Complete Guide to Voyageurs National Park: Things To Do, Campgrounds, Hikes, Itinerary (2024)

voyageurs national park bald eagles

Situated way up in the northernmost part of Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is one of the most unique national parks in America.

With hundreds of 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 and took an interesting ferry ride to several islands.

I found it to be a very different environment than most other national parks.

Voyageurs National Park is one of the best places in the continental U.S. to see bald eagles. When I visited the park a few years back, I saw 10 bald eagles 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.

rainy lake visitor center

Interesting Facts About Voyageurs National Park

Location: Northern Minnesota
Nearest City: International Falls, MN
Established: April 18, 1975
Size: 218,200 acres (ranks 32 out of 63)
Annual Visitors: 221,434 (ranks 50 out of 63)
Elevation: 1108 to 1410 feet
Entrance Fee: None

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 park features 30 named lakes, in addition to 500+ smaller, unnamed ones. Kabetogama, Rainy, Namakan, and Sand Point are the largest lakes, and the ones which have the most visitor traffic.

The smaller interior lakes are Agnes, Beast, Brown, Cruiser, Ek, Fishmouth, Jorgens, Little Shoepack, LittleTrout, Locator, Loiten, Lucille, McDevitt, Mukooda, Net, O’Leary, Oslo, Peary, Quarterline, Quill, Ryan, Shoepack, Tooth, War Club, Weir, Wiyapka.

Voyageurs has 655 miles of total shoreline, and nearly 200k acres of land and water.

The Ojibwe tribe dominated this area by 1780, and they interacted with European traders often.

rainy lake visitor center ojibwe scene
This scene of Ojibwe life can be found at Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

Voyageurs was first proposed as a national park in 1891, as citizens grew concerned about the growing industry on the lakes. However, it took until 1975 before Congress made it the country’s 36th national park.

There was a short-lived gold rush here starting in 1890, when gold was found embedded in 2-million-year-old greenstone. By 1901, the miners had moved on, realizing there wasn’t enough gold here to make them rich.

In the most recent year that data is available, around 220,000 people visited Voyageurs. That was low enough for it to appear on the list of America’s Least Popular National Parks!

The reason for the relatively small number of visitors is undoubtedly its location. It’s not near any major cities.

boats on lake

Voyageurs is 2.5 hours from Duluth by car, four hours from Grand Forks, North Dakota, four hours from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and 4.5 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.

Maps of 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 national park map

See the park’s official brochure map below, showing all the visitor centers, campgrounds, and points of interest. Right-click and open in a new window to see the original size image.

voyageurs nps official map

Voyageurs Ferry Tours: Which One Should You Book?

Locals who live near Voyageurs can bring their boats and get to some of the park’s more remote spots. But I’m assuming that everyone reading this is a tourist who won’t have their own boat.

So this Voyageurs National Park itinerary focuses on ways to use the park’s ferry service and equipment rentals to make the most of your visit.

voyageurs minnesota nature boating
The boat cruise is one of the best things to do at Voyageurs National Park!

Which ferry tour should you take at Voyageurs? Here are your options:

Kettle Falls Cruise (from Ash River)
Leaves from: Ash River Visitor Center
Season: Mid-June through September
Operates: 10 am to 3:30 pm weekdays
Cost: $60 for adults, $30 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 29
Details: This tour includes a visit to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel and a stop for a picnic lunch (guests must bring their own food.) You’ll spend two hours aboard the Ne-zho-dain tour boat getting to Kettle Falls, 2 hours on land touring the site and nearby dam, and 1.5 hours on the boat ride back.

Kettle Falls Cruise (from Rainy Lake)
Leaves from: Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Season: September only
Operates: 9:30 am to 4 pm on Saturdays only
Cost: $85 for adults and $42.50 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 29
Details: This is the same tour as the one above, except that it begins at Rainy Lake, which means it takes an extra hour to reach Kettle Falls and costs an extra $25.

Discovery Cruise
Leaves from: Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Season: Mid-June through September
Operates: 10 am to noon, four days a week (Sun-Mon-Tue-Fri)
Cost: $40 adults, $20 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 49
Details: This tour passes through Rainy Lake, where you’re likely to see bald eagles. At 2 hours in length, it’s one of the shorter ferry tours currently offered.

Gold Mine Tour
Leaves from: Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Season: Mid-June through September
Operates: 10:30 am to noon, Saturdays only
Cost: $40 adults, $20 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 49
Details: This ferry ride heads straight to Little American Island to see remnants of the gold rush in the area. You’ll walk around the island and see the old gold mines and old equipment.

Grand Tour
Leaves from: Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Season: Mid-June through September
Operates: 1 pm to 3:30 pm, five days a week (every day except Wed-Thu)
Cost: $50 adults, $25 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 49
Details: This was the ferry ride I took. It travels on Rainy Lake looking for bald eagles, then makes a stop at Little American Island. This is essentially a combination of the Discovery Cruise and the Gold Mine Tour, so it’s a good value since you’re basically getting two tours in one!

tour boat cruise ferry - voyageurs national park
The view inside the Voyageur as we head out on a Grand Tour ferry ride around the park waters.

Ellsworth Rock Gardens Tour
Leaves from: Kabetogama Visitor Center in Jun-Jul, Ash River Visitor Center in Aug-Sep
Season: Mid-June through September
Operates: 11 am to 12:30 pm, Thursdays only
Cost: $40 adults, $20 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 29
Details: This unique tour visits Ellsworth Rock Gardens, where you’ll get to explore the various types of ancient rock and old building remnants on the peninsula.

Starwatch Cruise
Leaves from: Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Season: August & September
Operates: 10 pm to 11:30 pm, Fridays only
Cost: $40 adults, $20 for kids
Maximum passenger load: 49
Details: The only evening cruise at Voyageurs is the Starwatch Cruise, a 90-minute journey where guests stay on the boat the entire time. The captain finds a quiet spot on the lake and cut the engines to provide a chance to see the dark skies and hear the sounds of the night. A ranger offers insight and assistance. If you’re really lucky, the Northern Lights may even be visible (though it doesn’t often happen in summer.)

All of these tour boat cruises are narrated by rangers who are great at spotting bald eagle nests.

Tour tickets are refundable, less a $3 service fee, so you can book ahead of time without worry.

Best Things To Do At Voyageurs NP

Take a Ferry Ride

As noted, you’ll want to get out on the water to truly explore the park. The park operates several different boat tours from its three visitor centers. See the full list and detailed explanations above.

Most tours are handicap accessible and can be booked in advance online. Reservations are encouraged in case they sell out.

The park also operates seasonal walking garden tours and paddling canoe tours. These are free, but check with the visitor centers for availability.

Stop in to the Visitor Centers

Voyageurs has three visitor centers. Only the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, located in International Falls, Minnesota, is open outside of the summer season.

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open 9 am to 5 pm during the peak tourist season of Memorial Day to late September. It’s open on weekends only from January to March, and again during weekends in October. It’s closed the rest of the year.

kabetogama lake
Kabetogama Lake | Things To Do at Voyageurs National Park

The other two, Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center and Ash River Visitor Center, typically remain open from 9 am to 5 pm from late May through late September. They are closed entirely the rest of the year.

Voyageurs Hiking Trails

There are just 7 official hiking trails within the park that are accessible by car (and 15 overall.) Trail maps can be obtained at a visitor center.

Popular Voyageurs National Park Hikes:
• Easy: Echo Bay Trail (2.5 mile loop trail, △144 feet)
• Easy: Blind Ash Bay Trail (2.5 miles out & back with a loop, △300 feet)
• Strenuous: Kab-Ash Trail (27.9 miles one way, △1500 feet)

Located in the Kabetogama area, the Echo Bay Trail is an easy hike, but one that reveals forest and marsh areas. Some parts of the trail have wooden boardwalk above the marshy ground.

The Blind Ash Bay Trail is a similar trail, located at the Ash River Visitor Center. This trail is narrow and windy and has a lot of opportunities to see the ancient rocks in the park, as well as deer and other wildlife.

Most trails in the park 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!

These trails turn into cross-country ski paths during the heart of winter.

Voyageurs Campgrounds

Voyageurs National Park camping consists of hundreds of campsites, most of which require boats to reach. The National Park Service no longer offers a free downloadable campsite map, but you can see an interactive online map here.

Advance reservations are required for tent camping within the park. There are no campgrounds that you can drive to within the park borders. All require water transportation to reach.

That said, Woodenfrog State Forest Campground sits just outside the park boundary near the Kabetogama Visitor Center.

And the Kab-Ash Hiking Trail has a whopping 2 (two!) primitive campsites along its 28 miles.

little american gold mine hiking
Peering down into Little American Mine, an abandoned gold mine on Little American Island.

Campers must store their food in bear-proof containers hung from a tree at least 10 feet high and out of reach of bears.

Look at the Rocks

No, seriously, do it! Rocks may not be the most interesting features in most parks, but the ones here actually have quite a story.

Many of the rocks here are half the age of Earth itself. This area is the southern edge of the Canadian shield, the dome of volcanic bedrock that forms the core of North America.

The glaciers that passed through during the ice age scraped away the younger rock layers, exposing this ancient rock. Rock types found here include migmatite, greenstone, quartz, granite-gneiss, and schist.

Learn more about the geology of Voyageurs, and how you can see so many fascinating forms of rock in the park.


Voyageurs is a paradise for those who like to fish. The 54 known fish species in these waters include Walleye, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Lake Trout, and Lake Sturgeon.

A state of Minnesota fishing license is required for anyone who plans to cast a reel in park waters.

Check out the NPS page on fishing in the park, with detailed information about specific park fishing regulations, such as which areas allow bait fish and which invasive species to be aware of.

Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding

kayak canoe rental
Canoeing | Voyageurs National Park itinerary (NPS)

Kayaking and canoeing are also popular things to do in Voyageurs. Bring your own if you have one.

Alternately, if you want to hire a private charter boat, rent canoes or kayaks, try paddleboarding, or hire a fishing guide, check out the park’s list of approved partners.


If you have access to a bicycle, there’s a bike trail that runs from the city of International Falls 12 miles east to Rainy Lake Visitor Center. From there, you can access ferries and hiking trails.

That’s the only biking trail in the park, but it’s a scenic one, and it’s long enough to provide a good workout.

Winter Activities at Voyageurs

As for winter activities, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are all available. The park claims 110 miles of trails for winter fun.

Guests can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on weekends from January through March.

The cost is $10 per person. You can rent in person, or in advance from

voyageurs winter activities
Cross country skiing | Things To Do Voyageurs (NPS)

The 28-mile Kab-Ash hiking trail becomes an epic cross-country ski trail during the winter.

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!

Families can drive the ice road from Kabetogama to the Sphunge Island Sledding Hill to provide kids with a memorable snowy adventure!

Wildlife Viewing: Moose, Wolves, Bears and More

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.

moose wildlife voyageurs
A stuffed moose on display in one of the park visitor centers.

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.

Lodging near Voyageurs National Park: Hotels and Campgrounds

I struggled with finding lodging in this area myself, because there aren’t a ton of hotel options, and they can get full during busy tourist times.

The city of International Falls does have a number of hotels, while the nearby forests have several campgrounds and private lodges.

Let’s go over the best options for hotels and campgrounds near Voyageurs National Park.

Hotels and Lodges:

Island View Lodge: The Island View Lodge is just a 3-mile drive from Rainy Lake and offers lodge rooms and private cabins. From the shore, guests can see Little American Island, the historic isle where the short-lived gold rush took place.

Cantilever Hotel by Wyndham: The closest hotel to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center is the Cantilever Hotel, which sits 10 miles (15 minutes) away in the town of Ranier. It’s a modern and upscale property with free wifi and a rooftop hot tub.

Falls Motel: Looking for a more affordable place to crash? The Falls Motel in International Falls has some of the cheapest prices in the area. It’s a no-frills roadside motel that gets the job done, with breakfast muffins and free wifi.

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.

Campgrounds Near the Park:

Pine Aire Resort: Pine Aire has a prime location, right on the lake, just a 6-minute walk from the Kabetogama Visitor Center. It’s a perfectly-located homebase for visiting Voyageurs.

Wooden Frog Campground: Located in Kabetogama State Forest, the Wooden Frog Campground has a beach for swimming, hiking trail, and 61 sites with fire rings and picnic tables.

Arnold’s Campground & RV Park: Arnold’s can be found 20 minutes from the Rainy Lake area. These are shaded campsites in a basic RV park.

How Many Days Do You Need at Voyageurs National Park?

If you don’t plan to camp in the park, then you can get by with just a single day in the park. There aren’t a ton of hiking trails or points of interest, after all.

Of course, this depends where you’re coming from. If you’re making the 4.5-hour drive from Minneapolis and arriving after noon, then a single afternoon may not be enough. You may want to stick around the following morning as well.

If you plan to kayak to backcountry campgrounds, then you can easily stay 4 days or more, exploring some of the smaller and/or overlooked Voyageurs waterways.

bird catches fish
An eagle flies away after scooping up a fish from the lake.

What’s the Best Voyageurs NP One-Day Itinerary?

Since the activities in Voyageurs are so basic, it’s easy to put together an itinerary for one full day in Voyageurs. Just book one of the ferry trips, and add either a hike or a kayak rental.

Your options depend on which section of the park you choose to visit.

Here’s a basic one-day itinerary for Voyageurs National Park from each visitor center:

Ash River: Book the Kettle Falls Cruise (which goes to the Kettle Falls Historic District) in the morning. This tour lasts 6 hours, so it will take up most of the day. When it’s done, rent a kayak at one of the outfitters in the immediate area, or hike to the Kabetogama Lake Overlook.

Kabetogama: You probably can’t spend a full day here. This center only offers one regular boat tour – the Ellsworth Rock Tour – and it only runs on Thursdays. And the Echo Bay Trail is the only noteworthy hike in this area. So you’ll most likely want to head to Ash River to rent a kayak or book a ferry ride.

Rainy Lake: In the morning, either rent a bike or kayak in International Falls and take it into the park for a few hours, or stop at the visitor center and walk the Tilson Bay Trail and the Oberholtzer Hiking Trail. After lunch, take the afternoon Grand Tour that navigates Rainy Lake looking for wildlife and stops at Little American Island.

For all of these itineraries, stay to witness sunset over the lake if you get a chance.

When is the best time to visit Voyageurs National Park?

Due to the limited ferry season, tourists will definitely want to come between mid-June and September. Outside those months, you won’t have an opportunity to take a guided ferry tour into the heart of the park.

Locals who own boats or kayaks can consider visiting in autumn to see the fall foliage, or in spring when the park is just emerging from its winter slumber and crowds are minimal.


Spring: Spring can still be slushy and chilly. High temperatures in April and May average 50-60 F, with about 7 days of rain per month. The downside of visiting in spring is the absence of ferry tours.

Summer: Summer temperatures are the most pleasant in northern Minnesota. From June through August, high temperatures usually reach the upper 70s F, while lows can dip down into the 40s, with occasional rain. Bring mosquito repellent, and bring a jacket if you’re going on the boat!

Fall: Fall is a fun time to visit Voyageurs to see the changing colors of the leaves. However, it you arrive after September, you won’t have access to the official park cruises. In that case, you’ll have to enjoy the foliage from the shoreline and the mainland hiking trails.

Winter: In the winter, snow can be heavy and temps dip below zero at night. The only reason to visit in the winter would be to snowshoe or cross-country ski on some of the trails, or to drive the ice road to the sledding park.

How do you get to Voyageurs NP?

Voyageurs is located in northern Minnesota, along the Canadian border, about 10 miles from the city of International Falls.

The nearest airport is Falls International Airport (INL). This is not a large airport; only Delta and SkyWest offer commercial flights, and they all go to Minneapolis.

Most people will fly into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport instead, rent a car, and drive the 4.5 hours north to the park.

Driving distances and times from nearby cities:

Duluth, Minnesota: 147 miles (2.5 hours)
Grand Forks, Minnesota: 240 miles (4 hours)
Minneapolis, Minnesota: 286 miles (4.5 hours)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: 266 miles (5 hours)

Voyageurs Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an admission fee?

Unlike many other national parks, 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.

voyageur ferry reservations

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 (the Kettle Falls Cruise) 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.

houseboat rentals voyageurs
I saw a lot of houseboats docked to various islands around 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.

Is there cell phone service at Voyageurs?

Yes, with most carriers, you will have a cell signal in many of the main tourist areas of the park. There may be times on cruises or in more remote parts of the park when the cell signal will drop out.

This is especially true if you’re bringing your own boat and venturing into less-explored territory.

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.

What else can you do near Voyageurs?

Because it’s so far north, there aren’t a lot of other attractions nearby. You can visit International Falls, Minnesota, and cross the border into Canada.

You could swing down to Kabetogama or George Washington State Forests. Or you could take a 90-minute drive south to the town of Eveleth, where you can find the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

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