North of the twin cities quickly turns into the land of Paul Bunyan and his woodland entourage. Outside Brainerd I spotted Paul’s giant footprints in the scenic Kohl’s parking lot (my sandals for scale), Babe the blue ox in Elvis style, a corn cob man named Colonel Cobber (story here), a giant statue of Paul’s lady friend Lucette (who has the prettiest spot next to a lake and the cutest little library), and the big man himself- he would be the world’s tallest Bunyan if he just stood up.

I spent the next day at Itasca State Park doing a few little hikes up to a (closed) fire tower through a million mosquitoes, on a loop between several small lakes, and along the bank of the (may I say very well named) Mary Creek and Mary Lake, and some nice marshy spots.

On the other side of the park lies the marker of the start of the Mississippi River, though it’s been much under debate over the years and there’s definitely more water labeled Mississippi north from there on my map, but this is the spot they chose after lots of research based on the signage I glanced over apparently not well enough. Compared to the massive expanse it becomes on the journey to the Gulf, this 10′ or so span is a little easier to ford. I dipped my feet in, crossed over and back, and enjoyed the sunshine for a bit before taking off.

Then it was onward to Bemidji where there was yet another Bunyan sighting by the water alongside a statue to a local tribal Chief. A bit further northeast I reached Voyageurs National Park, one of those parks that is mainly on water. This one reaches the Canadian border and consists of many many islands and boating trails. Most of the best things to do are only accessible by water, including a multitude of camping spots on the islands, but I found a nice campground on the water that was drive in. A nice spot to do some cooking prep and take in the beautiful sunset over Kabetogama Lake.

The park highlights the old waterway routes fur traders and explorers used in this area, so it was cool to learn a little more about the local tribes, the French-Canadian voyageurs, and the logistics of making canoes and navigating the maze of rivers and islands here. If I had access to a boat I could have gone to a funky rock garden in the park, but alas. I was close to renting a kayak for the day but the weather was super windy and drizzly so I decided to wait and do it when I go to Boundary Waters instead and the weather was nicer. More water, here I come!

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