On Little Mantrap Lake
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Hiking Northern Minnesota

September 13, 2020

The 5 Best Hiking Trails in Itasca State Park

There are many ways to explore serene Itasca State Park, the “Father of Waters.” What starts as a gentle Lake Itasca-fed stream eventually expands, gushes, and spills into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River flows through 10 states, but none celebrate its magnificence more than the great state of Minnesota. With nearly 33,000 acres of pristine wilderness readily available, Itasca State Park allures history buffs, cyclists, paddlers, and hikers alike. Today, we’re going to map out five can’t-miss hiking trails in Itasca State Park in Northern Minnesota, which just happens to be a short jaunt from Little Norway Resort, a historic basecamp located along the banks of peaceful Little Mantrap Lake.

The Prettiest Hiking Trails in Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park remains one of the best places to hike in Minnesota because it caters to adventurers of all ages and skill levels. There’s little to no elevation gain, and yet the terrain is as spellbinding as any North Shore mountain, Mississippi River bluff, or Twin City park. The prettiest hiking trails in Itasca State Park range from isolated to heavily-trafficked. Upon arrival, simply snag a trail map, find an appropriate parking lot, and start trekking through the densely-thicketed forestry. Helpful hint: Most of these excursions are easily accessible from the Forest Inn parking lot.

  1. Dr. Roberts - Much like the entire state park, the two-mile Dr. Roberts trail is best traversed during autumn’s golden peak. However, it’s also exceedingly rejuvenating amid summer’s haze and midwinter’s frost (via snowshoe). There’s just something genuinely heartwarming about the way the sun gleams off the lake, producing a leafy glow to the tall forest. Note: The experience is best when hiked clockwise.
  2. Itasca Fire Tower - The trek to and from the Alton Heights Lookout Tower is equally as memorable as the rolling Mississippi River valley’s panoramic views from its summit. The southbound Deer Park Trail hooks up with a brief Alton Heights stroll. Eventually, you’ll spot the fire tower peeking above the treeline.
  3. Ozawindib, Red Pine, and Deer Park Loop - This meandering, five-mile loop crosses paths with the two aforementioned destinations. It’s among the longest hiking trails in Itasca State Park; thus, you’ll rarely stumble upon another group of backpackers. The paths snake past lakes, bogs, thriving pines, and ancient infrastructure.
  4. Mary Lake - Admittedly, Mary Lake isn’t much of a trek. However, it’s a prime picnic location for those who want a healthy dose of tranquility during their mid-day meal. This particular slice of the park is home to a flourishing deer population, so keep your camera handy.
  5. Nicollet Trail - Seasoned hikers and backpackers can use the three-mile Nicollet Trail as a springboard to the rest of the park. You can either search for more backcountry serenity by heading west or trek eastbound toward the four most-traveled hiking trails in Itasca State Park.

Bonus Backpacking Destinations

If you’ve run out of explorable real estate at Itasca State Park, we highly recommend three other oft-overlooked hiking destinations. The Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge boasts a diverse array of multi-purpose trails that swing around several lakes en route to marshlands, flats, and remote rivers. A few months back, we touched on the sheer beauty of the Heartland State Trail. And, while it’s mostly utilized by bicyclists, hikers can always pick up the trail wherever’s most convenient. The nearby Two Inlets State Forest, meanwhile, is an ATVing and hunting mecca. Hikers and birders are also welcome to explore the lush topography—remember to apply ample tick repellant.

The Coziest Lake Cabin Rentals in Minnesota

We hope that these five hiking trails in Itasca State Park amplify your upcoming getaway to Little Norway Resort. There’s still plenty of time to book a last-minute autumnal escape. We have limited availability, particularly if you’re looking for a midweek stay (or “workcation”) with the kids. After all, we have complimentary Wi-Fi across the resort grounds. Most folks fill their days with bicycling adventures, largemouth bass fishing, and a bevy of paddling pursuits. Don’t forget to take a peek at last month’s fall foliage guide before your arrival! Please give us a call today at 218-732-5480 (or check availability online).“Leaf peeping” isn’t a universally accepted phrase. However, it’s a widely beloved activity in many countries, including Japan, where the expression is known as “momijigari.” During autumn’s peak, leaf peeping is a way of life for many Midwesterners, particularly Northern Minnesotans. There’s just something heartwarming about observing the landscape’s subtle transformation from emerald to a vibrant meld of marigold, amber, crimson, and kelly green. While leaf peeping is only one of many quintessential fall activities in Minnesota, it’s undoubtedly the most popular mid-day pleasure for couples and families alike.

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