Tuesday, November 6, 2018

1 Day In Itasca State Park, MN

At the end of every October the minis have a long weekend off from school. Last year we traveled to Chicago, this year was all about relaxing. It's no secret that life is just busier now that the minis are older and involved in things. Between my things, their things, and family things, life is just plain busy. We try to slow it down as much as we can, but the craziness of life piles up easily. When planning our four day weekend getaway to Northern Minnesota, second on our list was Itasca State Park.

The minis have discussed the Mississippi head waters for a couple of years now, but they became serious about seeing it after our getaway to Dubuque, IA back in August. We honestly had every intention of just crossing over the head waters, maybe doing a quick hike in the park, and then heading back to the cabin. Our quick visit to the head waters turned into a several hour excursion through numerous trails, a fire tower, and the visitors center.

And we did it all in the rain.

In all honesty, the weather here in Des Moines, IA had been low 40's and damp, so really it was just another weekend for us. We made sure to bundle the minis (and ourselves) up, pack extra clothes and rain coats, so we could spend our time comfortably outdoors. Due to the weather and it being the off season in Park Rapids, we found ourselves nearly alone in the Park. The only other people in the park during our trip was another family from Des Moines, who traveled up to see the head waters as well for their children's long weekend. It's a small world we live in!

Our first stop was the visitors center for park maps, a visit with the park ranger (we make sure to do this with every park we visit--state or national, so we can get "the scoop" on the park for the day, make sure there's nothing we need to be aware of during our adventures, and most importantly, tell someone our plans for the day), souvenirs at the gift shop, and one last potty break. We had some educational reading material on the back of the stalls (the boys informed me there was also reading plaques above the urinals as well).

I'm disappointed I didn't get a video of the middle mini exploring all of the animals that can be found in the park and looking up on the pole directly above him, only to be met with a stuffed black bear. I'll never forget the look on his face or the surprised gasp he let out!

As we prepped for our first hike, I noticed the middle mini had his flowers from Grandma Sheaffer set up in the back of the car still. It made me smile.

Our first stop was Pioneer Cemetery. The minis were excited about this because "it's almost Halloween! There might be ghosts!" There weren't, but it made them happy.

As we looked down, we couldn't believe how clear the water was. Being from Iowa, we're used to brown and dirty lakes. 

Finally time for the head waters! It's crazy to think how the Mighty Mississippi, as we usually see it as we cross into Illinois, starts as just a small, shallow stream. The minis were in awe of this fact.

Touching the Mississippi River.

Of course the middle mini was the one to jump right in (literally). That's how we learned how cold the water was (and that they didn't care how cold the water was).

Tip: there's a webcam (that has a delay) that points at the rocks so friends and family can watch you cross the Mississippi if they feel so inclined. 

We spent longer than we would have on a busy day crossing the river over and over again. The minis made it a game to run across the boardwalk, climb the rocks, and run back to do it over.

Itasca has some great, kid friendly hiking trails. Our next adventure took us hiking to Aiton Heights Fire Tower. It was here that we were made aware of the oldest mini's sudden fear of heights. With A LOT of encouragement and reminding not to look down, he made it to the top of the tower with us. The views were really cool. I imagine they'd be beautiful on a clear day, but it was still pretty amazing even in the fog.

Despite it raining, the trail wasn't extremely muddy. It was packed down well. I was so sure when we left the cabin for the day that we would be coming back covered in mud. Covered in river water yes, but not mud.

Yes, we climbed that! Elizabeth, Harrison, and myself ran up to the top and spent a nice long time looking out as we waited for Max and Hubs to make their way to the top.

Elizabeth felt bad that Max was scared at the fire tower, so she gave him hugs as they hiked. I think it scared her more than anything to see Max scared of something.

I loved seeing the fire tower in the distance as we hiked back to the car. I felt so accomplished in that simple moment.

So, the weather wasn't perfect and we sure couldn't do a lot of what the park has to offer, but the fact that we had the park to ourselves was amazing! We were able to do what we wanted to do and more. I can see how busy it likely is during the warmer summer months, when they have boating, canoeing, kayaking, all of the cabins and resorts are open, and all trails are open (some were closed as they prepared them for the winter season, when they'll be open for cross country skiing and snowmobiles). We had such a fun day in the rain exploring what we could of the Park. It was easily one of my favorites.