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Geological history

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

  • 10,000 years ago, the Itasca landscape was sculpted by retreating glaciers, which deposited a large mound of rocks and sediment (the Itasca Moraine) across the region.
  • The Itasca Moraine and other glacial features formed the Lake Itasca drainage basin and channeled the Mississippi River north to Bemidji, then east and then south toward the Twin Cities.
  • Mixed soils called glacial till cover the landscape to an average depth of about 680 feet.
  • There are many springs in the Itasca region because of its glacial geology. Approximately 50 percent of the water flowing into Lake Itasca and the Mississippi River comes from springs.
  • Itasca’s water tastes like iron because a glacier that crossed the area first passed through the Iron Range, which is northeast of the park.
  • Itasca is notable for its bogs—wetlands that preserve plant material as peat. Bogs support a variety of rare flora, including fungi, mosses, lichens and insectivorous plants such as pitcher and sundews.