The Mississippi River is the longest and mightiest river in Northern America and helps sustain a large variety of life across the area where it flows, which encompasses over 2,300 miles. However, to truly grasp an idea of the power of this river, it is important to know where the headwaters of the Mississippi River are located.
What we know as the Mississippi River incidentally starts out as a small river in Itasca State Park in Minnesota. The beginning of the river is just 18 feet across and is only just knee-deep! This is a protected river area, kept in such condition, so the flow of river water to the areas around the river is not impacted by issues at the headwaters.
It’s pretty interesting how a small river just 18 feet wide can develop into a powerful one with roots in American history. So, in this article, let’s explore what the headwaters are, what you can do there, and how the river moves through Minnesota to reach the Gulf of Mexico – after a grueling journey of nearly 2,300 miles!
About The Headwaters Of the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is an iconic body of water – and like all great things, it has to start somewhere. Interestingly, the headwaters of this river lie in the Itasca State Park in Minnesota. The river is very small and shallow at this point, only 18 feet in width. It also travels at relatively slow speeds, at just 1.2 miles per hour.
From the headwaters, the river flows to the northern area, in a region known as Bemidji, and then turns towards the East. The river flows in this path for a while until it turns towards the south, pretty close to the Grand Rapids. As you can see, there is quite the journey that the river takes. In fact, it flows about 700 miles just within Minnesota!
The location of the headwaters is a pretty iconic space for people to visit and take pictures. Many tourists and visitors come to the Itasca State Park to capture pictures of where the river starts. In fact, the marker that lets people know they are at the headwaters has been around since the 1930s.
Here’s an interesting walkthrough of the river:
A Walk Through The MISSISSIPPI HEADWATERS | Itasca State Park
However, interestingly, the marker does say that the Mississippi River travels for more than 2,500 miles, which is no longer true. This is because the total area that the river covers has lowered over time because of flooding and human intervention. The river is now just over 2,300 miles long and ends at the Gulf Of Mexico.
One of the things that visitors love to do at the headwaters is to walk and swim in the shallow water. The beginning of the river is pretty shallow, so you can easily get in and experience the feel of the Mississippi river! It is separated from Lake Itasca through a rock dam, so you can easily tell which body of water you are in!
The river is surrounded by wildflowers, weeds, and even touch-me-not flowers! This is also a great spot for bird watching, so if you are an enthusiast, visit this iconic location. Here, you can catch birds like waterfowl, kingfishers, and warblers. There is plenty of space to explore, and you can take scenic trails to get a feel for the area.
So if you are in the Minnesota area, make sure to visit this beautiful location. Not only is it a great spot to feel at peace and relax, but it is quite a reminder that even a powerful and mighty water body like the Mississippi River can start out as what looks like just a small, trickling stream of water!
How Are The Headwaters Protected?
It is important to understand that although the headwaters may seem like a small and insignificant water body, the trickling river later develops into a powerful river. The Mississippi River has a role in the draining of more than 30 states in the United States. In addition, the watershed it provides is crucial to the country’s development.
The river’s role is immense – from transporting items, providing access to materials, allowing fishing activities to continue, keeping people connected to nature, and of course, providing one of the most crucial necessities for the nearby communities – recreation! Therefore, this area must be protected and kept safe.
About 466 miles of the Mississippi River are protected, which makes it the longest river protected in the country. This river is protected from the headwaters all the way to Morrison County. Whatever people like when they visit – the clean water, the bustling flora and fauna, and the diverse life, is a result of avid protection.
So yes – The headwaters and the consequent area of the Mississippi river are protected by the local governing body, and the basic idea behind it is to limit how the land next to and near the river can be used by human beings. There is a board in charge of making sure that there is limited development. This, in turn, helps to keep the bank safe and healthy and reduces the chances that the local wildlife and the river will be impacted negatively.
The headwaters of the Mississippi River are a testament to how the iconic river grows from a single stream. The fact that it is a protected site and is limited for use in development is crucial so the river can keep providing safety, resources, and materials to the many different communities that live along its bank. We hope you enjoyed this unique glimpse into one of America’s greatest rivers!