Off the Beaten Path Series, Small Footprint ~ Big Impressions, Travel Destinations & Stories

Crossing the Mississippi in 21 Steps. Exploring the Mississippi Headwaters.

Did you know?

The Mississippi Headwaters is actually in the state of Minnesota?

There is a Mississippi Headwaters State Park … and that is NOT where the Mississippi Headwaters is really located? 

These are geography mishaps in my book. Ha!

Itasca State Park – Minnesota

We came upon this area purely by mistake, and we think it’s such a great area, that we wanted to share the information. 

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Their visitors center is set up really well, with a lot of historical signs to read. Justin loves history! There is a small entrance fee to the park of $7. It’s all self-service at a small kiosk at the front. There is a campground inside the park as well. When we were there it was $31 per night. We are more into boondocking (disbursed / Free camping) and usually do not stay in paid campgrounds, but from what we saw it looked pretty nice. We weren’t allowed beyond a certain point since we weren’t camping there.

The walk from the visitors center to the Mississippi Headwaters is only 800 feet. This is wheelchair accessible and easy. There are some longer hikes and a lot of short hikes through their nature trails.

Live Cam!

Click Here to Visit the Live Webcam

Fire Tower Hike

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If you’re able to do longer hikes, we highly recommend the 1-mile round trip hike to the fire tower. The sign just below the tower is quite comical, and I won’t ruin the chuckle by posting a picture of it. See for yourself! We climbed to the top and the views are breathtaking. You are completely caged in at the top so don’t worry!

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We spent the entire day driving around, hiking short trails, and enjoying the beautiful fall weather. 

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Boondocking / Dry Camping, Off the Beaten Path Series, Travel Destinations & Stories

Off the Beaten Path in Minnesota. Hidden Gems You Shouldn’t Miss!

If this is your first time here – WELCOME! If not, welcome back!! As full-time RV’ers, we travel and see a lot. This is part of our Opting Out of Normal series where we explore the hidden treasures in every state. We love the big popular attractions like everyone else, but there is just something incredible about discovering something unique and different. Taking the roads less traveled and exploring unique and different places is something we seek out and enjoy. We certainly can’t explore them all, so we’d love you to share your own off-the-beaten-path stories with us. Each post will include at least 1 epic boondocking area, with GPS coordinates. 

There are a lot of interesting roadside attractions to see in Minnesota. I mean a huge statue of the Jolly Green Giant and a 7,000-pound spoon and cherry should not be missed! 

But wait!

There’s more!

Itasca State Park

Did you know the Mississippi headwaters aren’t in Mississippi at all? Why are we talking about Mississippi? Because the Mississippi headwaters are in Minnesota!

Visiting Itasca State Park in Minnesota is something you should put on your bucket list. Visitors of all ages carefully scamper from rock to rock across the spot where Lake Itasca flows into the river’s beginning. There is even a live webcam you can check out prior to going. Or have your friends check in and you can wave to them! We loved our visit to Itasca State Park last year, and you can check out our blog Crossing The Mississippi in 21 Steps

Devils Kettle – Grand Marais

Something strange is happening here! Half of the waterfall goes into the river while the other half seems to just disappear. If you follow us, you know I love waterfalls, and you know I love mysteries. This really is both of those! Known as Devil’s Kettle, this water portal to nowhere has long puzzled everyone.

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In attempts to trace the underground flow, researchers have dropped objects such as ping-pong balls and dye into the hole. But for centuries, it’s confused all who have tried to figure it out. The hike is about 2.5 miles round trip. At the 1.25 mile in, there is an overlook where you can see the falls, just before the steps that will bring you to the kettle. Brace yourself, it’s about 200 steps down to the river and up to the top of the kettle, but there are benches to stop and catch your breath.

Niagara Cave – Harmony

This cave was discovered in 1924 when legend has it that three pigs disappeared from a nearby farm and ended up in a sinkhole. When their owner went looking for the wayward swine, he not only found his livestock – alive and well, 75 feet underground – he also discovered the underground chamber and its many wonders. It is home to a 60-foot subterranean waterfall, 100-foot-high ceilings, and unusual limestone rock formations. It reminds me of a slot canyon. And you know how I love those! When I explore these underground caves, I often think about the person who discovered it, and how many more in this amazing country is still left to be discovered … or not! I did feel it was a little on the expensive side at $16 for adults. But this is why we boondock so much. We can spend a little extra on stuff like this. 

Wolf Creek Falls – Banning State Park

Wolf Creek Falls is truly a hidden gem in the woods of Banning State Park.

Wolf Creek Falls

It is only accessible on foot via trails with a very scenic rocky terrain. It can be difficult to follow this trail in some of the more rocky areas. So just be aware of that. You’ll be able to stand at the top of this waterfall right on the edge. No guard rails exist here so be careful! I highly recommend seeing this a day or two after a big rainfall. I do not recommend you go out to the edge. You can see it just as well from a safe distance. 

Winnewissa Falls (Pipestone Creek)

If you know me, you know waterfalls are my happy place. This is definitely a lesser-known waterfall, out of the way, and a very short and easy hike.

Pipestone Creek is filled with rocks and stones, is a uniquely beautiful place in Minnesota. Coupled with the history of the place, it’s simply awe-inspiring. You’ll hear Winnewissa Falls long before you see it.

Highway 61 Scenic Drive

If you are heading north, you won’t want to miss the historic strip of road known as Old Highway 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors. Don’t let the short distance fool you!

Just off highway 61 you can venture into Gooseberry Falls State Park (see below) Also check out Palisade Head and Tettegouche State Park, between Silver Bay and Illgen City. This highway leads you to some more popular places you won’t want to miss either! Depending on when you go, it can be busy. We tend to travel more in the off-season and we love it! You know … Opting Out of Normal! 

Split Rock State Park – Two Harbors

You’ll get here via Highway 61 if you’re driving the above scenic road. This is one of the most visited areas in Minnesota, and this blog isn’t about those places, but it’s really worth a mention.

You absolutely want to visit this scenic state park and get the iconic picture of the Split Rock Lighthouse. Check out some of the fantastic hiking trails here too.

Gooseberry Falls State Park – Two Harbors 

You had me at “Falls”.

Seriously, just look at this multi-tiered waterfall. If you’ve read any of our blogs, you’ll know I seek them out. This state park is definitely eye candy. State parks are often overlooked, but if you chase waterfalls as much as we do, you’ll want to visit Gooseberry Falls. I have to say I was mixed on putting this on my list. It really is an “off the beaten path” place, but it does get really busy in the Summer. As most places surrounding water do when kids are out of school. 

Boondocking

  • Old Crossing Treaty County Park – Crookston, Minnesota – GPS: 47.861736, -96.425978. Awesome ATT, trash cans, and water spigots. No hookups. Vault toilets. Really beautiful park by the water. Big rig friendly in a few areas. There is a big grassy area and if you can get a spot there, it’s perfect. 
  • Six Mile Lake – GPS 47.311755, -94.125634 – No size limit. On a couple boondocking sites it’s listed as a 45’ RV limit, but I think even that would fit. Great cell service. One bathroom. 

Do you live in Minnesota? Or did you travel through and see something you’d love to share with us? We’d love to hear about it! Please post your comments below, and if you have any questions, please contact us at OptingOutofNormal@gmail.com

Thank you for visiting our little corner of the internet. We appreciate each and every one of you for your support and your wisdom!

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