Where the Mississippi River Begins!

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Get away to Northern Minnesota! Discover a variety of attractions in the north part of the state, including state parks, lakes, and the Mississippi Source! Actually, for purposes of this post, Northern Minnesota is everything west of the North Shore area of Lake Superior and on an east/west imaginary line going directly west from Duluth! It’s bordered on the north by Canada and on the west by North Dakota. So, let’s proceed to the land where the Mississippi River Begins and find the unique attractions in Northern Minnesota! Conversely, you can click or tap to return to the 100+ Reasons to Love Minnesota.

Interactive Map of Northern Minnesota

By the way, this description of Northern Minnesota includes 15 counties. You’ll find a link to a list of the counties at the end of this post. Here’s a link to the final post of this area. During the course of the discussion, a few of the places recommended may fall into another section, but that happens sometimes! By the way, you can also visit the North Shore and Duluth as well here.

Table of Contents for Northern Minnesota

Northwest Angle

The Northwest Angle

Due to a surveying error in 1783, Minnesota boasts the northernmost point in the Lower 48 (or contiguous United States if you prefer.)

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Besides fishing, sightseeing, nature photography, bird watching, and visiting a historic fort provide entertainment. Fort St. Charles still stands on Magnuson Island, accessible by boat and by the Island Passenger Service at Angle Inlet.

Here’s a link to more about The Angle.

A Driveby Tourist’s scheduled trip for August of 2023 will provide more information for the post.

Northern Minnesota and Places to see – Where the Mississippi River Begins

The map above includes the entire part of Northern Minnesota described in detail below and in other posts linked from here. Click or tap here to go back to the interactive map. Then you can click or tap each icon for more details about the place. (You may want to use the “+” and “-” keys in the lower right to zoom in and zoom out.) You can even add places by clicking on the map where the attraction appears.

So, let’s move forward and get into all of Northern Minnesota. Obviously, I didn’t name EVERY place you can see, but please enjoy! When you visit, pick your spots and/or use the links to other websites to help with even more research! Or contact me here.

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By the way, again, the largest cities in the northern area are Hibbing (pop. 16,077) and Bemidji (pop. 15,279). Of course, a lot of small towns in the area. But, of the 20 largest cities in Minnesota, 17 are in the Twin Cities area.

State Parks in Northern Minnesota

Nearly every state park in Minnesota offers hiking and biking trails, picnicking, scenic drives, fishing, and lake recreation. Of course, photography fits in nicely with most of the parks. (Note: Pictures for many of the state parks will appear later. It’s time for a northern road trip in the summer of 2023!) Initial pictures may include screenshots from the Minnesota State Parks website. (According to my sources, images on the state park websites are in the public domain unless otherwise noted.)

Wildlife may encounter campers and hikers in most state parks, especially in northern MN. However, during the busy season, they stay away from people. A few parks may have bears and wolves, but they will not approach unless provoked.

These are all state parks except as noted in the title. Here’s a map of all the state parks and recreation areas.

Where the Mississippi River Begins
Minnesota State Parks map
Bear Head
Where the Mississippi River Begins
Image of view from campsite-public domain

The park contains typical state park activities. This one includes 23 miles of lakeshore around Bear Head Lake.

Kabetogama State Forest lies nearby, and the park office manages the campgrounds within the state forest.

The city of Ely provides opportunities for some shopping for supplies and groceries. The International Wolves Center includes information about wolves around the US and Canada. (See link – L5). Ask about the wolves and moose ecosystem in Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. (That National Park stands in the Michigan section of the lake.)

Franz Jevne

You will find this park west of International Falls along the Rainy River. Because the river flows from Rainy Lake to Lake of the Woods, it’s part of the Hudson Bay drainage area. Because there are no nearby bridges, you must go to either Baudette or International Falls to cross into Canada.

However, you may cross by boat, but you will need to call 888-CANPASS as soon as you touch Canada or as soon as you can get a cell signal. Of course, when you return to the US, you must contact US Customs. But coming into the US, you can use a smartphone app called ROAM, downloadable for Android or iPhone.

Hayes Lake

You will find Hayes Lake southwest of Warroad. It’s a short 30-mile drive. In addition to the typical state park “stuff,” there’s a bog boardwalk and a history trail. Again, pictures are coming up later.

Hill Annex Mine
Hill Annex Mine State Park
Image from the park website
(More pictures later)

You’ll find this park between Hibbing and Grand Rapids. Of course, it’s in the mining area. Besides the typical state park attractions, this one features mine tours, a fossil tour, and a historic site. (Or “an historic site,” depending on your preferred grammar rules!)

But there are many places near here that feature mining. After all, it’s in iron ore country!

Itasca – Where the Mississippi River Begins

This state park contains Lake Itasca and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. There are nearly 200 campsites within the park, hiking and biking trails, and picnic areas. More people camp here than in any other state park in Minnesota. Here’s your link to the Headwaters area.

Lake Bemidji – Where the Mississippi River Begins
Where the Mississippi River Begins

Lake Bemidji State Park hugs the shore of Lake Bemidji. The park offers a unique ecosystem with bog walks and eagle/osprey viewing. This park is in the Mississippi Headwaters area, and here is the link to the Headwaters area post.

Lake Bronson

You will find Lake Bronson in the northwestern corner of the state. It’s near a Canadian border crossing at Pembina, North Dakota. Yes, it’s that far “up there.” While this may not be a park you visit, it does have a few unique attractions. For example, this is the largest Observation/Water Tower in the state park system. Also, historic WPA-Built Structures and excellent prairie and aspen parkland habitat.

Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine

In addition to regular state park attractions, this one provides mine tours and unique geologic formations. Since most of the iron ore mining in Minnesota is open pit mining, the underground mining tour offers a unique Minnesota perspective. At the time of this writing, the underground tours are closed through 2023 due to the rehabilitation of the tunnels.

McCarthy Beach

This park fills the space between Sturgeon Lake and Side Lake. But it’s about 20 miles north of Hibbing, a place you might likely visit while touring Minnesota. Since it’s on the east side of Sturgeon Lake, you can see a beautiful sunset across the lake. Another feature of this park? Horse riding trails!

Old Mill

Again, this park lies in the northwestern corner of the state. Much of it is prairie land. True to its name, it does provide a home to an old mill!

Savanna Portage

This park is about 85 miles west of Duluth. The park contains a Continental Divide where the water “splits off” to go to either the Mississippi River or Lake Superior. The park centers around a difficult 6-mile trail connecting these two watersheds. Of course, the park contains all the typical state park activities.


By all means, you will describe this park as “scenic!” Undoubtedly, they named it for a reason! In addition to the typical state park features, this one features some virgin pine and historic CCC buildings. And it’s only about an hour’s drive west of McCarthy Beach.


This park seems like it’s very similar to the other parks. Other than being named after the explorer who discovered the source of the Mississippi, I don’t believe there is anything unique about it, but I’ll eventually post more about it here. However, I do have a Youtube video of driving into the park. Here’s the link.

Zippel Bay
Where the Mississippi River Begins

Zippel Bay’s claim to fame is its location on Lake of the Woods. Of course, you can’t see it, but the picture is looking north to Canada. More to come……

Garden Island State Recreation Area

This remote location in the middle of Lake of the Woods makes it the most remote state recreation area or state park. There isn’t much to do here except Walleye fishing, picnicking, and some hiking. Of course, snowmobiling in the winter.

Iron Range Off-highway Vehicle State Recreation Area

Do you want to do some off-roading? You’ll find this area near the cities of Virginia and Eveleth, iron range towns. It’s built for ATVs and other Off-Road Vehicles. You will find 36 miles of trail and trail maps of the area. Here’s the link to the maps. If you are visiting the state, this likely isn’t the place to go. If you are local and love off-road vehicles, this is the place!

Lasalle Lake State Recreation Area

This area puts you near many other attractions in Minnesota. It’s near Bemidji, Lake Itasca, Leech Lake, and several other places already mentioned above. Again, it’s typical state park activities. The area has more fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and snowshoeing and fewer unique features to make it a state park.

Red River State Recreation Area
Red River State Recreation Area
Red River State Recreation Area

The Grand Forks, ND, and East Grand Forks, MN, areas present this park to you! You’re likely to visit this park if you are also trying to add North Dakota to your list of states!

Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Map of BWCA – The numbers are all of the entry points

Here’s my Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) post link. There’s much more information in additional links provided on that post.

Hibbing MN Famous People

Much more to say about Hibbing available through this link. Hibbing’s history shows many stories about iron ore mining, moving the town, and the area’s famous former residents. It’s a good read about the history and why you should visit.

Many stories about “Da Range” focus on Hibbing! It’s really an “old mining town!”

Major Lakes in the area Where the Mississippi River Begins

There are so many lakes in northern Minnesota that picking a few to report about became difficult. So, just a “disclaimer, ” I looked at several different sources and wanted to include several different kinds of lakes. For example, lakes that are almost entirely for fishing vs. lakes that are “multi-purpose.” I’ll be doing a similar exercise in other parts of the state. I mentioned in the “cornerstone” post (100+ Reasons to Love Minnesota) that with over 11,000 “official” lakes in the state, picking the “perfect” lakes to visit would be impossible because that’s so subjective.

Warroad – Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods and the Northwest Angle

Warroad and Baudette anchor the US side of Lake of the Woods. Although a sandy shore outlines part of the Lake of the Woods, the lake is best known for fishing. And fishing is king on the lake: both summer and winter.

The Zippel Bay State Park provides various activities to visitors. There are places along the south shore as well. Warroad and Baudette are the only cities, but the shore also includes two small, unincorporated communities. Generally, it’s a desolate area, although heavily forested along the shore.

The lake covers 1,680 square miles (1,075,200 acres) and lies in two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Manitoba) and the state of Minnesota. The lake also contains over 14,500 islands. Although the lake has 25,000 miles of shoreline, if you include the shoreline of all the islands, it has 65,000 miles!

Although other activities draw visitors, the largest attraction remains fishing! Many “fisherpeople” say, ‘There’s nothing like fishing on Lake of the Woods!’

Red Lake

Where the Mississippi River Begins
Red Lake – Google screenshot

And Red Lake remains the largest lake entirely within Minnesota. By some accounts, it’s two lakes: Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake. But both are similar in size. However, scientists are now agreeing it’s all one lake. Like Lake of the Woods, this lake remains a great fishing lake. All of Lower Red Lake and nearly half of Upper Red Lake lie within the Red Lake Indian Reservation (Ojibwa or Anishinaabe).

The Seven Clans Hotel & Casino, and the West Wind Resort are places to stay around the lake. While the West Wind focuses on fishing, the Seven Clans Hotel and Casino focus more on gaming and entertainment.

So, fishing or gambling, take our pick! (Or both!)

Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion
Lake Vermillion Google screenshot – Full Lake view

Since the 1940s, Lake Vermillion has received accolades as one of the most scenic lakes in the US.

Here’s the link to more about Lake Vermillion. (After my upcoming trip to the north, I’ll have more photos to share with you.)

Walker – Leech Lake

Leech Lake
Google screenshot

Leech Lake covers nearly 103,000 acres. With its bays and inlets, there are 160 miles of shoreline. And there are 11 islands covering 1,600 acres.

About 20 species of fish populate the lake, making it another popular fishing lake. (Aren’t they all?!?!)

While fishing is still king, a couple of the resorts on Leech lake feature more luxuries and provide great places to relax and enjoy the time at the lake. Either if you are not fishing or between fishing times.

The Spirit of the North Resort and Birch Bridge Resort advertise more than just fishing. Birch Bay offers cabins, RV sites, and tent sites. However, don’t rule out others as well!

Grand Rapids – Area Lakes – Where the Mississippi River Begins

Where the Mississippi River Begins - and continues!
Grand Rapids, MN area lakes – Google Maps

However, Grand Rapids, although with a small population of 11,200, still maintains its status as a “go-to” place in Northern MN.

Here’s a link to more about Grand Rapids (and Judy Garland!)

International Falls – Rainy Lake

International Falls Rainy River
Google Maps screenshot of Rainy Lake

You will find more about International Falls here. It’s on the Canadian border, the Rainy River, and the west end of Rainy Lake. However, the image to the right shows most of the lake.

Bemidji – Lake Bemidji – Where the Mississippi River Begins

Where the Mississippi River Begins
Heading for the Mississippi River

Lake Bemidji covers about 6400 acres, making it the 25th largest lake in Minnesota.

Here is the link to a post about the Mississippi Headwaters area.

Lake Bemidji is a great recreation lake with beaches, boating, fishing, and several great resorts.

Burntside Lake

Burntside Lake
Google Maps Screen Shot

Burntside covers over 7,100 acres, making it slightly larger than Lake Bemidji.

Here’s the link to more about Burntside Lake, Ely, and the International Wolf Center.

Both the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center provide great education and entertainment for visitors. The post covers Burntside Lake, museums, and places to see in Ely, as well as the Ely downtown area. And it’s not far from Lake Vermilion!

Crane Lake

Where the Mississippi River Begins
Google Maps Screenshot

As you can see (to the right), Crane Lake almost butts up to the Canadian Border.

Also, the lake borders the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Of course, the lake serves as one of many “jumping off” places to get into the BWCA. But it’s a peaceful and serene lake, which you will enjoy even if you don’t go into the BWCA.

Because there are several resorts and lodging places on Crane Lake, here’s a link to provide you with options if you visit.

Triple Divide – Hill of Three Waters

Located just north of Hibbing, the Hill of Three Waters provides a location where water flows into three watersheds. North and west flow to the Hudson Bay watershed; east flows go into Lake Superior and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. But, the southern side goes to the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The site is not publically accessible since it’s owned and operated by Cleveland Cliffs mining company.

Only three places in the US boast of this unique geographical feature. Triple Divide Peak in Montana retains the “title” of the most unique as it represents water flowing to the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Gulf of Mexico. Since the Gulf of Mexico represents part of the Atlantic Ocean, the flows truly represent three oceans. No other place on earth becomes a watershed into three oceans.

The Lost 40 (Scientific & Natural Area) near Where the Mississippi River Begins

In 1882 Josiah A. King and his crew committed a surveying error. This caused about 140 acres of White Pine, Red Pine, and other indigenous species to remain standing. The trees are now over 300 years old. The land acquired the name Scientific & Natural area in the Chippewa National Forest. It’s called the “Lost 40” Park. Blackduck, MN, stands near the forest about 85 miles southwest of International Falls. Here’s a link to The Lost 40.

Summary and Conclusions of the Area: Where the Mississippi River Begins

Here’s the link to the final section. It includes information about a few different lakes, mostly fishing-related. And a list of the 15 counties. Plus, how to find up-to-date “where are they biting” information.

Nonetheless, as part of all the information about Minnesota, I hope you have a taste of the northern portion of the state. It’s beautiful in the summer! Of course, there is cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing in the winter. Just watch the weather forecast!

For questions or comments, go here!

Classic Rock Recollection

“Watching the River Flow” by Leon Russell

‘Ole man river keeps on rolling
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
As long as it’s like that, I’m just gonna sit right here
And watch the river flow.’

Written by Leon Russell (The Mississippi River starts in northern Minnesota)

#northwestangle #northernMN #Ruttgersresort