More about the Mississippi River: Lake Itasca to Cass Lake

Mississippi River

Water characteristics - check the river level report.
The Mississippi fluctuates from swamp to fast water between Coffee Pot and Pine Point Landing. The river falls an average of four feet per mile. Riffles or rapids are encountered at the confluence of tributaries or where the river cuts through hilly forests. The area of greatest fall is east of Bemidji above and below the impoundment that has created Stump Lake. Eight miles below Lake Bemidji is a hydroelectric dam which must be portaged.

Landscape - The Mississippi River lies on the western edge of the Itasca moraine, a large landform created by glaciers 10,000 years ago. White and red pine, oaks, maples, birch and aspen grow on the moraine's well-drained, sandy soils. Wet, organic soils of the plains support coniferous swamp forests, covered in black spruce, northern white cedar and tamarack. The steep banks rise to 60 feet in places, topped by jack pine and red pine. There are beaver dams in this area and intermittent rapids excellent for novice canoeists.

Mississippi River

Huge areas of cattail marsh and occasional tamarack and spruce stands continue to Iron Bridge Landing. The primary attraction between Iron Bridge Landing and Lake Bemidji is the wetland forest which forms a dense canopy over a meandering stretch above Lake Irving. As you approach Bemidji, the river's banks are more defined, and you will begin to see farms and homes along the river.

Fish and wildlife - The large diversity of plant life supports 242 kinds of birds, 23 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 57 species of mammals. These include warblers who migrate to Central America each year, common tern, bufflehead, beaver, eastern hog-nosed snake, and the pine martin, which only recently has returned to this area. Also seen are the bald eagle and other birds of concern, predators such as the red-shouldered hawk, and water birds such as the sandhill crane and Wilson's phalarope.

Mississippi River

Cultural Information - The first white man to see the river was Hernando DeSoto in 1541; however, it was not until 1832 that Henry Schoolcraft discovered the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca. Today much of the river's upper reaches remain in a wilderness condition, much the same as in Schoolcraft's time.