Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Minnesota’s First State Park–Itasca

Wednesday July 9, 2014
Bear Paw Campground
Itasca State Park, Minnesota


Itasca was made Minnesota’s first state park in 1891.  Minnesota was clearly ahead of the pack in creating state parks.  It owes its founding to the tireless work of Jacob Brower and to the discovery that within Lake Itasca was the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Unlike many state parks which were begun with buildings of the CCC, Itasca was already over 40 years old when the “boys” came to return the river to its original run after it had been “straightened” by logging interests to make it easier to float their logs.   They also built the lodge, the Forest Inn and many other buildings including the bath houses in our campground.   They also planted thousands of trees to help repair the damage done by logging.




So of course David wants to see their work but he has two things to do before that.   But first is to go over to the Park Office to make sure that he can get his medicine delivered here.  They are happy to help out so we’ll come over and pick it up on Friday.   Second is to check out the breakfast possibility at the Douglas Lodge.

The lodge looks like those we have seen in Western National Parks.  It’s handsome dark log building with an impressive chimney and a wonderful front porch for relaxing.  I love the wooden porch furniture.

Once described as “a jewel standing in mud”, the Douglas Lodge began serving guests in 1905.  The logs for building came from the park and it was built by local contractors.It was “modernized” in the 1950’s and then “restored” in the 1990’s.  So now it has its original character with modern conveniences.   The lobby contains original wicker and other furniture.  The dining room is still located in its original spot across from the lobby.










After enjoying the lobby which I think would be a great place to read a book on a rainy day, we check out the menu.  We learn that the restaurant focuses on Minnesota cuisine, such as wild rice soup and casseroles, blueberry malts, bison burgers and an exclusively Minnesota wine and beer list,   So should we come for breakfast which is traditional or for lunch and have some of that wild rice?   I know David’s answer will be “both”.







We noticed on the information board at the edge of the parking lot that there is a ranger led tour to “the Old Timer’s Cabin”.  The cabin is only open one day a week, we always enjoy ranger tours and this one is only about an hour away.  Sounds good.  Gives us enough time to walk across to a VCC building, the Forest Inn.   The VCC was the Veteran’s Conservation Corps.  Apparently WWI veterans felt that they should have the same employment opportunities as the young men in the CCC so the VCC was created for them.  They had a camp here and built this building.

In comparing it with the work of the CCC boys it is clear that this building was built by men who knew their trades and were not learning as they went.  The extensive stonework both inside and out shows that stones were selected with care and cut with precision.  The log ends are uniform. Notice the ceiling lighting.

The building now is used for the gift shop, the auditorium and the interactive topographic map   I make a BIG friend in the lobby. Check out those claws.  Wish you could see the pads on the bottoms of his feet.  I should have held his foot up.   For only $199 he can come home with me.







We still have some time so we walk down to see the lake and the boat dock from which the tour boat departs each day for a 10 mile 2 hour tour of the lake.

In following what we think is the trail down, it turns out to be a road which runs under a very interesting looking bridge.  I want to somehow come back over that bridge but how to get up there?   After spending some time at the lake, we turn to go back up the road when we spy the stairs.  







It leads up to the second oldest building in the park, the Clubhouse built about 1910.  It contains 10 sleeping rooms and four bathrooms around a central lobby with fireplace.  Looks like a great spot for groups or family gatherings.





And out behind it, connecting it to the Douglas Lodge is “the bridge”.  SCORE!


We walk across the bridge to the lodge and to the front of the Forest Inn where we meet our guide intern Joseph Scholz.

The short trail we are taking to the Old Timer’s Cabin, the first building built by the CCC Boys, begins down at the dock we have just come from.   He takes us down a beautiful set of stone steps to get to the trailhead from the Douglas Lodge.



The cabin is located near the beginning of the 2 mile Dr. Roberts Loop trail which we will hike after our visit.




Before we get to the cabin we are lucky enough to see some of the last of this year’s showy lady slippers.  We got to see many pink lady slippers throughout our travels in Michigan but these are the first showies we have seen.    They really are among nature’s most beautiful flowers.



When we come up to the Old Timer’s cabin I almost gasp at the size of the logs.   I just can’t imagine cutting down trees that size.  Notice the helter skelter end cuts and the primitive foundation stones.  This was the first cabin built by the CCC in the park in 1934   They were a group in training.  But look what they built and it is still here.




Ranger Scholz tells us a bit about the building of the cabin, points out that all the iron work in the door handles and hinges was made here on site.  He tells us no “old timer” ever lived here.  Who knows why the name.

I’m still marveling at the size of these logs and that the “boys” hoisted them up by sheer manpower on top of each other.   The logs were fallen trees and were so huge the structure is only 4 logs high.





Inside are displays on the men and the CCC camp.  David takes a million pictures.  Be thankful he isn’t writing this.  <grin>

In the stonework on the fireplace, you can see that their skills are rapidly improving.




We are the VERY last people from the tour to leave the cabin.  We look at photo albums of the men and the camp, at post cards they sent with CCC jokes, at their equipment.  As we leave I take a picture of the lovely setting of the cabin right on Lake Itasca.


Everyone else has gone back the way we came which was a very short trip down the stairs and a little ways on the trail.  One woman asked if there was a shorter way back.  I almost laughed out loud.

We continue on the Dr. Roberts trail.  We have read that this trail winds itself through nearly every forest type found in this area.  The trail, lined ith ferns and horsetails in moist areas, goes up and down hills through mixed forest and passes Lyendecker Lake. From there it climbs to a higher and drier ridge, looping around through pines, dogwood and sugar maples.

Just after we leave the cabin we spy a bright orange mushroom, beautiful butterflies and are anticipating a really lovely hike.  By the time we get to the lake, the mosquitoes have found us.







We press on through the trees, the grasses and the mud swatting and picking up speed as we go.  For one of the few times I can remember, David did not wear a hat and he switches between using his handkerchief to swing around his head to keep them away and putting it on top of his head to cover it up.








This is as bad as Tahquamenon Falls, they are literally swarming.  I have been following David around the trail but this is seriously no fun.  I can’t enjoy the trail.  We didn’t anticipate this since we haven’t had similar swarming troubles since early in Michigan.  We didn’t bring our bug hats.  They are buzzing in my ears.   When he stops to take a picture – good grief – I go on around and practically run the rest of the trail out of there to the Douglas Lodge parking lot to wait for him.   Thank goodness it’s only a 2 mile trail.  He obviously took this picture as I was pulling away.




We have lived to tell the tale but are reconsidering how much hiking we may do while we are here. Fall is a better time to come to the Great Lakes.

In the evening, there is a ranger program called Jeopardy.  We both like this show so we go over to check it out.  Seems the rangers have had the interns come up with questions about the park and the state and put them in categories.  They divide the group up into teams of 4 to 6 and we have a hilarious time answering the questions.  Actually our team knows most of the answers but you just like the real Jeopardy you have to be the first to buzz in or in this case to raise your numbered paddle.  We must be sitting on the ranger’s bad side since he doesn’t call on us and I know we are shooting our paddle up there.  But in the end it doesn’t matter since final jeopardy takes all and our team doesn’t manage to pull it out in the end but we have a fun time and it’s a beautiful spot to do just about anything.






For tomorrow we have an exciting field trip planned to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge about 35 miles away.  Many of you will know what that means!!


  1. This brings back memories of being at Itasca last year. I really enjoyed that outing, and would love to go back again sometime. Enjoy Tamarac and give Judy a shout for me.

  2. You guys sure are learning a lot about America on this Northern trip. Enjoyed the tour.

  3. Those are some seriously large logs for such a small cabin. Maybe that was their inexperience showing. Sorry the mosquitoes got you again. I wonder why they seem to be so much worse there than in Florida? You'd think the opposite would be true.

  4. I remember Itasca :) Great place. Amazing work by the Veterans - they got that precision from their military days. Thr rough ends by the CCC ate somewhat 'artsy', I suppose. Lovely lady slipper. So funny that lady asked for a shorter way out - people are so different. Mosquitoes are such a pain!! Go Away!!

  5. Can you begin to imagine what the forests looked like when all the trees were as big as the ones used to build that cabin? It must have been magnificent!

  6. Welcome to Minnesota. It was my last time in Itasca that I learned the answer to one of life's great questions. You know the question, 'Does a bear s*** in the woods?'. Apparently the answer is no, 'He does it in the road, preferably in front of the RV. As far as mosquitoes go....been there, got the T-shirt....you know the one, about the unofficial state bird. It has been a particularly wet Spring and Summer up here and those 10,000 lakes are overflowing. Unfortunately, this means the mosquitoes are bad. I think that a hike in the woods is ill advised. Running and waving your arms like a deranged ape is an excellent aerobic exercise however.

  7. Great Tour!!! The buildings are wonderful and love the Old Timer's Cabin!!! Sorry the mosquitos have return...sure does put a down spin on hiking;o(( But we know you will find other wonderful way to enjoy your visit:o))

  8. Love it when we get to meet special people. Good luck with the mosquitoes

  9. Can't believe the mosquito tale has resumed. That looks like a beautiful trail and oh my, I love the pics of the lodge. Laughed out loud at the woman asking about a shorter way back. We've just about stopped taking ranger led tours for that very reason. There always seemed to be one person who made the tour less than desirable for everyone else. Not to imply that this woman did that, but there always seemed to be someone who did. Yet I know we've given up learning some things we miss. Gotta do some research on months to avoid those mosquitoes.

  10. Maybe that poor lady had to go to the bathroom! The old timer's cabin is so cool. I love it when people that have no experience try something and complete it.....warts and all. Makes it special, doesn't it.

  11. Loved the shot of the butterfly today....great tour! Wish somebody would come out with a new mosquito repellent that isn't dangerous to your health and REALLY WORKS!

  12. We've been lucky, no mosquitoes in Oregon this summer so far.
    Look forward to hearing about your day with Judy!

  13. Good thing you didn't bring that bear friend home with you, the duckies would never forgive you. He'd block their view! :c)

    We have so much to be thankful for from the work of the CCC. Hard to imagine what our parks would be today without their labors.

  14. What a beautiful lodge, VCC building, and cabin -- I've never seen logs that enormous! Glad they were fallen trees, and not cut down. How cool that the restaurant focuses on local cuisine -- looking forward to hearing more about that. Bummer that the mosquitoes have reappeared. Makes me not want to go there until fall.

  15. Love lodges .... going to go to one fairly close by next week ... at a state park ~ hope it's not too hot! catching up with you two... as always ... you guys have quite the lifestyle! love it...

  16. Love the lodge and that beautiful room with the fireplace - yes, curling up there with a good book (from that darling little store you just went to) would be lovely! Those huge logs are crazy - their supervisor probably dared them to build something with them :-).

  17. I'm sure you and Judy will have lots to talk about. . .enjoy!

  18. You will get to meet Judy!! So envious!
    Well, I think it is just silly to build a cabin out of such HUGE logs.. seems a waste.... So did u ever see the headwaters of Mississippi?

  19. You write very descriptively and each place you visit makes me want to go there.

    We are wrapping up our two week trip of the UP and the mosquitoes loved me. I look like I have chicken pox! But we had a great time there, as usual.

  20. I just love those lodges. I would like to do a lodge tour one of these days - staying in the best of all the national and state park lodges.

  21. Lovely showy lady slippers...maybe another year the mosquitoes wouldn't be so heavy and folks could enjoy being outdoors looking at them. Sorry to hear your bug woes continue. I don't hear any mention of them in Colorado...

  22. Camped once at the headwaters of the Miss and was eaten alive. Love all the old CCC work, but never heard of the VCC. Those logs are HUGE! Who did stay in the 'Old Timers' cabin? Ranger programs are always fun, and informative.

  23. The logs on that one cabin are humongous! Lady slippers look a little like orchids but I think they are prettier.


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