Situated way up in the northernmost part of Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is one of the most unique national parks in America. With four large lakes and 26 smaller interior lakes, roughly 40% percent of the park is water. The rest is forested mainland and scattered islands.
Popular activities in Voyageurs include hiking, camping, boating, and taking park-operated ferry rides. I had a chance to visit Voyageurs recently and took an interesting ferry ride to several islands.
Voyageurs National Park is one of the best places in the continental U.S. to see bald eagles. We saw 10 on the ferry ride alone!
Wanna come check out Voyageurs? Here’s a guide with everything you need to know, including a list of things to do, activity suggestions for summer and winter, the wildlife of the park, and answers to other common questions.
Basic Info About Voyageurs National Park
Here’s a Voyageurs National Park map, which shows how the park hugs the Canadian border. Sometimes when you’re out there exploring the park by boat, you can’t tell which islands are part of Canada and which are part of the U.S.!
Voyageurs has three visitor centers. Only the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, located in International Falls, Minnesota, stays open year-round. The other two, Kabetogama and Ash River, typically remain open from late May through September.
The name Voyageurs comes from the French word for traveler. These waterways were commonly used in the 1700s for fur trading by French settlers and Native Americans in the area. The Ojibwe tribe dominated the area by 1780, and they interacted with European traders often.
In the most recent year that data is available, around 230,000 people visited Voyageurs. That was just enough for it to avoid appearing on the list of the 10 Least Popular National Parks! The reason for the relatively small number of visitors is undoubtedly its location. It’s not near any major cities.
Voyageurs is three hours from Duluth by car, four hours from Grand Forks, North Dakota, four hours from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and five hours from Minneapolis. Even many lifelong Minnesota residents have never visited Voyageurs since it’s so far north.
Voyageurs is a five-hour drive from Grand Portage, Minnesota, where you can board a ferry to reach another remote national park, Michigan’s Isle Royale. If you’re going to come this far north, you might as well visit both parks and check them both off your list.
Things To Do At Voyageurs NP: Ferry Rides and More
Camping and hiking are two of the most common activities in this forested wonderland. Read more about those in the next section. Beyond that, you’ll want to get out on the water to truly explore the park.
The park operates the Amik tour boat from Kabetogama Lake and the Voyageur tour boat on Rainy Lake. Both are handicap accessible and can be booked in advance online. Reservations are encouraged in case they sell out.
The Kettle Falls Cruise runs from 9 am to 4:30 pm and includes a visit to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel and a stop for a picnic lunch (guests must bring their own food.) As of 2018, this tour costs $50 for adults and $25 for kids. It does not operate everyday.
The cruise I participated in was the Grand Tour, a shorter ferry ride that runs from 2 to 4:30 pm daily. If you’re short on time or just want a brief taste of the park, this cruise is the one you want. It’s only $30 for adults and $15 for kids. It includes a brief stop at Little American Island to see remnants of the gold rush in the area. All of these tour boat cruises are narrated by rangers who are great at spotting bald eagle nests.
The park also operates seasonal walking garden tours and paddling canoe tours. These are free, but check with the visitor centers for availability.
Fishing and kayaking are also popular things to do in Voyageurs. If you want to hire a private charter boat, rent canoes or kayaks, or hire a fishing guide, check out the park’s list of approved partners.
As for winter activities, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are all available. The park claims to have 110 miles of trails free for winter fun. Guests can borrow snowshoes for free from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.
There are even some ice roads, where the lakes freeze and cars are permitted to drive across the ice to travel deeper into the park during the cold winter months!
Camping and Hiking
There are just 7 official hiking trails within the park that are accessible by car. Trail maps can be obtained at a visitor center. Most are suitable for day hiking, but if you want to get really ambitious, try to tackle some or all of the 28-mile Kab-Ash Trail. It’s known as a remote trail where you can go hours or days without seeing any other hikers!
Popular Voyageurs National Park Hikes:
Voyageurs National Park camping consists of hundreds of campsites, most of which require boats to reach. You can see the full campsite map (PDF) from the National Park Service by clicking here.
Advance reservations are required for tent camping within the park. It does not appear that there are any campgrounds that you can drive to within the park borders. All require water transportation to reach.
There are a few mainland campgrounds and resorts that are not within the park’s official borders, such as Pine Aire Resort and Wooden Frog Campground in the Kabetogama area. Campers must store their food in bear-proof containers hung from a tree at least 10 feet high and out of reach of bears.
Bald eagles, wolves, moose, and black bears could be considered the big four of Voyageurs NP wildlife. Around 150 black bears inhabit the park and they’ve been known to come into contact with humans who are camping, so take the proper precautions. There are no grizzly bears in the area.
Minnesota has the most bald eagles in the lower 48 states, with more than 1300 pairs. At last count, the park itself had 42 breeding pairs of eagles. You’ll likely see some if you take a tour boat cruise. They are most commonly found in the West Rainy, North and East Kabetogama, and West Namakan Lakes areas. Look up to the very tops of tall trees to spot their nests.
Only about 40 to 50 moose reside in Voyageurs. Most are found on the Kabetogama Peninsula. The park advises that the best place to see them during the summer is Cruiser Lake Trail.
About 6 to 9 packs of gray wolves live in the park, but they are not often seen. If you get a lucky sighting, it may be when one crosses a park road near a visitor center, or in the winter along the shores of the larger lakes.
Tourists may spot deer and smaller mammals such as otters, hares, fox, beavers, and porcupines. Bird watchers tend to love Voyageurs since in addition to eagles there are owls, loons, warblers, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there an admission fee?
Voyageurs National Park has no entrance fee. Woohoo! You’ll only pay if you decide to reserve a campsite, take a ferry ride, rent a houseboat or kayak, or hire a fishing guide.
What is the weather like?
From June through August, high temperatures usually reach the upper 70s F, while lows can still dip down into the 40s, with occasional rain. Bring mosquito repellent! In the winter, snow can be heavy and temps dip below zero at night.
Are there any historic points of interest in the park?
Not many. The main appeal of the park is its nature. There is one place, the Kettle Falls Hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1910 and remains in operation as a hotel today. It can only be reached by boat. Some of the park-operated tour boat cruises stop at the hotel.
Can I make a houseboat rental reservation?
Yes! Renting a houseboat for a group of people is a popular summer activity at Voyageurs NP. Go here to learn everything you need to know an renting a houseboat and where you’re permitted to operate it within the park.
Are pets allowed?
Pets are permitted in a few select areas only, including Frontcountry campsites and the Recreation Trail, which covers 1.7 miles near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. They are permitted in all visitor center parking lots as well.
Can you see the Northern Lights at Voyageurs National Park?
Sure, sometimes. The aurora borealis makes an appearance now and then in this part of northern Minnesota. There’s little light pollution in this area, so the night skies are usually clear and visible. Check out a North American aurora forecast site, such as this one, to determine your odds of seeing the Northern Lights during your visit.
Where can I find lodging near Voyageurs National Park?
I struggled with this myself, because there aren’t a ton of lodging options. There are a few campground options just outside the park, noted above. There’s also Arnold’s Campground & RV Park in the Rainy Lake area.
As far as hotels near Voyageurs National Park, there are several resorts and lodges near the lake. Many of these can be a bit expensive, however. The city of International Falls has a few hotels. If you’re willing to drive farther, you can find cheaper hotels in the towns of Baudette, Warroad and Orr. I ended up staying at an affordable hotel in Warroad as I drove west from the park.
For hotel reservations, I always recommend searching with booking.com, because they do the best job of aggregating lodging properties and offering the best available deals. Click to search for Voyageur National Park hotels on booking.com.
Where can I learn more about Voyageurs National Park?
Check out National Geographic’s illustrated trail map (Amazon link) to see extensive maps of the entire park region. For more stories and history, try the website for the Voyageurs National Park Association, an organization dedicated to supporting and protecting the park.