Natural Areas

The Upper Mississippi is is a remarkable world where you can explore a maze of river channels, backwater lakes and islands. Sometimes, in the backwaters you won’t see any other people for an entire day. It’s a wildlife refuge, so you will see plenty of wildlife, including blue herons, egrets, eagles, pelicans, and, if you’re lucky, a green heron or a pileated woodpecker. You’ll see turtles of all sorts. In the early summer, water lilies bloom, followed by acres of American lotuses, with their bright gold blooms rising on stalks above the water. The river here flows through the Driftless Area, which is marked with with steep rocky bluffs and countless verdant valleys sheltering trout streams. This is the kind of place where you almost hope to get lost. 

- Reggie McLeod, editor of Big River magazine


When we gathered the water from the source of the Mississippi  River at Lake Itasca on March 1, the temperature measured 7 degrees.  The water froze on the lip of the copper cup as we gave each other a sip of the cold clear water. Thus began our journey, six women and men, mostly strangers who walked the Mississippi River from beginning to end to pray for the water.  We followed the river day in and day out, snow, rain or shine, rounding every bend with curiosity about what would lie before us. We reached Fort Jackson, Louisiana, in May.  The temperature was 80 degrees and it was raining.  When we poured the water from Lake Itasca into the river, a wave covered our toes, then our ankles, the next one our shins, until the 4th wave came to our knees.  We stood with tears streaming down our faces as though kissed by the river.  This river is our mother’s lifeblood, indeed, our lifeblood and without her, we will surely perish.

- Sharon Day, an Ojibwe elder in Minnesota, organized the 2013 Mother Earth Water Walk along the river


The river itself has no beginning or end. In its beginning, it is not yet the river; in the end it is no longer the river. What we call the headwaters is only a selection from among the innumerable sources which flow together to compose it. At what point in its course does the Mississippi become what the Mississippi means? 

~ T.S. Eliot, Introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Mississippi River Connections Collaborative