The summer of 2017 was all about Voyageurs NP. I worked at all 3 visitor centers, learned as much as I could about the park and wrote and executed quite a few programs. So I feel safe to say that I got to know the park quite well.
The only thing that I haven’t done, and also won’t be focussing on is fishing. It’s however the most popular thing of the park. Before the park was founded the area was already a quite popular destination. Fishing in summertime and snowmobiling in winter time was the main focus on the area. Nowadays more and more people come up here for the National Park.
These people surely have a different interest. They want to see what Voyageurs makes Voyageurs. And that is where things often become a bit more difficult. Voyageurs is build up out of ⅓ of water and ⅔ of land. Most land in the park can only be reached by boat. There are hardly any roads in the park. So I hope with this blog that at least a few people will know what to expect before they visit Voyageurs.
The parks history starts in 1975 when Voyageurs National Park was founded. The history of the land however goes back a lot further and is very diverse. It takes many books to take up all this history, and I’m not going to try to get it all in here. I’ll try to give a short overview, but you’ll need some time in the park to actually grasp it all.
There are two main stories of history in the park; geology and the voyageurs. And then there are whole bunch of other stories; lumberjacking, resort era, prohibition, Oberholzer & Backus, Kettle Falls Hotel, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Ojibway.
The park has a geologic history that dates back 2.6 billion years, which makes some of the rocks in the park one of the oldest visible rocks on the planet. The Voyageurs were the French-Canadian fur traders who traded mainly beaver furs with the local Native Americans, the Ojibway. The furs were used to make felt hats for the european market. The route the voyageurs took in this area is now the border between the US and Canada.
Traveling to Voyageurs
The closest big town to the park is International Falls. The town borders with the Canadian town Fort Francis, each on their own side of Rainy River. International Falls does have an airport, but flying there seems to be quite expensive. Most visitors that use a flight to go see Voyageurs either fly to Duluth or the Twin Cities (St. Paul & Minneapolis).
Even when flying in, you’ll need a car to actually travel to the park. There’s no public transportation available in the area. Two of the visitor centers can be reached from highway 53, the third visitor center can be reached through International Falls and the 11.
For really traveling into Voyageurs a car is not enough. A boat is the best way to really enjoy the park. When you want to see all the points of interest a boat with a motor will get you to them easiest. It is however possible, with some good planning to get around the park in a canoe or kayak. I think you need at least a full week, paddling from campsite to campsite.
Where to stay
There is something for every type of vacationer around Voyageurs NP. For people that really want to stay overnight in the park have two options. Rent a houseboat from one of the businesses in the area, move around through the park and sleep in a comfortable bed. The other option is getting a camping permit and boat to one of the many campsites in the park. The campsite is basic but it’s really enjoyable since it’s just your party in the area, the next campsite is usually quite a bit away.
I camped in the park once and had a great time. We paddled with our gear in the canoe to Lost Lake and made camp there. Enjoyed the night around the campfire, and wake up to the sound of crying loons in the morning.
When my family came to visit they stayed in one of the resorts in the area. There are quite a few around and offer different prices and qualities. Some cabins even come with a boat during your stay. A cheap option is to camp at Ash River State Forest Campground or Woodenfrog State Forest Campground. These are both reachable by car so camping with an RV is possible there.
Hiking is also a bit different in a big part of the park. A great amount of the trailheads can only be reached by boat. Most of the land based hiking trails are located in the Ash River Visitor Center area. The months June July and halfway into August are not ideal for hiking. The amount of different insects makes that you really need determination to go hiking. Season starts of with a high amount of Wood Ticks, it’s easy to take 20 ticks of you after a 2 hour hike. At some point during June the Mosquitoes start to come out. By July the Horse Flies, Deer Flies and Black Flies start to appear.
But I didn’t let me get stopped by them, so with a head nett, long sleeves and long pants I explored the trails of Voyageurs. They don’t use many trail markings, which makes it a bit hard sometimes to navigate on the trails. When trails go through some rocky areas the route is marked using rock cairns, piles of rocks. Unfortunately not everyone knows what they are, so people or animals throw over the cairns and before you know it you lose the trail.
This is my second favourite trail in the park. Maintenance is however having a hard time maintaining the trail, it tends to overgrow quite rapidly because it’s not being hiked very often. The trail divides up into 4 different sections, and it’s impossible to do it all in one day. My favourite part of the trail is the loop section east of the Meadwood road. I like how it goes through more open and enclosed areas and that you’re reaching some nice high spots.
Echo Bay Trail
This is one of the few trails that are laid out in a loop. The trail loops around a big beaver pond, and that is the best feature of this trail. Other than that it’s a trail through a constant dense forest, which doesn’t excite me very much.
Anderson Bay Trail
A nice loop that isn’t too long, with some of the best views of the park. Part of the trail leads you across the top of a big rock outcrop. Unfortunately the rock cairns seem to be disappearing from that area quite often, and it’s hard to find the trail there. But the view outweighs the difficulty of the trail big time.
Blind Ash Bay Trail
I hiked this trail the most, it is the trail I did my guided hike on. The trail has some nice overlooks over lake Kabetogama. The trail meanders through many different types of forest, some areas where they did prescribed burns years ago, a few swampy areas and more.
Cruiser Lake & Beast Lake Trail
My favourite hike in the park. The views are amazing and the diversity of sights along the trail are superb. Beaver ponds and the view over the many interior lakes are the best. Along this trail are some campsites, some of those come with a canoe. A great way to spend your day, first hike out to the campsite, make camp and then go for a relaxing paddle on the lake. What more could you want.
Locator Lake Trail
An amazing trail that leads to the chain of lakes. The trail is diverse, you’ll see some beaver ponds, you climb up so high that you can actually look into a valley and many different types of forest. We were so lucky that we saw a beaver busy eating on some aspen branches.
This trail is technically not in the park, but it’s on the free park map. The trail is quite the hike and most of the trail isn’t very interesting. However the trail offers some great views along the way, and a rewarding end at the gorge itself.
When visiting make sure to check if the northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, is active enough to be visible. This is one of the most Southern areas where the aurora can be seen fairly frequently. This has to do with the electromagnetic north pole, it moves around and is all the way over in the north of Canada.
It is possible to see the northern lights year round. Although it’s easier to see it during winter time because of the short days and the long nights. In summer, if you have the time, you’ll have to wait till the stars start to pop out. That is only after eleven that it gets dark enough to see it. When the forecast for aurora is 5 or higher you have the chance to see the lights.
In 2016 Voyageurs was elected as number 1 sunset park. And I understand why! I’ve seen so many amazing sunsets that at some point I ended up saying, “ohh, there’s another great sunset” and didn’t even bother to go out and look at it. Good spots to see the sunset are at the point behind the Ash River visitor center, on the lake or at the day-use area of the Woodenfrog campground. There might be a ton more locations that are really good, but I’ve always been at those locations.
What else to do
During summer and winter season the park offers a number of ranger led programs. Sign up for them to learn more about the park. Also the park and some of the local businesses offer tours on the lake. The three visitor centers are all interesting to see, and are worth the time to check them out.
In the summer many people go fishing on the lake. There are some fishing guides around that will take people out on the lake to show the best fishing spots.
In winter time time the park transforms into a snow and ice landscape. The park creates ice roads on the lakes. People explore the park using snowmobiles, snowshoes and cross country skis.
Voyageurs National Park – https://www.nps.gov/voya/index.htm
Businesses Ash River Trail – http://www.ashriver.com/
Businesses Kabetogama – http://kabetogama.com/
Businesses Rainy Lake – http://www.rainylake.org/
Camping in Voyageurs – https://www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/camping.htm
Aurora forecast – http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast