Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

A theme that will keep coming up on this site is how unique each park, and how each one is different to visit. Well, there’s no better example of that than Voyageurs National Park, located just outside of International Falls, Minnesota, on the border with Canada. This park is mostly lakes and islands and is best explored by water. The winters here are notoriously cold and ice fishing is the sport du jour here in the winter. Fortunately, I was here in the summer, which means renting a boat to explore this park. I was here with my friend Chris, who drove the boat while I navigated.
First off, I didn’t exactly have high exceptions for scenery in Minnesota. I imagined a mostly flat state, with lots of lakes and conifer trees. Minnesota certainly has the lakes, but it was quite hilly, and I was impressed with the scenery this state had to offer, especially along the shore of Lake Superior.

Docking our boat at Voyageurs National Park

For our first day in the park, I had a boat reserved from a nearby campground. We told the guy we were gonna be gone for 3 days, and where we wanted to go on the lake. He looked at us like we were crazy (another recurring theme for me), gave us an extra tank of gas and told us good luck. We then set out on a 3 day/2 night boat journey for over 100 miles with our little fishing boat, with a tiny engine that you have to steer from the back

We explored Lake Kabetogama (ka-buh-TOH-guh-muh) for a while, stopping at a rock garden, exploring some small waterfalls and finally arrived at a hiking trail on a large island. We docked our boat for the night, and backpacked our camping gear along the trail, because at the other end of the hiking trail was another lake, Locator Lake, and the park provides canoes for exploring that lake. We hiked the trail, seeing a snake and beaver along the way, got in our canoe, and paddled across that lake to our campsite for the night on an island. This may be one of the most secluded places I had camped up to that point. We had to boat across a lake, hike a 2 mile trail, canoe another couple miles and finally arrive at a small island, on a lake, on an island inside another larger lake. The peace and beauty of this spot was like no other.

Campsite on Locator Lake, Voyageurs National Park
Kettle Falls Lodge
Namakin Narrows

After a good night’s sleep, we canoed back to the hiking trail, and hiked backed to our boat, where resumed our trip. This park has an interesting lodge, right on the border with Canada, and still only accessible by boat. If you don’t have a boat, you can get a ferry here. They have rooms to spend the night, but, more importantly, a restaurant. The lodge is named Kettle Falls, despite the fact there are no waterfalls here. It is also one of the only places, you can look south from the U.S. and see Canada. On our second day of boating, a hearty meal and beer was more than welcome. This is where I fell in love with the Minnesota-favorite Cream of Chicken with Wild Rice soup. After our well-deserved lunch, we made our way to the farthest point of our trip in the park, a set of cliffs called the Grassy Bay cliffs. We hung out here for a while, explored the area a bit, and decided to start looking for our campsite for the next night.

Grassy Bay Cliffs

This park lets you camp wherever you want, as long as you have a permit. There are designated spots, and you just have to find one that isn’t occupied, and it’s yours for the night. After scoping out our map, I found a little island that had a site called “My” Island. We boated over to check it out, and decided to camp there for the night.

Campsite on My Island

It’s places like this that make me love this adventure so much. This island was beautiful; it had a large lagoon to get us off the main lake, was surrounded by cliffs on all sides. We were even greeted by an otter after we beached our boat. We dined on our usual MREs, and had to retire early because of rain.

It was still raining the next morning when we woke up, which means we had to boat back in the cold rain. We had planned on doing some more hiking before we returned our boat, but decided to forego that. One of the visitor centers was open earlier in the week, and had a nice cozy fireplace. We were looking forward to stopping back by there on our way back in our boat to warm up. To our dismay, it was closed and we had to try to warm ourselves up and dry ourselves off using the hand dryer in the men’s bathroom. Another hour of boating in the rain, and we finally arrived to return our boat and the wonderful comfort of my car and its heater. Our final day was miserable, but it was so worth it to get to camp at some of the most amazing campsites in a very under-appreciated National Park.

After Voyageurs, we headed up the North Shore of Lake Superior to visit a couple of State Parks and Grand Portage National Monument. What a drive! Minnesota impressed me more than I expected! I even enjoyed spending a night in Duluth–a really cool town.