Have you ever heard of a place where the lakes stretch on forever, and old stories of past travelers whisper through the trees? We checked off our 33rd National Park and are excited to share what you need to know about Voyageurs National Park.
French Canadians traversed rough terrains in these waters, trading furs and connecting worlds. They’ve seen landscapes shaped by explosive volcanoes, icy glaciers, and relentless time – and we’re about to embark on that very journey they once took. Voyageurs National Park is a gem tucked away on the Minnesota-Ontario border with four large lakes.
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Lakes and Landscapes of Voyageurs
Voyageurs National Park is nestled along the Minnesota–Ontario international border and stands proud as Minnesota’s sole national park. The park covers 218,055 acres, and around forty percent of the park’s area is blanketed by shimmering lakes.
We’re talking about four large lakes and an intricate web of 26 smaller lakes. Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake.
Established in 1975, Voyageurs National Park pays homage to the legacy of the French Canadian voyageurs. These hardy travelers, who once sailed these very waters, played a pivotal role in the fur trade, bridging hubs like Montreal to the west. Their spirit, stories, and struggles are etched into the very fabric of the park.
The landscape has tales of its own. The formations and terrains we see today are gifts from the last glaciation period. Believe it or not, the glaciers that once sculpted these lands melted away only around 10,000 years ago, leaving behind the breathtaking vistas Voyageurs National Park is today.
Things to do in Voyageurs National Park
Nestled within Voyageurs National Park lies Ellsworth Rock Gardens. Crafted by the visionary self-taught artist Jack Ellsworth, this unique garden blends the rugged beauty of northern Minnesota with his artistic style. Over two decades, Ellsworth meticulously shaped 62 terraced flower beds on a striking rock outcrop, planting them with a breathtaking array of over 13,000 lilies and other blossoms. But his vision didn’t stop there. He dotted the gardens with over 200 abstract rock sculptures to further enhance the natural landscape, making it a mesmerizing fusion of nature and art.
When the quiet landscapes of Voyageurs are blanketed in snow, a different kind of magic emerges. Voyageurs offers adventures like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and snowshoeing to immerse visitors in the season’s enchanting beauty.
Bird enthusiasts can find joy in spotting the haunting calls of the Common Loon or witnessing the majestic flight of the Bald Eagle and Osprey. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of the park’s many mammals. White-tailed Deer might be seen drinking from the lake. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse the elusive Black Bear, moose, or even a wolf. And let’s not forget the playful antics of the River Otters. We found this awesome YouTube channel (Voyageurs Wolf Project) that has cameras set up to view the wildlife.
When the sun sets and darkness envelopes the park, it’s time for a cosmic show. The large Voyageurs sky, unpolluted by city lights, offers a stargazing experience that’s truly unparalleled. Known for its Dark Skies, the park is a dream for astronomers and dreamers alike. Whether you’re tracing constellations, tracking the elusive Northern Lights, or simply soaking in the beauty of the Milky Way, the skies above Voyageurs promise memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Boating in Voyageurs National Park offers an immersive experience unlike any other. With the network of lakes, it’s no wonder that boating tops the list of activities here. Whether you’re a fan of canoeing, kayaking, or cruising in a motorboat, there’s something for everyone. For those looking for a unique and immersive way to experience Voyageurs National Park, houseboating offers a blend of adventure and comfort.
If you’re new to the area or want to soak in the knowledge of a local guide, consider signing up for one of the guided boat tours, which typically set sail from Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, or the Ash River Visitor Centers.
We rented a pontoon from The Pines of Kabetogama on our recent trip. It was well worth it at $330 (post-fuel charges). Not only did we have the boat from early morning to late evening, but the freedom it offered was unparalleled. We basked on sunlit beaches, had delightful encounters with playful otters, and constantly craned our necks skywards to watch the eagles. If you’re considering boating in the park, we can’t recommend this option enough!
Voyageurs National Park is an angler’s dream, offering species like the walleye, northern pike, and bass. The park’s lakes and waterways provide the perfect setting for casual and experienced fishermen. If you plan to cast a line within the boundaries of Voyageurs National Park, ensure you have a valid State of Minnesota Fishing license.
The park’s lush landscapes and scenic views can also be explored on land. For those seeking a moderate hike, the Blind Ash Bay Trail promises enchanting views. Echo Bay Trail is easier and “showcases the transition between deciduous and boreal forests as you pass through lowlands and rocky outcrops.”
If biking is more your speed, consider riding along the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail. This paved pathway meanders through picturesque surroundings and is wheelchair and stroller-friendly, ensuring everyone can enjoy the park’s natural beauty.
One of our favorite things to do at the National Parks is to check out the visitor centers. These information hubs equip you with maps, detailed guides, and a glimpse into the park’s storied past. The park has 3 to visit Rainy Lake Visitor Center near International Falls, Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center on the pristine shores of Kabetogama Lake, and Ash River Visitor Center inside the historic Meadwood Lodge.
From the stories of the Voyageurs to the peaceful lakes and outstanding views, this park invites visitors to lose themselves. Whether you’re seeking the thrill of boating, stargazing, or a deeper connection with nature, Voyageurs promises an experience that remains long after the journey ends.