Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks? Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are like the rock stars and supermodels of the dating world—sexy, sure, but too much drama and competition! Where are all the kind librarians, sensible accountants or strong, silent outdoorsmen and women of the National Parks world?
Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’m showcasing some of the lesser-known parks. Love water? Love the northern lights? Love the call of the loon?
Here’s why you should swipe right on Voyageurs National Park.
Age: I earned my official title of National Park in 1975—the only place in the state of Minnesota to have that honor!
Location: I’m basically spooning with Canada. You’ll find my pristine waters five-hour drive north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, three hours north of Duluth, and four hours south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Don’t like driving? The nearest airport in International Falls, Minnesota. I’m a bit off the beaten path, but I promise that means you’ll be rewarded with incredible access to nature and wildlife!
Size: I span 218,054 acres, including 84,000 acres of water, many miles of undeveloped shoreline, and hundreds of islands. There’s a reason they call Minnesota the “Land of 10,000 Lakes!”
Claim to fame: With my labyrinth of waterways, it’s actually quite easy to accidentally cross into Canada! One of many reasons you should bring a high-quality map that includes navigational markers.
History: I’m named after the French Canadian voyageurs who paddled canoes for fur trading companies in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These rugged gents had serious stamina, known for paddling up to 16 hours a day, often while singing rowdy songs.
Getting your bearings: As seen from above, the park looks like a bunch of puzzle pieces splayed across blue waters. While beautiful, it does make entry into the park a bit tricky. There are four access points, Rainy Lake (the main one, open year-round), Kabetogama Lake, Crane Lake, and Ash River. From there, you can hike or boat into the wilderness.
A different side of me: You might think I am only about the water, but the Ellsworth Rock Gardens prove I have other interests. Known as the “Showplace of Lake Kabetogama,” this rock garden is the brainchild of artist and carpenter Jack Ellsworth. Starting in the 1940s and stretching over 20 years, Ellsworth engineered a complex, terraced garden featuring 62 terraced flower beds. There are over 13,000 lilies and other flower varieties, as well as 200 abstract rock sculptures. It’s the most popular destination in the park.
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: You have a few options. There’s no car camping in the park. That said, nearby communities, like International Falls, have plenty of excellent campgrounds for setting up shop. The main way people enjoy the nights here is camping via boat. There are over 270 rustic, boat-in campsites in the park. If you don’t have your own vessel, plenty of outfitters rent them.
For something with more creature comforts, rent a houseboat. From the simplest accommodations to down-right fancy digs (how about a houseboat that accommodates 12 and includes a hot tub?!), this self-contained unit gives you lots of flexibility.
Another option? The historic Kettle Falls Hotel. Located 15 miles from the nearest road, the only way you’re getting to this 90+-year-old hotel is by boat or plane. If you don’t have your own boat, the hotel does run a shuttle.
How I like to spend the weekend: Boating! Whether it’s via a canoe, kayak, fishing boat, houseboat, or paddleboard, it’s all about the water. You can rent any of the above from a local outfitter. If you’re not into piloting your own vessel, book a tour leaving from either Rainy or Kabetogama Lakes. The latter will actually bring you to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, where you can enjoy lunch or a drink.
Nightlife: Home to one of the darkest skies in the nation, Voyageurs offers an opportunity for incredible Milky Way views, as well as meteor showers. Visiting from late July to mid-August gives visitors the best chance to experience the August Perseids, an annual meteor shower with 50 to 75 shooting stars an hour. It’s also a great place to experience aurora borealis, aka the northern lights.
Wildlife: It’ll come as no surprise that I am a fisherman’s paradise. Walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike fill my waters. Bald eagles soaring overhead are commonplace. At night, you’ll hear the cry of the loon and the howl of a wolf. Or a pack of wolves. Hopefully not too close, but hey, this is the wilderness buddy!
Favorite Season: As you’ve maybe heard, Minnesota gets a wee bit chilly come winter. So late spring through early fall tends to be prime time for visitors. That said, I’m open year-round, and offer incredible opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. And as a winter bonus: the 7-mile ice road at Rainy Lake means you’re able to drive your car to places that in other seasons you can reach only by boat or floatplane.
Favorite quote: “So lovely was the loneliness of a wild lake.” – Edgar Allan Poe
Since you’re in the neighborhood… I’m right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a 1,090,000-acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest.
If you’re driving from the Twin Cities or Duluth and are a hockey fan, check out the US Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, MN.
Let’s meet! Learn more about me here.
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Feature photo by jck_photos