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Explore the wonder of winter at Itasca State Park

The annual Evening Lantern-Lit Snowshoe Walk is scheduled for 5-7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8 at Itasca State Park.

The area near the Headwaters of the Mississippi is beautiful in winter. The Mississippi River meanders through the forested landscape and the area is less busy than in summer. The trail near the Headwaters is popular with both snowshoe enthusiasts and cross country skiers. Contributed / Itasca State Park
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The event will start at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center. Lighted trails include the Schoolcraft Trail and the trail to Mississippi Headwaters.

Kerosene lanterns will be placed along the trail. Snowshoe or walk at your own pace along the lantern lit route during this drop-in program.

Participants should dress for the weather and bring along snowshoes, water and snacks. Some portions of the trail may be walkable in just snow boots. No snowshoes will be available for check out at this time.

Twinkle Light Trail

Another new attraction, the Twinkle Light Trail, is making winter walking at Itasca State Park a magical experience through the end of February. Visitors are invited to walk, snowshoe or ski the 3/4 mile of lighted trail located in Bear Paw Campground. The trail is illuminated from 5 to 10 p.m.


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Visitors are invited to walk, snowshoe or ski the 3/4 mile of lighted trail located in Bear Paw Campground. The trail is illuminated from 5 to 10 p.m. Contributed / Itasca State Park

Parking is available near the Bear Paw Guesthouse. Visitors can hike or snowshoe the packed-snow trail. Skiers are also welcome, but no track will be set. A vault toilet is available near the start of the first loop. Pets are welcome if they are on a 6-foot or shorter leash, and visitors must clean up after their pets. A headlamp or flashlight, bottled water and boot cleats are recommended. Visitors should dress in layers for the weather and carry a cell phone in the event of an emergency.

Heather Funk is the visitor service supervisor at Itasca State Park. She said the snow is bringing more visitors to the park. “It is a winter wonderland up here,” she said. “The trails are packed and skiing and snowshoeing are also popular. We have shelters on some of the trail systems where people can stop and warm up. Trails for skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are looking really great. The snow on the trees is just beautiful.”

During the winter season visitors need to use the east or north entrance.

Other classes planned at Itasca this month are a children’s circle time, “C is for Colorful Birds,” from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 13; the kids’ science program “Animal Tracks and Signs” from 11 a.m. to noon Friday, Jan. 21; and “A beginner’s guide to snowshoeing” from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22. Upcoming events at Itasca State Park can be found on the MN DNR events calendar, www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/events.html?location=spk00181 .

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The Headwaters Inn, formerly known as the Headwaters Hostel, recently reopened as part of the park system. Contributed / Itasca State Park

Headwaters Inn

Those wanting a multi-day winter break to appreciate the solitude and beauty of the season have the option of winter camping or an overnight stay at one of Itasca State Park’s lodging accommodations.


Winter lodging opportunities at Itasca State Park include the Four-Season Suites, which has 12 units. Each unit has a bedroom with one or two beds, a kitchenette and a living room.

The Headwaters Inn, formerly known as the Headwaters Hostel, which recently reopened as part of the park system, has six bedrooms that can be booked individually. Guests share amenities, including three bathrooms, a large kitchen and dining area, two four-season porches and a lounge with a wood-burning stone fireplace.

This restored log building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1923 and once served as the park headquarters. Guests can make a reservation through the Minnesota State Parks and Trails reservation system.

“It’s a hidden gem,” Funk said. “It's close to the trails and the lake so people have easy access to winter recreation opportunities.”

A limited number of campsites with electric service also remain open through the winter season in Pine Ridge Campground. Reservations can be made through the MN State Parks and Trails reservation website, mndnr.gov/reservations, or by calling 866-857-2757, or booking online at dnr.state.mn.us/reservations.

Snow depth and groomed trail conditions can be found at www.dnr.state.mn.us/snow_depth/trails.html?facility_id=4136 and are updated weekly.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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