Lake Itasca to Bemidji, MN 35.5 Miles

…Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.                      –A.A. Milne

Today dawned chilly and overcast – a hint that Summer is “checking out” up here in the North, giving way to Fall.  Our hope is that we are able to stay one step ahead of the cooler weather as we ride South.  Lake Itasca to Bemidji seems like a natural first day’s ride, knowing that the morning will be busy with getting us and the bikes ready to go and everyone shuttled over to the starting line at the headwaters of the Mississippi.

It is impressive to realize how large Lake Itasca State Park is (32,000+ acres).  We arrived at the East entrance and proceeded to drive more than 5 miles inside the park to reach the welcome center for the headwaters.


DSCN3555There, we took our bikes off the car to roll them down with us to see the headwaters. The beginning of the Mississippi is found down a short dirt path behind the welcome center, along which is a small bridge crossing what looks like a creek.  The first time I saw it, I didn’t realize it was the Mississippi!


The Mississippi actually flows North at first as it begins its trip to the Gulf of Mexico and after Bemidji it flows about 100 miles East before finally turning South to head for the Gulf of Mexico. They say a drop of water from Lake Itasca takes 90 days to reach the mouth of the river.



This is the point where lake becomes river. Up to 500,000 people visit this spot every year. This spot has widened considerably due to erosion from visitors

Mike, who has paddled nearly as many miles on the Mississippi as me, really enjoyed seeing the source of the river.  I enjoyed seeing it again too. 

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was in my kayak on the river down near Hannibal, MO.  Remembering how wide and busy the river is there was a great contrast to seeing it in its infancy at the headwaters.

Something new for this visit – they have a webcam at the headwaters now.   Headwaters Web Cam

We posed for some “getting the trip started” pictures.  I insisted on copying one or two poses from my first trip along with making sure we dipped our tires.  The only thing we didn’t do is take our shoes off and walk across.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a1


What I call the “first” bridge over the river.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a2We stopped for a minute at the welcome center.  They have a scale map of the river.  Even on that smaller scale New Orleans seems a long way away!


My sister Laura is our “sag hag” for the first half of the trip.  She also helped Jane and me out in 2015.  This morning she mentioned that she remembered so many hills on the first day (she had followed Jane and me for the first few miles).  I said, “I don’t remember that many hills.”  I was quickly reminded about the hills within the first mile of riding as we had to climb an impressive hill on the way out of the state park.  I was reminded quite frequently in the next 35 miles!  So -it was a bit rolling/hilly today.


Laura checking to see if we’ve hit the road yet.


And we’re off!

DSCN3572We began following the MRT route into a robust headwind.  It made climbing hills extra fun.  (Just kidding)  Most of the 35 miles to Bemidji are through forested and quite unpopulated areas.  The scenery was lovely and we crossed the Mississippi a few times as we went.

Around the half-way mark is the Becida Bar & Grill, which is the only place to get food or drinks on the way to Bemidji.  I was very much looking forward to taking a break there until we approached and saw this sign at the corner.DSCN3573DSCN3575We stopped for lunch -wondering what the road ahead was going to bring and we found out soon enough!  Four miles of this:

DSCN3576It was very bumpy and it couldn’t end soon enough.  I hoped that was going to be the end of our excitement for the day, but wait there’s more!  A few miles later we came to another crossroads where we were supposed to keep going straight, but there was more construction ahead and the sign said the road was closed 5.5 miles ahead.  We stopped and tried to figure out if our route would turn off this road before the 5.5 miles or if we should follow the detour.  I worried that the detour would add miles to the day and I never want to do that!  As we stood there trying to figure it out, a man in a truck stopped and said we should take the detour.  So we did.  The original MRT route arrives in downtown Bemidji from the West.  The detour took us to a point South of town.

DSCN3577The Mississippi is still quite narrow as it arrives in Bemidji.

We decided we might as well head straight to our nearby hotel rather than worrying about connecting to the original route.  Funny how things have a way of working out – one wrong turn had us rejoining the original route where it enters Bemidji from the West.  We were able to visit the park where the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox are.


Paul is 18 feet tall and was placed in 1937.  Babe arrived in 1939.

Our hotel was only a mile or so down the road from there and we were happy to finally call it a day.

DSCN3587This is the bridge where the Mississippi empties into Lake Bemidji.  We were on a bike path that made use of the old road bridge so had a nice perspective.


I checked our GPS stats from today against Jane’s and my stats from 2015.  Even after all the detours, our trip was 2 miles shorter than it was in 2015.


Categories: Lake Itasca to Bemidji, MN, MRT Bike Trip 2018 & 2022

2 replies

  1. The good thing with a detour is different scenery, I would think.

  2. Except most detours are for cars and I don’t think the planners worry about how many extra miles it might take to get around the construction. On bikes -I really hate to go any further than I need to!

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