Explore the Mississippi River in Minnesota This Summer
The Mississippi River begins in Minnesota and flows south to the Gulf of Mexico. The summer is a great time to explore different parts of the river in Minnesota. Jake Juliot from Explore Minnesota joined me on WJON to talk about options to explore the river in our state.
ITASCA STATE PARK
Visitors of all ages carefully hop rock to rock across the spot where Lake Itasca flows into the river’s humble beginning. The Mary Gibbs Visitor Center, adjacent to the headwaters, features exhibits on the river’s history and cultural importance. Minnesota has more miles of the Mississippi than any other state, including the river’s most wild and scenic stretches as it flows north to Bemidji and east through several large lakes and the Chippewa National Forest.
Itasca also stands out as Minnesota’s oldest state park (established in 1891), one of its largest at 32,000 acres, and among its grandest thanks to a variety of lodging that’s rich in historic character and similar in style to national park lodges built in the early 1900s. The park offers more than 220 campsites, plus cabins, suites, rooms at historic Douglas Lodge, and even a hostel in the 1922 former park headquarters.
The Mississippi feeds into Lake Bemidji, which anchors this college town like a big blue jewel. Along its southwest shore, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox stand proudly for photo ops. Cross the street to explore downtown's sculptures, shop for Ojibwe crafts, warm up with locally produced wool blankets and jackets, catch a show at the art deco theater or rent a bike for a spin along the lakeshore. On the lake's northern shore, Lake Bemidji State Park’s boardwalk offers an intriguing glimpse of northern Minnesota's bog country.
Brainerd Lakes Area
While it's best known for hundreds of lakes and legendary resorts, this cluster of towns was born in the late 1870s where the new railroad crossed the Mississippi and picked up logs for the lumber mills. Visitors can sample gourmet chocolates at The Chocolate Ox in Nisswa, or bike or geocache along the Paul Bunyan State Trail, which follows a former railroad line past lakes, resorts and charming downtowns.
Follow shady, lush paths through the historic Munsinger Gardens or hike uphill to admire the vibrant Clemens Gardens and toss a coin in the three-tiered fountain. Rent kayaks or canoes to float among the Beaver Islands on the way to Clearwater.
Strategically placed high above the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, the cannons of Historic Fort Snelling boom across the river as costumed soldiers perform their drills. In Minneapolis, the Mill City Museum explains how the river powered massive flour mills that made Minneapolis the world's bread basket in the late 1800s. Visit the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area(opens in new window), a national park site that spans 72 miles, with visitor centers at St. Anthony Falls and the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul.
SOUTHERN RIVER TOWNS – RED WING, WINONA, WABASHA
Experience a variety of great attractions in Southern Minnesota along the Mighty Mississippi. Starting in Red Wing, explore the charming downtown with local shops and eateries and make sure to get in a hike at Barn Bluffs, with beautiful views of the river and downtown Red Wing. Wabasha-Kellogg hosts some great attractions for the whole family including the National Eagle Center, where guests can see Bald Eagles up close and learn about these majestic creatures in fun and educational demonstrations. Lark Toys also offers some great family fun with a hand-painted wooden carousel, mini golf, and toys as far as the eye can see, including some made at Lark Toys. Finally, Winona touts world-class paintings and craftsmanship at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum or take a historic architecture and stained glass tour through the Victorian-era downtown. If you're visiting this summer, be sure to check out one of Winona's many arts festivals.