Except for Alaska, Minnesota is the most northerly of all the states (reaching lat. 49°23′55″N). The climate is humid continental. Winter locks the land in snow, spring is brief, and summers are hot. Prehistoric glaciers left marshes, boulder-strewn hills, and rich, gray drift soil stretching from the northern pine wilderness to the broad southern prairies. In the eastern part of the state are mountains, part of the Canadian Shield, from which iron ore is decreasingly extracted. The Vermilion and Cuyuna ranges (discovered in 1884 and 1911) are virtually depleted, and the once rich Mesabi range (1890) has also declined. South of the iron country, famous for its old-time boomtowns, lie rolling hills. In the south and the west are prairies, fertile farming country.
The state has more than 11,000 lakes and numerous streams and rivers. The rivers feed three great river systems: The Red River of the north and its tributaries in the west run north through Manitoba's lakes to Hudson Bay; streams in the east run into Lake Superior, and eventually into the St. Lawrence; and the Mississippi flows south from Minnesota headwaters above Lake Itasca, gathering volume from the waters of the St. Croix and Minnesota rivers before leaving the state.
The beauty of Minnesota's lakes and dense green forests, as seen in Voyageurs National Park, has long attracted vacationers, and there is excellent fishing in the state's many rivers, lakes, and streams. Also of interest to tourists are the Grand Portage and Pipestone national monuments (see National Parks and Monuments, table), Itasca State Park (at the headwaters of the Mississippi), and the world's largest open-pit iron mine at Hibbing.
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