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Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park - An Overview

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Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

A loon slips through the water at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

© *clarity* via Flickr

Contact Info:

3131 US 53, International Falls, MN 56649

Phone: 218-283-9821

Overview:

One third of Voyageurs National Park is water, mostly in four main lakes - Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand Point – which are all linked by waterways. Scattered throughout are forest areas which from the sky almost look like a giant jigsaw puzzle. With over 30 lakes and more than 900 island, Voyageurs is definitely a unique park experience and remains one of the lesser traveled national parks.

For 55 miles, visitors can explore the park via motorboat, canoe, and kayak. Fishermen can be spotted in various locations while the park's infamous loons can be heard almost everywhere. Voyageurs also happens to be one of the best national parks to spot a bald eagle or hear a wolf howling at night.

A visit produces a typical park experience of hiking and camping, but does so in a truly unique way. All you need is a camera and a trusty map!

History:

Voyageurs National Park is named for the French Canadian voyageurs who paddled in their canoes for fur trading companies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Amazingly, these voyageurs would paddle for up to 16 hours a day, singing songs, with great stamina. Their canoe route – between Canada's northwest and Montreal – is cited as part of the U.S. -Canada border in the treaty that ended the American Revolution.

Although the first proposal to designate the area as a national park occurred in 1891, it wasn't until 1975 that Voyageurs National Park was officially established after a lengthy legislative battle that began in 1962.

When to Visit:

The park is open year-round but is most accessible from spring through early fall. Keep in mind that water travel may be difficult in the late fall/winter when freezing occurs, as well as early spring when the ice breaks up.

The winter offers many activities such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and cross-country skiing. The park also offers a pretty exciting point of entrance once the lakes freeze. There is a 7-mile road at Rainy Lake where you can actually drive your car on the ice.

Getting There:

The most convenient airports are located in Duluth (Find Flights) and International Falls, MN, as well as Fort Frances, Ontario.

From Duluth, drive north about 110 miles on US 53. Keep in mind you can enter the park at different areas:

  • For Crane Lake, turn east on Orr and drive for 28 miles on County Roads 23 and 24.

  • For Ash River, stay on US 53 for an additional 25 miles, then take a rigth at the Ash River Trail sign. You will stay on it for 10 miles.

  • For Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, stay on US 53 for an additional 3 miles, then turn right on County Road 122, driving to the lakeshore.

  • For Rainy lake, stay on US 53 to International Falls, then go east on Minn. 11 for 12 miles until you reach the park's entrance road. The visitor center will be on your right.

Fees/Permits:

There is no entrance fee into the park. The only permit needed is for camping, which is also free of charge.

Major Attractions:

The four main lakes will provide you with the best routes of exploration. Remember to choose your entrance before planning your trip.

Kabetogama Lake

  • Locator Lake Trailhead:A 2-mile hike past a beaver pond, dam, and lodge. The trail climbs high, then drops to a lakeshore where you can pick up a canoe (reserve beforehand) and paddle around the lake to spot muskrat, loons, and bald eagles.

  • Kabetogama to Ash River Trailhead: Travel through the park and state forest lands on this 21-mile hike.

Crane Lake & Ash River

  • Kettle Falls: Once used by Native Americans, voyageurs, loggers, and fisherman, this waterway is a popular exploratory voyage.

  • Hoist Bay: Named for the “hoisting” of logs onto trains, this bay can be reached by a scenic trip through a channel on the south side of Williams Island – home to a primitive campsite.

Rainy Lake

  • Little American Island: Take an interpretive trail to learn about the gold rush that occurred a hundred years ago.

  • Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail: The name says it all. This trail leads visitors to an active beaver pond habitat.

  • Oberholtzer Trailhead: This 2-mile hike tours a variety of habitats and is a great opportunity to explroe the local wildlife.

Accommodations:

The park offers a unique camping experience. All park sites are only accessible by water. There are NO drive-to campsites in Voyageurs National Park. There are 214 lake country boat-in campsites that hold a 14-day limit and are open year-round. There is no charge for individual campsites within the park, although a free permit is required.

There are two campsites that are open in the winter and are accessible by cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing.

Lodging is available within the park as well. Kettle Falls Hotel is located 15 miles from the Ash River Trail and offers 12 hotel rooms ranging in price from $70-$190.

In International Falls, the Holiday Inn and Island View Lodge offer affordable rooms. (Get Rates)

Voyageur Park Lodge is located in Kabetogama and offers 11 cabins with kitchens in the summer only. Prices range from $588-$1,200 per week.

Areas of Interest Outside the Park

Superior National Forest: Located about 15 miles from Orr, MN – the southern gateway to Voyaguers National Park- this national forest showcases the northern lights over acres of pine, spruce, fir, and birch. Activities include hiking, boating, fishing, water sports, camping, and scenic drives. To contact, call 218-626-4300; open year-round.

Acassiz National Wildlife Refuge: More than 285 species of migratory birds can be found in this wetlands refuge in Middle River, MN – 185 miles from Voyageurs National Park. Visitors may also be lucky enough to spot moose and a resident pack of gray wolves. Activities include hiking, hunting, bird-watching, and scenic drives. It is open year-round and be reached at 218-449-4115.

Chippewa National Forest: Only 85 miles from Voyageurs National Park, this lake-country forest is home to one of the largest breeding bald eagle populations outside of Alaska. Activities include canoeing, hiking, touring historic sites, and bird-watching. Open year-round, call 218-449-4115 for more information.

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