Fording the Headwaters of the Mississippi

posted November 13, 2014 by Holly Hayes part of trip: UK + Western Europe 2010
Day 8 map

On Day 8 of my road trip, I enjoyed the lovely lakes and forests of northern Minnesota and walked across the Mississippi River.

Heading out from Grand Forks under stormy skies.

Cows in the Road, Shevlin, Minnesota

Misbehaving cows near Shevlin, Minnesota. Mostly hidden by the far-left cow is their no-nonsense owner on a four-wheeler. She instructed them in no uncertain terms to stop playing in traffic and get back in their pen.

Cows in the Road, Shevlin, Minnesota

They obeyed.

The remainder of the highway was cow-free, unfortunately. But it was so nice to be back in the woods after several days in the prairie.

Happily, the sun began to make appearances as I arrived at the only attraction of the day: the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

This spot is also the beginning of the Great River Road, a nationally-designated route that follows the Mississippi River from its beginnings here in Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, south of New Orleans. Spoiler alert: I'll be doing that!

Map of the Great River Road, with some of its major attractions highlighted.

The Mississippi headwaters are in Itasca State Park. From the visitor's center, it is a very easy and short walk through the woods to the river.

On the left is Lake Itasca; on the right is the Mississippi River! From here, many tributaries will join it and before long it will become the "Mighty Mississipp."

But right now it is just a creek, and the thing to do is to walk across it, whether on the rocks or right through the water.

I chose the latter, of course. It was super-fun to splash around, and the water felt so good on my weary feet. The water was cold, but not that cold, having been in a lake a few seconds ago. Also I grew up near the northern Pacific Ocean so my feet have been numb since childhood.

The very point where the Mississippi River is born. I was prepared to be unimpressed at what is clearly a popular tourist attraction, but this is fantastic. I loved it.

Aside from the natural awesomeness, it was such fun to watch people crossing the Mississippi. From young to old and in between, everyone was having such a good time.


This nice path and boardwalk follows the river through the park for some distance. Unfortunately I didn't have time to follow it.

But I did wade down the river until it got so buggy I wasn't having fun anymore.

Then I turned around and reluctantly waded back to shore.

The river twists and turns quite a lot, so you cross over it a little further downstream on the way. There are stairs next to the bridge so you can walk across it here, too.

Autumn Highway, Lake Itasca, Minnesota
Heading east through evergreens and fall foliage on Highway 200 near Lake Itasca, Minnesota, USA.

Back on the road, with more pretty trees.

Just barely managed to snap this lovely car when I saw it, somewhere near Park Rapids.

There was beautiful fall foliage along most of my route, often blowing in the wind as shown here. Glorious.

Sunroof cam!

Beautiful fields in the evening light.

Just one fine example in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

It had clouded up again by the time I reached my destination for the night, where I was stopped by a super-long train of oil tanks. Trains will continue to be a frequent sight and sound throughout my trip. It seems following the old highways also means following the old railroad tracks. I like trains, so that's a bonus.

My destination for the night was Detroit Lakes (population 9,000), chosen mainly for its location between Grand Forks and Minneapolis and its decent lodging options.

My room at the AmericInn Detroit Lakes. It was pretty good.

After checking in, I headed to the newer side of town in search of dinner. I found Jimmy John's and Caribou Coffee, hooray! The strip mall that contained them was new and nice, but it was pretty gloomy there, between the cloudy weather and nondescript suburban feel. No biggie - I was soon back in my hotel room asleep. I had, after all, forded the entire width of the Mississippi River earlier that day.

next: An Afternoon Stroll in Historic Oregon City

previous: Rugby and Grand Forks, North Dakota

Article Info

Page Title
Fording the Headwaters of the Mississippi
Added By
Holly Hayes
Date Published
November 13, 2014
Last Updated
April 15, 2024