Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Within the borders of Lake Itasca State Park, about twenty miles southwest of Bemidji, Minnesota, flow the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  The source of the Mississippi River was discovered in 1832, when Ojibwe Chief Ozawindib guided Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the lake.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

On the left is Lake Itasca.  On the right, the Mississippi River.  It’s about three feet deep at the deepest spot, and a lot of fun to wade across.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

You’d never suspect this is North America’s mighty Mississippi River.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

After we left the headwaters, we got lunch at the Headwaters Cafe (more of a snack bar, really) and headed off down the park drive to check out the old fire watch tower.  It’s about a fifteen minute drive.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

The hike from the parking lot to the fire watch tower is a little more than half a mile, uphill, and a pretty good workout for the average person.  We were walking up this trail when we first caught a glimpse of the Aiton Heights Fire Tower through the trees.  It’s on the other side of a lake and my wife Rebecca said, “That looks like more than half a mile.”

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

You get to the top of the hill, and there are still plenty of stairs to climb.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

The sign at the bottom warns no more than six people on the tower at a time.  On the day we visited, there was no ranger on-site.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

After a strenuous climb to the top, you’re rewarded with a stunning view.  These photos were taken in the spring and the trees were just budding.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

It was a pretty breezy day, and while we were at the top, we could feel the tower swaying.  There were three of us, then two more people showed up at the top.  And below us, four more people started climbing the tower, apparently oblivious to the sign warning of a six person limit.  We climbed down.

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Aiton Heights Fire Tower

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

4 thoughts on “Headwaters of the Mississippi River

  1. My grandfather, while working for the CCC, helped to build many of the buildings and trails at Itasca State Park. I have visited several times, but it has been many years since the last visit. That needs to change.

    1. My father, Tony S. Buckmeir, served in the CCC at Lake Itasca from Nov. 11,1935 thru March 31, 1936.. He was a member of Co.3701, Camp SP-1 . HE enrolled in the CCC in Watford City, ND and was from Haley, North Dakota. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who served with him there or hearing from any of there descendants. My email is jimibuck@juno.com

  2. My grandmother and her sister took a trip to Itasca State Park during World War II – both would have been in their early 20s at the time. They didn’t have much money (they could only afford one meal a day at the lodge), but based on their stories and pictures, they enjoyed the trip very much. My grandmother later painted pictures of various places in the park, and a visit to my grandparents’ house generally involved a visit to Itasca and the headwaters. There are a zillion pictures of my brother and I walking across the river as children. We even had a large family reunion there at one of the larger cabins.

    Both of my grandparents are gone now, but I have nothing but happy memories of the park and the headwaters. I live in Tennessee now, but I’ve always been meaning to take my own son there so he can see why his great-grandmother loved the place so much.

  3. I was born in Grand Rapids and lived there for eight years. I used to swim in Lake Itasca all the time, having no idea of its significance or the existence of this nearby tower. Wow! I’m on my way back there now for Thanks Giving.

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