Itasca State Park, established in 1891, is the oldest state park in Minnesota. It was established primarily to protect the basin around the Mississippi’s source, as well as stands of virgin pine. There are 49 miles (78 km) of trails in the park but we went for the Hiking Club route on the park’s southeast side. That route combines the Ozawindib, Myrtle Lake Crossover, and Deer Lake Trails into a loop starting from the Douglas Lodge.

Innocents at the trailhead

The Ozawindib Trail took us past Mary Lake and into the forest. And then the entomological feeding frenzy began… 🦟🦟😲

Into the forest
Mary Lake, Itasca State Park, MN
Mary Lake
On past Mary Lake

The mosquitos and biting flies were on us hard and fast once we passed Mary Lake. Attacks were numerous and unrelenting. DEET held off the mosquitos (mostly) but the flies treated it like a seasoning. This bug frenzy was not as intense as we’ve experienced in Alaska or the Tetons or the Sky Lakes in high summer, but Itasca’s bugs were trying hard. Over-achieving you might say. 🥺

Mushroom I
The bug-fest begins (note map used as bug swatter)
At the Myrtle Lake Crossover Trail, with The LovedOne waving frantically

We reached the Myrtle Lake Crossover Trail, fashioned our bandanas into bug-deflecting head dresses, and pressed on to Myrtle Lake. The bugs pressed on with us.

Continuing on with our fancy new headgear
Myrtle Lake, Itasca State Park, MN
Myrtle Lake
The brave hiker smile is replaced with the hot, sweaty, and bitten hiker glare
Mushroom II
Deer Lake
And we flee from the forest…

As soon as we left the forest and approached Douglas Lodge, the bugs relented. Whew! It had been a 3.8 mile (6.1 km) gauntlet of biting pests. 😥 Our bad for having forgotten our headnets. And thus we got a painful introduction to northern Minnesota’s enthusiastic insect life. No wonder everyone we’ve talked to so far enthuses about Up North and the North Shore after Labor Day, when the bugs are dying or (better yet) dead. ⚰ Wise words we’ll take to heart.😉

The Hiking Club route at Itasca

After scraping dead bugs and insect repellent off ourselves, we cruised the gift shop at the lodge, then drove north to the Mississippi’s source (and another gift shop). Bugs weren’t an issue here, probably because there were lots of other people to pester, some far more succulent than ourselves.

Headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park, MN
Source: Mississippi
Swimming toward the source
Next stop, the Gulf of Mexico

After wandering the gift shop here, we headed north to La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, which features a viewpoint overlooking the ever growing Mississippi River. 😁

BACK TO BLOG POSTS