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About Itasca

The spectacular variety of undisturbed habitats makes Itasca an outstanding site for field research and training.

From its unique location at the pristine headwaters of the Mississippi River to the incredible biodiversity found in this living laboratory, the Itasca experience has come to define biology education at the University of Minnesota.

Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories is a University of Minnesota field station dedicated to research and teaching on how ecosystems work, with an eye to cultivating an appreciation of their value and preservation for future generations. Three ecosystems converge at Itasca: coniferous forest, eastern deciduous forest and tall grass prairie. Plants and animals native to each are abundant in the 50 square miles of Itasca State Park. 

Over the past century, the station has attracted tens of thousands of students, teachers and scientists. The Itasca library holds more than 925 articles and dissertations, and 2,500 student papers based on research carried out at Itasca.

The Mississippi River

The headwaters of the Mississippi River are located within Itasca State Park and the river itself is a rich source for field biology research and education. CBS students study aspects of the river, including its microbial diversity. Here are some facts about the river:

  • The Mississippi River flows 2,340 miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The first 50 miles, navigable only by canoe, are the last vestige of the wild Mississippi.
  • It takes a raindrop approximately 90 days to travel from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The river's watershed drains 41 percent of the continental United States, or between 1.2 and 1.8 million square miles.
Learn more about Itasca's geological history, human history, and flora and fauna.