Isolated and rugged, Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota, a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. About 40 percent of the park is made up of water, and many of its most striking natural attractions, as well as a lodge and campsites, are only accessible by boat.
It is certainly not the easiest national park in the United States, but if you make the trip to Voyageurs National Park, you will be enveloped in unspoiled wilderness and meet few people.
Unlike popular national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone, which attract millions of visitors each year, Voyageurs has approximately 240,000 recreational visitors each year, most hiking, boating, camping and fishing in the area. park during the summer months. The park is also open during the cooler months, with fewer people exploring a snowy winter wonderland by snowmobile, snowshoes, or cross-country skiing.
In my ongoing efforts to visit all of the national parks in the continental United States (I’m up to 31 of 53!), My husband and I built this summer’s RV trip to visit the secluded National Park of the Travelers as well as Isle Royale National Park. Park in Michigan, also near the Canadian border.
With an ambitious travel plan spanning several weeks of travel, we only had one full day to explore Voyageurs, so we barely scratched the surface of the park. Still, we’ve had a few highlights, and we’ve pocketed some information if we ever are able to return to this pretty pristine part of the United States!
Here are my first hand tips for visiting Voyageurs National Park during the summer months.
1. Stop by a visitor center to get the scoop
Whenever I visit a national park my first stop is always a visitor center to speak to a knowledgeable ranger. I like to pick up official maps, hiking guides and other paraphernalia and information about the park. Usually my husband and I are looking for a great day hike, and it’s the rangers who will know firsthand where to send us for our schedule and hiking ability, and of course they will be. aware of any trail closures or trail conditions.
2. Maximize your time on the water with rentals and tours
My husband and I unfortunately encountered cloudy, cool and rainy weather during the full day we had to spend in the national park. We did not have flexibility in our itinerary as we had other bookings booked to come later in the week so we could not extend our stay otherwise our other travel plans would be jeopardized. But we made the most of our morning and early afternoon on the shores of the Great Lakes, hiking the wooded hiking trails and visiting the exhibits at two of the open visitor centers.
Ideally, if I were to come back, I would build a cushion for inclement weather and more time to spend a few days on the water, exploring the many islands in the lakes by houseboat, and spending the nights parked in one of the barge sites. Commercial outfitters and lodges outside the park, rent houseboats, as well as other types of watercraft, such as fishing boats, pontoons, canoes and kayaks.
For example, Voyagaire Lodge & Houseboats on Crane Lake has a variety of different houseboats for hire. My husband and I camped in our RV at Pines of Kabetogama on Lake Kabetogama; if the weather had been sunny and warm and we had had more weather, we might have rented a motor boat or a kayak to the right of the station platform, a few steps from our motorhome.
Another alternative to spend the night in a remote area of the park that is only accessible by water is the Kettle Falls Hotel. Built in the early 1900s, the hotel offers villas with kitchens and standard hotel rooms. If you do not have your own boat to get to the hotel, a boat shuttle service is available.
3. Consider these hikes accessible by land
From the Ash River Visitor Center, my husband and I enjoyed the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a 3 mile out and back trail through deeply wooded scenery to a loop turn at Blind Ash Bay . The moderate trail with a few lake views was lightly traveled during our visit which made for a peaceful hike.
A short drive from the Ash River Visitor Center is the small parking lot for the 1.2 mile round trip trail to Sullivan Bay. Here we encountered an impressive amount of trees that had already started to change color by the end of August, making it a pretty scene. We also liked the rocky gazebo with a picnic table, where we spotted houseboats parked on nearby islands.
We also hiked the very short Interpretive Trail from the Ethnobotanical Garden to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. Here you can learn about the Ojibway Indians who were among the earliest inhabitants of what we know today as the Voyageurs National Park. The surrounding garden features plants that the locals used in their daily lives along with informative signs describing what their daily life was like.
4. Bring your own food and drink
The only place where buy meals at Voyageurs National Park is located at the Kettle Falls Hotel, which as mentioned is only accessible by water. If you are just visiting the park on land for the day, or if you are camping (via a tent or houseboat) in one of the more remote locations, you will definitely want to bring all the supplies you need.
Having said that, if you walk around the national park by land, stopping at a few different visitor centers, there are a lot of gateway cities with general stores, gas stations and grocery stores to grab a picnic or snacks. The largest town near Voyageurs National Park is International Falls.
5. A place to observe the stars
With its marked absence of light pollution and its wide open spaces offering breathtaking views, Voyageurs National Park is an ideal place to gaze at the stars. The National Park Service reports that clear, moonless summer nights are ideal for admiring the Milky Way and spotting shooting stars.
While the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, can be seen during the summer months in Voyageurs National Park, especially on cloudless nights, it is slightly more common to witness flashes of green light at night in winter. Read more tips to maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights here.
6. Take the time to learn about the history of Voyageurs National Park
At the Ash River Visitor Center, my husband and I took the time to watch a short film about the history and highlights of Voyageurs National Park – a film I highly recommend.
Not having done much research on the park before arriving, I was fascinated to learn that the park was named after the Canadian French travelers who made their way in birch bark canoes – sometimes portaging overland – from Montreal, Canada, to the far north-west of Canada. The waterways they traveled in the 18th and 19th centuries, trading with the Ojibway Indians for valuable beaver pelts, included what is now Voyageurs National Park.
Do you want to visit less frequented American national parks? Find out more here: