As I mentioned earlier this summer, both my sister and my niece purchased annual state park passes this year. I’m not sure how these work in other states, but here in Minnesota an annual state park pass costs $35 and allows you unlimited free entrance into any of the 75 Minnesota state parks for one full year.
So this summer we’ve been trying to visit as many as we can, and my sister and niece are on a quest to collect a pin and a patch from each one. We’ve pretty much made it to all of the parks that are within an hour or so from the Twin Cities, so last weekend we took a road trip to get to some that are a little further out with our main destination being Itasca State Park.
On the way up north we stopped off at the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.
There isn’t a whole lot to this one, but you can see the boyhood home of the famous aviator who was the first to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic. The park itself, however, is actually named for his father who was a congressman for Minnesota from 1907 to 1917.
Unfortunately, none of the buildings were open while we were there so Debbie and Kris were super bummed that they couldn’t get their pins and patches.
We made it up to our lovely airbnb cabin on Potato Lake in Park Rapids by dinner time.
It was a bit rainy, so we grilled some steaks and played some board games inside for the evening. The next morning we woke up to a beautiful misty sunrise over the lake.
We decided to head to Lake Bemidji State Park on our first full day.
We admired the lake …
And then took a hike on the Bog Trail.
The trail brought us to Big Bog Lake.
We were hoping to spot some wildlife on the opposite shore, like maybe a black bear or a moose, but no such luck. Debbie & Kris did get their pins and patches at the park office though, so they were happy about that.
After lunch, we headed in to the town of Bemidji. Stopping off to say hello to Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe, is pretty much a requirement when visiting this area.
We then dropped Mr. Q off at the nearby disc golf course so he could play a round, and while he was doing that we hit the shops. I’m not gonna lie, the town of Bemidji was a huge disappointment to me. The shops were mainly full of tacky, cheap souvenirs and the entire area felt a bit sketchy to me. We quickly decided to get out of there and head back to our cabin for the evening.
On day 2 we headed to Itasca State Park.
For those of you who may not be familiar, Itasca is famous for being the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
It’s pretty much a rite of passage for Minnesota kids to walk across the Mississippi.
These days it feels rather like an Instagram set up. Those stepping stones are just a little too perfectly spaced to be authentic. But maybe it was always that way and I just didn’t notice that when I was a kid.
For those who may not quite have the balance required for the stepping stones, there is also a log bridge you can take across.
Although this is the quintessential photo op in Itasca State Park, the park has lots more to offer including the very nicely appointed Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
I especially enjoyed the historical exhibits including this one with all of its vintage camping gear.
And this exhibit of the original Lady Slipper restaurant ware from the Douglas Lodge.
I got a kick out of the original menu showing such tasty treats as peach and cottage cheese salad, and chicken giblets on toast for only 70 cents.
A dinner that included several courses and half a chicken cost a mere $1.25. I’m not at all sure I would enjoy cantaloupe a la mode for dessert though, and Maple Pecan ice cream served with Ritz crackers? Was that a thing?
The lodge was built in 1905, but I’m not sure what year that menu was from.
We didn’t do a ton of hiking in Itasca State Park, but we did hike up to the fire tower.
Once we got there, Mr. Q and I totally chickened out of taking the stairs to the top for the view. My sister made it up to one platform, but my niece went all the way up.
We also checked out a short trail to see the largest white pine in Minnesota.
Just look at the size of that thing!
I think we timed our visit just right for avoiding the crowds in Itasca State Park. Kids are back in school, but we aren’t quite at peak fall color just yet. I bet there is a line up of people to climb up that tower to get a birds eye view of the fall colors when they are at their peak.
There was so much more to see in the park, but by mid-afternoon we decided to head back to spend a little time enjoying the amenities at our cabin such as the canoe and the fire pit. We went for a lovely paddle on the lake, then made bbq chicken fry pies over the fire for dinner.
All in all we had a lovely time up north. I totally recommend visiting Itasca State Park, so far it is my favorite of the Minnesota state parks we’ve visited. How about you? Do you have a favorite state park where you are? Leave a comment and let us know.