Itasca State Park – Winter Weekend Itinerary

Itasca Headwaters in winter


  • Mississippi River headwaters
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Snowshoeing
  • Hiking
  • Naturalist events

Great for:

  • Families, friends
  • All levels of abilities


Spend a winter weekend exploring Itasca State Park, where you can visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River State Water Trail.

Itasca Winter Suites Itasca Suites Interior

Day One: Morning

Stop at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Pick up a map and get an update on trail conditions or recent wildlife sightings.

Have lunch. Pack a snack and water for your afternoon adventure.

Note: There are no restaurants open in the park in the winter. Vending machines are available in the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Day One: Afternoon

Attend a naturalist program or hit the trails for a hike, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing under the towering pines. Bring your own equipment or rent snowshoes at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Snowshoeing at Itasca State Park

Hiking and snowshoeing

Popular snowshoe routes include the Dr. Roberts, Brower and Schoolcraft trails.

  • You can snowshoe anywhere in the park except on groomed ski or snowmobile trails.
  • Tip: Wear warm winter boots with a flat heel when snowshoeing.

Cross-country skiing

A popular and easy ski trail goes from the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center toward Preachers Grove.

  • Miles of groomed trail allow you to choose one that fits your skill, physical condition and the weather.
  • The park grooms trails for both classic and skate skiing.
  • Itasca State Park does not rent skis.

Note: Skiers age 16 and older must carry a signed ski pass on all groomed state park ski trails. Daily passes are available for sale at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.

Warm up

Warm up in the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center in front of the fireplace.

Wander through the building to view exhibits and watch a short movie about the park.

Day One: Evening

Head back to the Four-Season Suites and make dinner.

  • Attend a naturalist-led program or event, if one is offered. If not, play cards or games.
  • Take a short evening hike to gaze at the moon and stars. The best views of the night sky can be found along Lake Itasca and in parking lots, such as the one at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.

Mississippi River headwaters in winter

Day Two: Morning

Have breakfast. Pack a snack and water for the trail.

Drive to the Mary Gibbs Center at the Headwaters of the Mississippi River State Water Trail. Walk through the outdoor exhibits and down to the water.

Note: The nature store and café are not open in the winter.

Take family photos and selfies in front of the iconic post.

Otter with fish From the headwaters, walk or snowshoe the Schoolcraft Trail for a wide view of Lake Itasca and Schoolcraft Island

  • Enjoy your snack at the overlook. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Some of the many animals you may see or hear if you are quiet: owls, woodpeckers, otters, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, and mink.

Return to your vehicle. It's time to check out and head home.

Special notes

  • Don't rely on your smartphone for navigation. Cell phones work at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center (where there is also wifi), but not in the park's more remote places. Bring a trail map and tell someone where you are headed and when you expect to return.
  • Bring warm winter clothing, including good boots, hats, mittens, snow pants, and coats.
  • Know and respect your physical limitations when skiing or snowshoeing.
  • Stay hydrated - it's just as important in the winter as in the summer! Bring an insulated water bottle that won't freeze while you're on the trail or carry a Thermos of hot tea or cocoa.
  • Carry easy-to-eat snacks such as trail mix or granola bars.

Other seasons in the park

Cheerful snowman on Lake Itasca

Now that you're a fan of Itasca State Park in the winter, plan a trip to come see how it changes through the seasons! Here are some of our favorite activities in each season:

  • Spring: Look for emerging wildflowers like Minnesota's state flower, the Showy Lady's Slipper.
  • Summer: Swim at the beach, ride the bike trail, wade across the headwaters of the Mississippi River State Water Trail.
  • Fall: Climb the fire tower for the most breathtaking view of fall colors.

Getting to the park

From Park Rapids: Take U.S. Highway 71 north for 23 miles.

From Bemidji: Go 30 miles south on U.S. Highway 71. Then go 1/10 mile north on State Highway 200.

From Bagley: Take State Highway 92/State Highway 200 south for 21 miles.

GPS device users: Lat. 47.194648 Long. -95.165012

Note: In winter, the south entrance is closed. The east entrance and the north entrance remain open.

Want to explore a nearby park?

If you'd like even more winter adventure, check out Lake Bemidji State Park, approximately 30 miles from Itasca State Park. There you'll find naturalist programs throughout the winter, groomed ski trails, snowshoe rentals and four winterized camper cabins.

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