Known as the birthplace of the Mighty Mississippi, Itasca State Park (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca/index.html) is located 230 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Here, on the serene waters of Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile winding journey down to the Gulf of Mexico. To some folks a pilgrimage to this site is a necessity; while others just appreciate the scenic lakes and forests of the 32,000-acre Minnesota state park. And with accessible trails, a scenic drive, and a comfortable accessible lodge, Itasca State Park also makes an excellent getaway for slow walkers and wheelchair-users, who love the outdoors, but appreciate modern creature comforts.
The Headwaters and More
The best place to start your Itasca State Park visit is at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center. Take some time to visit the interpretive exhibits inside, then take the 600-foot paved level trail out to a viewing platform, for a gander at the headwaters. A short hard-packed dirt trail leads out to the headwaters, and then transitions to a boardwalk before it loops back to the visitor center. All in all it’s about a .04-mile walk, but even if you can’t manage the whole distance the stroll out to the viewpoint is a must-do.
Another nice accessible trail is located over at the Brower Visitor Center. There’s accessible parking in the lot with level access to the building, which houses a variety of interpretive exhibits. The accessible Maadaadizi Trail begins to the left of the visitor center. The half-mile hard-packed dirt trail is covered with crushed granite, and makes for a nice roll through the surrounding forest.
If you’d prefer a driving tour, then take Wilderness Drive, which runs from Douglas Lodge up to the headwaters. Along the way you’ll be treated to a number of great windshield views, as the trees form a canopy over the road and squirrels and deer scamper around in the underbrush. It’s a pleasant 10-mile drive with several places to stop and enjoy the forest along the way.
Sleeping in Itasca
Located near the east entrance and the Brower Visitor Center, Douglas Lodge (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca/index.html) was built in 1903. Today the historic log-cabin property still boasts some of the original rooms; however new wheelchair-accessible suites are also available.
Accessible parking is located near the main lodge, with level access to the lobby, registration desk and dining room. From there it’s just a short drive to Itasca Suite 61, an accessible two-room suite that’s furnished with rustic pine furniture.
There’s barrier-free access to the roomy suite which includes a living room with a double futon and a bedroom with a 25-inch high bed. The kitchen is is equipped with a microwave, refrigerator, stove top and a dishwasher; while a bar with high stools separates the kitchen and living room.
The bathroom features a wide doorway with a full five-foot turning radius. It’s equipped with a roll-in shower with a hand-held showerhead, grab bars and a fold-down bench. Toilet grab bars are located on the back and right walls (as seated), and there’s also a small table for toiletries. An accessible roll-under sink is located in the adjacent bedroom.
One of the best features of this suite is the screened front porch. Not only does it do a good job of keeping the mosquitoes away, but since it’s furnished with a table and four chairs, it’s also a very pleasant and accessible place to dine.
And if you’re planning a large gathering this suite can also be combined with the one next door, as the screened porch has a removable divider and there’s a connecting door in the living room. Bottom line — this accessible suite is a comfortable and accessible place to call home, on your next Itasca State Park visit.