From this location, it is a 2,552 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico by water. In contrast, if you flew, it is only 1,298 air miles. That means that the Mississippi River wanders 2 miles for every mile of distance it gains towards the gulf.
The elevation of the water is 1475 feet, about a fourth of a mile above sea level. That might sound like a lot, but if you consider many of the other great rivers of the world, most start high in major mountain ranges. The Mississippi is different. It does not drop all that far. Rather, it gains its power from draining the major part of the continent. Consider also that Saint Paul is located at 700 feet above sea level, the Mississippi River loses half of its height well before it leaves the state of Minnesota. Overall, that is an average drop of about 7 inches per mile of river.
The original source of the Mississippi River is a muddy swamp just to the right of the photo above. A group of loggers decided that such an important river should have a more picture perfect start, so around 1900, they dug a new channel that bypassed the swamp. In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps improved the park and installed this low head dam. While the dam looks like it is built out of rocks, it in fact has a concrete base, and the rocks are mostly a decorative cap.
The photo above is a view of the Lake Itasca Dam as seen from the south shore of the Mississippi River. The photo below is a view of the headwaters and Lake Itasca from the north side of the river.