In the old days, when talk turned to the Mississippi River, it was often of paddlewheel steam boats, the deep south and lazy, steamy days on the water; not the mild-mannered stretch of river way up north. Even Mark Twain noted that hardly anyone seemed to have anything to say about the upper Mississippi. But to overlook the river's early course would be a serious oversight. Starting its journey as just a small stream in Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River flows first north, then turns south in Chippewa National Forest, carving through the eastern edge of the state acquiring depth and breadth as it flows towards the sea.
If you're planning a visit to the headwaters of this mighty river, take time first to stop and peruse the historic museum and North Country Museum of Arts in Park Rapids, billed the "Gateway to Itasca State Park". This might also serve visitors well as a base from which to explore the small towns and assorted attractions in the vicinity.
You can't come to Itasca and miss having a look at the mild-mannered outflow of water from Lake Itasca; eventually this small stream will thunder down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having paid your respects to the Mississippi, wander off along easy hiking trails nearby or settle down for a picnic lunch in some sunny spot. There's a paved route, the Wilderness Drive, that is just the ticket for those looking for an easy scenic drive or leisurely bike ride. If you're itching to get out on the water, rent watercraft locally; from canoes to motorboats; and take to the lakes.
Park Rapids is about 50 miles south of Bemidji, and 82 miles on major roads from Brainerd.