This summer I completed my 8th (or 9th, I’ve lost count to be honest) trip to Itasca State Park in as many years! Itasca is one of my all time favorite places to visit and it’s become my summer tradition to climb the fire tower there. Way back in March of this year I decided to book a campsite for a weekend and camp there for the first time. Usually I just make a day trip there while I stay at my grandparent’s house but I’ve been itching to camp again so that decided it in the end.
Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and was established in 1891. It spans over 32,000 acres and contains over 100 lakes!
My best friend and I drove up to the park one Friday afternoon after I got done with work and arrived not long after dark. We quickly set up our site (not very well I might add), found the bathroom, and then settled into the back of my Jeep for a peaceful night.
That first night we really didn’t figure out the optimal airflow situation so it was pretty hot in the car but I didn’t notice too much because I was far too tired to care.
So on morning one we got up and made the dumb decision to leave the campsite with no food. We ate breakfast before we left but decided we would surely make it back to the campsite before lunch and had no need to pack sandwiches for our adventure. Trust me when I say this was probably the dumbest thing I have ever done. I know better than to not pack food, I have always known better than to not pack food and I have literally no clue why I decided this time was any different than any other time I’ve been hiking.
Anyways, we headed off away from our campsite and meandered our way to the bike trail. We walked on that until we hit the crosswalk to head over to Peace Pipe Vista so we headed over to that side of the main road and embarked on Brower Trail.
Now don’t let the picturesque scenery distract you from the hell that was this hike. Thanks to all the lakes, the trails that are more densely wooded are very, very buggy. My best friend went hiking in shorts with no bug spray and her legs were absolutely covered in mosquitos for most of the hike.
I think overall my whole message for hiking at Itasca is bring bug spray and wear long pants if you can! One trail that I will always urge against going on is the Blow Down Trail. It’s less than a mile long (I think) but the entire thing is pure hell thanks to bugs. I literally could hear the buzzing of mosquitos in my ears for hours afterwards.
At some point during this morning, though, I got stung by something and almost fell off the trail because I was momentarily blinded by pain and twisted my ankle on some roots. I still have no idea what stung me but it made the rest of the hike absolutely hell for me. And I’m usually not a baby when it comes to pain (because thanks to chronic pain I always hurt) but dang this was bad. We eventually stumbled upon the Douglas Lodge area, a place that I have never actually been to despite all my trips to Itasca.
One of the employees at the gift store was very helpful and gave me some stuff for my sting and then I bought a jacket and a sticker. We walked over to the main visitor center after this, wandered around inside (they have really cool taxidermied animals displayed there along with a lot of interesting historical information) and then went back to the original gift shop we’d been at so that my best friend could buy popsicles.
Eventually we decided to make our trek back to the campsite but this time we were smart and stayed on the bike trail the whole time. A lot of people talked to us along the way and one guy tried to accuse us of being the “annoying choir group” that was apparently making noise and singing show tunes all night… We pretended that we had been in a completely different campsite because honestly both me and my best friend were so creeped out by his questions.
We totaled almost 11 miles of hiking by the time we got back to our campsite. I think by the end of the night I was close to having walked 12 miles. And while I’m normally on my feet for upwards of 8 hours a day thanks to my job, I was so not ready for this much physical activity with almost no calories going in my body. It felt like the day lasted like two days despite the fact that we were only gone for four hours that day.
This was our more modified set up that we figured out for the second night. The tarp allowed us to keep the back half of the Jeep open so that we would have better airflow than the first night and also keep out the rain that we were supposed to be getting that night.
That afternoon we spent a lot of time just lazing around the campsite. I read the entirety of Graceling by Kristin Cashore and my best friend was working her way through books two and three in the Harry Potter series. We ate a lot of Cheez Its and peanut butter M&Ms and watched all the dogs pass by with their owners. That night we actually met a really naughty St. Bernard who took off from their owner’s campsite in order to come sniff out the food we had at ours.
My best friend showered and then we went off to buy firewood so that we could cook dinner. It took us a while to get the fire going but once we did I’d say we got really lucky because we barely finished cooking our food before the storms started rolling through.
I’m very glad that we were using my car as our shelter because the campsite basically drowned during a few complete downpours. We stayed quite dry in my trunk.
This is us after it started completely pouring. I literally climbed in the open window in my trunk in order to avoid getting soaked. It was… Quite interesting to say the least.
On Sunday we got up and moved very, very slowly. And by we, I mean my best friend. Though I did sleep in until 9, I was completely ready to go by 9:30. But after we finally packed up the campsite we headed first to the Pioneer Cemetery before going to the Mississippi Headwaters.
I don’t have very great pictures of the Headwaters in this post but it’s always so busy there and it’s hard to get any pictures without people in them. I did make my best friend take “cute” pictures of me though because I’m trying to be better about taking pictures again.
After the Headwaters we headed off down the Wilderness Trail drive and went straight for the fire tower. The Alton Heights fire tower is located a half mile down a trail at the end of the 10 mile one-way drive and is 100 feet tall.
Though I’ve climbed this tower countless times, this time was a struggle!! I’m just going to blame it on the fact that I hiked 11 miles the day before and not what my mom told me (which is “well you are getting older”). I think I’m actually in better physical shape now than I have been in years but oh boy were my legs sore.
There are some pics from the top!
After we were done at the fire tower we headed out and drove over to my grandparents house for a late lunch and then for the long drive home. It was a whirlwind of a weekend but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being outside is where I’m truly happy and I can’t wait for more camping trips in the future.
Here’s a fun throwback to an old post that I wrote about Itasca. It was actually the second post that I ever published on the blog!
I would recommend Itasca to people who are looking for a nice place to camp, it’s a fun park to spend a few days exploring. It’s also a pretty “touristy” park so if you make a day trip it’s easy to hit all the big sites while you’re there. However, if you’re looking for a quiet park, this one won’t be for you. This is one of the most popular parks in Minnesota and can be very busy most days so plan accordingly! Be prepared to encounter a lot of people. And if you’re going to be climbing the fire tower, you might have to wait a while at the bottom if you get there during “peak” hours. There’s a limit of 6 people on the tower at a time so the line can get pretty long when it’s busy.
And now it’s time to start planning my next state park trip!