to explore. The park provides an interactive and printable map to help plan your adventures.

What To See and Do in Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park offers many exciting activities and breathtaking sights to behold. From hiking through the lush green forests to fishing in the crystal-clear waters of the lake, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower
Take in the heights. Image Credit: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Aiton Heights Fire Tower is a historic landmark in Itasca State Park. The tower stands tall at 100 feet and offers a bird’s eye view of the surrounding wilderness. The tower is accessible via a hiking trail that winds through the dense forest, and the trek to the top is well worth it.

Once at the top, visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the forest canopy, lakes, and hills that stretch out as far as the eye can see. In addition to its scenic beauty, the tower has a rich history, having played a crucial role in detecting and preventing forest fires in the early 1900s.

Bottom Line:

Aiton Heights Fire Tower is a true gem of the park and a must-visit attraction for anyone who loves the great outdoors and wants to experience the beauty and history of Minnesota’s forests.


Bird enthusiasts are in for a treat when visiting this park. It’s a paradise for birdwatchers. Visiting the park with a diverse range of bird species and their melodious chirps is a treat for your ears and eyes. Some bird species here include herons, warblers, woodpeckers, and owls. Grab your binoculars and cameras and head to this park for an unforgettable birding experience.


Itasca State Park is a popular destination for fishermen, thanks to the abundance of fish in its beautiful Itasca Lake. Anglers can try to catch various fish species, ranging from black bullhead to walleye and even the elusive muskie.

The lake is also home to other fish species, such as black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed, rock bass, yellow bullhead, and yellow perch. With so many fish available, Itasca Lake is a great place for anglers to try their hand at fishing.


Itasca State Park is a utopia for hikers seeking an immersive and breathtaking outdoor experience. Visitors can wander through a picturesque landscape of towering pines, expansive wetlands, and crystal-clear lakes. The park’s trails range from easy, paved paths to more strenuous hikes that offer stunning views of the park’s diverse ecosystem.

Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center

The Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is a veritable treasure trove of information and inspiration for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. As you enter this impressive facility, you’re greeted by various fascinating exhibits and displays showcasing the park’s rich history, geology, flora, and fauna.

From here, you can embark on a journey of discovery and exploration, armed with trail maps, insider tips, and expert advice from the friendly and knowledgeable staff. Whether you’re interested in hiking, fishing, boating, or simply soaking up the park’s natural beauty, the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your journey.

Lake Itasca Boat Tours

Lake Itasca Boat Tours
Take to the water. Image Credit: Lake Itasca Tours

To experience the park’s natural beauty, taking a leisurely boat tour on the water is an absolute must. With daily tours available during the season, you can explore the park’s many wonders from the comfort of a boat, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of the water.

As you glide through the waters, you may spot eagles soaring overhead, beavers building their dams, and fish jumping out of the water. Whether you’re a nature lover or simply looking for a relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors, a boat tour in Itasca State Park is an unforgettable experience you won’t want to miss.

Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center

Make sure to add Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center to your itinerary when you visit Itasca State Park. This stunning center offers breathtaking views of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, informative exhibits about the park’s history and ecology, and interactive displays that are perfect for visitors of all ages.

Whether you’re a nature lover or simply looking for a fun and educational experience, the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center is a must-see attraction.

Preacher’s Grove

Preacher’s Grove is a serene and picturesque small forest of towering red and white pines in the park’s heart. This attraction is a favorite among visitors who come to experience the park’s natural beauty and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The grove is named after a preacher who used to hold services in the late 1800s, adding a touch of history and significance to its already stunning landscape.

Wilderness Drive

Wilderness Drive is a breathtakingly beautiful route that winds through the park, offering a truly immersive experience in nature. As you travel along the scenic drive, you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the lush forests, sparkling lakes, and verdant valleys that make up this stunning landscape.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a keen photographer, or simply looking for a peaceful escape, Wilderness Drive is a must-see destination that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.

Best Times To Visit Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park is open throughout the year, offering visitors a unique experience regardless of the season. However, certain times of the year may be more suitable depending on the activity or event you are interested in.

Best Time To Visit Itasca State Park in Winter

Itasca State Park in Winter
Northern Minnesota in the winter is starkly beautiful. Image Credit: Minnesota DNR

If you plan to visit during winter, scheduling a trip in March is best. This month’s temperatures range from 12 degrees to the mid-30s, making it a comfortable time to explore as long as you’re appropriately dressed and prepared. It is important to note that March has a historical average of 5 days of precipitation, often snow.

Best Time To Visit Itasca State Park To Avoid the Crowds

For a peaceful trip to the park, consider visiting in November. Fewer tourists are around at this time of year, so you can explore the park at your leisure without worrying about long lines, traffic, or crowded attractions.

Best Time To Visit Itasca State Park for Ideal Weather

When planning a trip, it is essential to consider the weather conditions of your destination. It is advisable to research the typical weather patterns before making any bookings. For the best weather experience, August is the ideal month for you.

This month, the temperature ranges from the low 50s to the upper 80s, providing an excellent temperature for outdoor activities. However, it is important to note that, on average, there is a chance of rain for about 7 days this month.

Hot Tip:

If you visit in August, you should carry a rain jacket, just in case.

Cheapest Time To Visit Itasca State Park

Traveling can be costly, but with a bit of research and planning, it’s possible to save money when visiting this park. The most affordable time to visit is in late September when flights and accommodations are at their lowest throughout the year. A September visit can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.

Annual Events in Itasca State Park

Currently, no yearly events are held at the park.

Where To Stay in Itasca State Park

When planning a trip, one of the first things to decide is where to stay. Luckily, there are many options both inside and near the park.

Inside the Park

There’s lots of lodging within Itasca State Park. Visitors can sleep under the stars at a campground, in a rustic cabin, or at the historic lodge.


Itasca State Park Cabins
You can rent a cabin. Image Credit: Minnesota DNR

Many visitors rent one of the many cabins within the park’s boundaries. These charming and cozy cabins come in different sizes, ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms, and offer amenities to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. Some include private bathrooms, fireplaces, incredible views of surrounding nature, picnic tables, and fire rings to gather around with friends and family.

Among the cabins available are the Douglas Lodge Cabins, which offer a blend of rustic charm and modern amenities. These cabins are perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in nature while still enjoying comfort and convenience.

The Bear Paw Cabins are another popular choice, known for their stunning lake and forest views. Bert’s Cabins are perfect for those who want to experience the true wilderness in a more secluded park area.

Bottom Line:

No matter which cabin you choose, you’re guaranteed a memorable experience in the heart of the great outdoors. Renting a cabin in Itasca State Park is the perfect way to unwind and connect with nature.


Visitors can choose between 2 beautiful campgrounds: Pine Ridge and Bear Paw. The campgrounds offer over 200 campsites that cater to various camping needs, from primitive sites for those who want to rough it to electric sites for those who want to enjoy the comforts of modern technology.

Each site provides stunning views of the surrounding forests and lakes, creating an unforgettable outdoor experience. Additionally, both campgrounds offer restroom facilities with hot showers.

Douglas Lodge

Douglas Lodge
Douglas Lodge has different kinds of rooms. Image Credit: Minnesota DNR

Douglas Lodge has a rich history of providing comfortable accommodations for visitors to Itasca State Park since it was first built in 1905. The lodge offers a range of lodging, including standard rooms and suites. While some rooms are open year-round, others are only available seasonally.

The standard rooms are perfect for individuals or couples and have comfortable beds, private bathrooms, and air conditioning. On the other hand, the suites are ideal for larger groups of up to 4 people and offer more space and luxurious amenities like fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs.

Headwaters Inn

Headwaters Inn is a log structure built in the 1920s that offers year-round accommodations to visitors of Itasca State Park. The inn provides 6 guest rooms for those who prefer a community-style lodging experience. Shared amenities include 3 bathrooms, a spacious kitchen, and a cozy great room with a wood-burning fireplace.

The lawn is perfect for playing games, cooking over a campfire, or roasting marshmallows. This place is ideal for both individuals and small groups.

Towns Near Itasca State Park

For visitors who would rather stay near the park instead of in it, there are plenty of towns to choose from within proximity. Whether looking for a quiet town or a lively city, you can find exactly what you desire within a short drive from the park.

Bemidji, Minnesota

If you’re looking for a serene and picturesque location near the park, Bemidji, Minnesota, should be on your list. This delightful small town is nestled amidst stunning natural surroundings, with the Mississippi River, verdant forests, and shimmering lakes close at hand.

Bemidji offers a variety of comfortable accommodations, delectable dining, and exciting recreational activities, making it an ideal destination for anyone seeking a peaceful yet fulfilling getaway.

Park Rapids, Minnesota

Park Rapids, the nearest town to the park, is the perfect place to set up your base camp should you want to stay outside the park boundaries. The town offers eateries from cozy cafes to fine dining restaurants. You can also find lodging ranging from budget-friendly motels to luxurious resorts.

In addition, the town offers a variety of recreational activities, such as golfing and fishing, to keep you entertained during your stay.

Where To Eat in Itasca State Park

No matter what type of food you’re craving, you can find a restaurant within or near the park with a menu that caters to your tastes.

Douglas Lodge Restaurant

The Douglas Lodge Restaurant is a delightful place to eat within the park’s scenic boundaries. It is a full-service restaurant inside historic Douglas Lodge.

The restaurant is open seasonally and serves lunch and dinner, offering a varied menu that features classic favorites and dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s cozy ambiance and charming decor make it an ideal place to relax and enjoy a meal after a day of exploring the park.

Bottom Line:

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a leisurely meal, the Douglas Lodge Restaurant is a great choice for any mealtime.

Mary Gibbs Cafe

Within the park’s boundaries, Mary Gibbs Cafe is a charming eatery. Whether you’re craving a piping hot espresso, freshly baked pastries, homemade soups, sandwiches, or hand-scooped ice cream, this cafe covers you.

The restaurant is open seasonally, so plan your visit accordingly. You can drop in for a hearty breakfast, a satisfying lunch, or a leisurely brunch. With its cozy ambiance and delicious food, Mary Gibbs Cafe is the perfect spot to fuel up before a day of exploring the park or to take a break and refuel while you’re out and about.

Itasca State Park Facts

Itasca State Park Lake
Image Credit: Minnesota DNR

1. A New State Park Established

Itasca State Park was established in 1891.

2. Age Is Just a Number

This state park is the oldest in Minnesota and the second oldest state park in the country.

3. An Abundance of Animals

This park is home to a wide variety of animals. Commonly spotted species include deer, beavers, black bears, wolves, porcupines, and numerous birds like herons, ducks, owls, and woodpeckers.

4. Civilian Conservation Corps

The Civilian Conservation Corps developed this state park. It constructed 45 buildings, campgrounds, picnic areas, and a trail system, which are still enjoyed by visitors today.

5. Original People of the Park

Approximately 8,000 years ago, indigenous hunters lived in this area. Later, the Blackduck and Ojibwe tribes settled here.

Final Thoughts

Itasca State Park is an enchanting natural wonderland that offers various exciting activities for visitors of all ages. With over 32,000 acres of pristine wilderness to explore and abundant flora and fauna to discover, this park is a must-visit destination that attracts more than half a million visitors worldwide every year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Itasca State Park?

A daily park permit costs $7. This is required for entering the park. Camping and lodging fees are separate.

How much time should I plan to visit Itasca State Park?

We recommend you spend at least 2 days at the state park so that you can see all the highlights, cross the river, and hike the trails.

What attractions near Itasca State Park should I check out during my trip?

There are many attractions to explore near this park, including adventure parks.

Can I bring my dog to Itasca State Park?

Pets are welcome at this state park. There are over 30 miles of hiking trails that are pet-friendly. Pets must be leashed and cleaned up after at all times.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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