Spotlight: Voyageurs National Park
Travel to the heart of the continent
What You’ll Find
There are many ways to explore Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota—hiking, skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling—but the park is 40 percent water, a system of interconnected lakes that were once a primary route for travel and trade. To truly experience the park, visitors must leave their car behind and travel by watercraft, much as the Ojibwe and French-Canadian canoemen known as “voyageurs” did centuries ago. In winter you have a few more options in the form of skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles.
Beautiful scenery surrounds you. Hardwoods like birch and aspen or conifers like spruce and pine merge in a wonderful diversity of plant and animal life. This is a fragile, ever-changing place, affected by human and natural forces.
Roads approach the park from four points along U.S. 53 between Duluth and International Falls. Check the park directions web page for details including a map. Nearby airports include International Falls and Hibbing, Minnesota and Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. Transportation and lodging are available at the park’s gateway communities of International Falls, Ranier, Crane Lake, Orr, Kabetogama and Ash River. Review the Destination Voyageurs National Park travel website for additional information.
The park has two group campsites, 34 individual frontcountry campsites and 17 backcountry campsites. All are reservable year-round on Recreation.gov and accessible only by water (in winter, frozen water!). Same day walk-in reservations are available at the park.
The Kettle Falls Hotel is a popular lodging option you can reach via a 1.5 hour ride by watercraft from any of the park boat launch ramps (open May through October).
The six gateway communities offer a variety of accommodations (even along snowmobile trails in winter). Check the park newspaper for lodging and drive-to camping options or visit Destination Voyageurs National Park for more information.
Make Sure You
Join one of the ranger-led boat tours to Hoist Bay, Little American Island, Ellsworth Rock Gardens or the popular Kettle Falls Hotel. Book your reservations early to board the 49-passenger vessel Voyageur or the 22-passenger vessel Borealis.
Experience the park’s diverse ecosystem without getting on the water. The accessible .25 mile (.4 km) Ethno-botanical Garden Trail at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center meanders through native plants, shrubs and trees important to the Ojibwe. In the heart of the garden you’ll find an Ojibwe camp with an authentic lodge. Download the Ethno-botanical Garden Trail brochure (pdf).
Don’t miss the North Canoe Voyages tours available at each park visitor center. You’ll travel back in time aboard a 26-foot North Canoe to learn about the voyageur life and the Ojibwe, sing songs and find out how to do the voyageur salute. Call the park directly at (218) 286-5258 to reserve North Canoe tours. To learn more about the voyageur’s North Canoes, download the brochure Voyageurs: Their History, Clothing and Canoes.
In winter, ski rentals are available from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, and the park offers a free snowshoe loan program. Read more about Voyaguers winter activities.
Go birding! Check-out binoculars for free at any of the park’s three visitor centers. More than 240 neotropical bird species either live in or migrate through the park. Ask for a copy of the park’s Forest Breeding Bird Packet with six different maps, directions and insider tips on how to expand your bird life list as you explore various park locations.
Hike to Health! Explore more than one of the park’s 19 designated hiking trails on foot, skis or snowshoes. Pick up a new Trails Passport and search for trail rubbings hidden along the designated park trails. Complete your Trails Passport (in part or full) and bring it to a visitor center for special recognition.
During the summer, you will need a watercraft to fully experience Voyageurs. Visitors can bring their own, take a ranger-led tour, or rent a watercraft at any of the park’s gateway communities. Visit the Destination Voyageurs National Park website for more information.
Using your own watercraft? Check the Lake Navigation webpage and make sure you pick up a good navigational map. The waters of Voyageurs are interconnected and flow in different directions depending on your location.
During the winter, visitors may travel by car on the park's two ice roads or by snowmobile on more than 110 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Leave the motors behind and try one of the cross-country ski or snowshoe trails.
Visit the Voyageurs National Park website and begin planning your trip.
Did You Know?
The route of the adventuresome voyageurs was so important that the 1783 treaty ending the American Revolution set the international boundary as the “customary waterway” between Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods. Today, a 56-mile stretch of this water highway adjoins Voyageurs National Park and is one of the reasons Congress established the park in 1971.
Voyageurs is also one of the few places in North America where you can see and touch rocks half the age of the Earth. The exposed rock here is at the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, a gigantic dome of volcanic bedrock that forms the core of the continent, shaped when massive, explosive, volcanoes deposited layers of ash and lava. Millions of years of geologic forces then produced the igneous and metamorphic rocks that now dominate this landscape. Glaciers and erosion eventually scraped away the overlying layers of rock and revealed the lake basins you see today.