Mississippi River Headwaters - Pokegema Lake
Guide

Introduction

Pokegama Lake, in northern Minnesota, is the largest of the reservoirs created by the construction of the Pokegama Dam in 1884 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This dam, which impounds the Mississippi River, is also responsible for the creation of the Cut-Off Lake and Jay Gould Lake reservoirs. The result is a system of interconnected reservoirs that aid in flood control and downstream river navigation.

Before the dam was constructed, Pokegama Lake was predominantly a swampy bog. It was eventually rebuilt in 1936 to remove the old timber structures and now it offers endless outdoor recreation opportunities for year-round visitors. Popular activities are boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing at this COE park near the Chippewa National Forest. Another close park is the Hill River State Forest and Lake Superior is less than three hours east of Pokegama Lake.

Travelers can camp at Pokegama Dam and benefit from tons of amenities. The sites have electric hookups and river views and large rigs are welcome. It's an ideal location from which to embark on your adventures whether you start from Fargo or Duluth or somewhere in between.

RV Rentals in Mississippi River Headwaters - Pokegema Lake

Transportation

Driving

Driving in Minnesota during the winter can be treacherous. Road closures due to bad weather along with routes covered in snow and ice can add hours to a seemingly quick trip. Use winter tires and exercise caution when traveling to Pokegama Lake.

In peak season the roads are wide, paved, and generally easy to navigate in an RV.

Pokegama Lake Dam is located near Grand Rapids in Itasca County and is the site of the COE campground. The lake itself is further south.

Parking

Parking is available at the Pokegama Dam as well as at the campground.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Mississippi River Headwaters - Pokegema Lake

Campsites in Mississippi River Headwaters - Pokegema Lake

Reservations camping

Pokegama Dam Campground

The COE campground at Pokgama Dam is open from mid-April to the end of October annually. It offers 19 RV-friendly campsites, two tent-only campsites, and one reservable picnic shelter. All the RV sites have 50 amp electric hookups and can be home to trailers, campers, and motorhomes up to 79 feet. The sites are shaded and sit close to the Mississippi River.
Typical amenities are provided at Pokegama Dam Campground, like access to drinking water, flush toilets, and showers. Campers are also free to use the onsite dump station. The sites are pet-friendly and have picnic tables and lantern posts.
It's easy to be active at this Army COE campground. Lake access is a breeze using the boat ramp so you can enjoy a day touring the lake or fishing. If you catch dinner, you can clean it at the campground's fish cleaning station and grill it up on your fire pit. After a great meal, the kids can head to the playground while parents relax with a beautiful sunset.

Seasonal activities in Mississippi River Headwaters - Pokegema Lake

In-Season

Fishing

Fishing, whether from the shoreline or by boat, is one of the major activities at this productive lake. Anglers can expect to find large and smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and panfish. You might even get lucky and end up with a lake trout on your hook.

In the spring, head to Salter and Sugar Bay to up your chances of catching early walleye. You can also find them in the spring at the north end of Tioga Bay.

In the summer, the walleye head to deeper water and so should you. In shallow, rocky areas of the lake, you are most likely to find smallmouth bass from June to September.

Boating

If it's an option for you, don't head to Pokegama Lake without your boat. Both motorized and non-motorized boats frequent the water and are excellent ways to explore the eight inlets that make up this drainage lake.
Spend a leisurely day on the water in a canoe or kayak, but don't forget to bring your fishing gear. If you prefer something more exciting, do some waterskiing or tubing to get the adrenaline going.
However you prefer to tour the water, getting your boat to float is simple. There is a boat ramp into the river by the campground and recreation area.

Picnicking

The Pokegama Dam Recreation Area has a reservable picnic shelter for large groups. The shelter is accessible and can accommodate up to 50 people, with a roof and picnic tables. To cook the perfect meal, visitors can use a grill as well as the electric hookups. You can also take advantage of all the nearby amenities like restrooms, a boat ramp, and a playground.

The grassy shore of this pristine lake is another great place to have a picnic, especially if you don't require electricity or a barbecue. Bring a sandwich and a blanket and you're all set.

Off-Season

Wildlife Viewing

The dense forest around the Mississippi River Headwaters and Pokegama Lake is a haven for wildlife. Natural food sources of wild berries feed animals like black bears and deer. Visitors will easily spot smaller animals like chipmunks and porcupines during their travels.

Bird lovers will have no problem spotting their favorites here. Bald eagles and common loons, as well as ducks and geese, can be found throughout this COE park. Pack a camera so you don't miss the perfect shot.

Cycling

Within less than one mile from the Pokegama Dam Campground, visitors can be riding on a portion of the Mississippi River Trail. The trail is mostly paved and open to both cyclists and hikers. The trail runs for over 600 miles through Itasca County toward Minneapolis, eventually ending near the Iowa border.

Also close by, cyclists can head to the Mesabi Trail that stretches from Grand Rapids to Ely through the Mesabi Iron Range. The trail is paved and tree-lined. Also passing through Grand Rapids, take your bike for a spin on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

Hiking

Pokegama Lake is a wonderful place to take a sunset stroll. If you're staying at the COE campgrounds, take a walk along the banks of the Mississippi River over to the dam. The view over the river is lovely and promotes instant relaxation.

For hiking options, drive less than 20 miles to the boundary of the Chippewa National Forest where you can lose yourself among the trees. Closer to the campground, hikers can pick up a small portion of the Mississippi River Trail. This trail is also open to cyclists so be prepared to share the road.