The Start of America's Greatest River
My first stop, Itasca State Park, is Minnesota's oldest state park with over 32,000 acres and large tracks of old-growth red and white pine forest. It was created in 1891 to protect the forest and waters surrounding the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi, and the river is just 12 feet wide here as it begins its 2,552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. I really enjoyed touring along the bike paths and wilderness drive, but too many buzzing & biting bugs to get me into the hiking trails!
Itasca feels like a mini-national park with multiple visitor centers, exhibits, a museum, and yes, tours and talks. There are numerous historic, rustic buildings of log and stone from the early 20th century, as well as depression era construction built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Since I stayed at a hostel within the Park, it was an enjoyable few days of both conversation with housemates and solitude by the lake.
The Largest Body of Fresh Water on Earth
Yes, the next stop -- Duluth and Lake Superior for a week! While I did spend an afternoon walking miles through the city, I was lucky enough to score an affordable room in Lakeside, at the start of Highway 61, and nearby Lester Park and Brighton Beach. Let me just say that I was mesmerized by Lake Superior, and spent hours and hours biking, walking, and sitting by the water. If it was brackish with the scent of the sea, I would have spent the rest of the summer simply traveling up the North Shore. Since I never want to be in my car, I actually traveled very little of it, but I'll be back one day soon to cycle Duluth to Grand Portage, or maybe the Lake Superior circle tour! Anyone interested?
Historic Bluff Country
Am I in Vermont? As you peruse the photos of the Lanesboro, Minnesota area, I think you'll see why I continued to ask myself that very question during my five days in the area. To start, I traveled from Lake Superior via the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi -- lucky me -- stunning, green rolling hills of farmland. Then, as I arrived at the quaint town of Lanesboro (population 739), I was convinced I'd somehow driven to Vermont.
I found Bluff Country thanks to a dear Minnesota couple I met in the Rocky Mountains three summers ago. They recommended it, not only for its beauty, but also for the Root River State Trail, over sixty paved scenic miles of trail for biking, walking and skating, or cross-country skiing in the winter. Lovely, and each little town along the way offers its own personality, and has a story to tell. The river also offers a place to fly fish, tube, kayak, and more, so a really outdoorsy experience for all!
Three, two, one -- I'm now in Dubuque, Iowa, with Indiana on the itinerary for late next week. Then, I wear my 50-stater badge!