Voyageurs National Park: The Complete Guide

Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park Minnesota
Don & Melinda Crawford/UIG / Getty Images
Map card placeholder graphic

Voyageurs National Park

Address
International Falls, MN 56649, USA
Phone +1 218-283-6600

Located in the extreme north of Minnesota—along the U.S.-Canada border—sits Voyageurs National Park. This vast wilderness consists of an interconnected set of lakes and rivers, surrounded by some of the thickest forest found anywhere in the continental United States. Best explored on canoe or kayak, the park is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers looking to escape from civilization for awhile. Here, it is possible to travel for days through certain sections of the park without seeing another living soul.

Established in 1975, the park is named in honor of the French-Canadian voyageurs— the fur traders and explorers who helped open the region during the 18th and 19th century. Consisting of 218,200 square acres, the park itself is mostly only accessible by boat or canoe. That includes the Kabetogama Peninsula, which is the largest landmass within its borders.

Directly adjacent to Voyageurs National Park is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Together, the two regions create an expansive network of forests and waterways that is unlike any place on Earth. For paddlers—and those who are explorers at heart—this is a can't-miss combination.

A red kayak sit on a shore beside a beautiful lake and forest.

GeorgeBurba/Getty

Things to Do

As mentioned, much of the park is only accessible by boat, canoe, or kayak. This makes Voyageurs a dream destination for paddlers, particularly those who like spend several days on the water. Visitors who want to experience Voyageurs out on the water without padding a kayak or canoe can join a guided tour instead. Throughout the summer and fall, there are daily boat tours that depart from various places within the park, although most set out from either the Rainy Lake or Kabetogama Lake Visitor CentersWhile walk-on reservations are sometimes available, travelers interested in taking a boat tour are encouraged to book the trip before arrival on Recreation.gov.

Voyageurs remains a popular outdoor playground even during the winter. The season comes early in northern Minnesota, bringing cold temperatures and plenty of snow along with it. That makes the trails—and even the frozen lakes—excellent options for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Ice roads also grant access to several lakes for ice fishing excursions and the park even offers 110 miles of trail specifically designated for snowmobiling. For simple winter fun, head to the Sphunge Island-Kabetogama Lake Sledding Hill as well.

Where to Camp

For those who would like to camp on the park's islands and beaches at night after a long day paddling, the park has more than 270 campsites dispersed throughout Voyageurs' boundaries, most of which are frequently unoccupied.

Both front- and backcountry campground require a reservation and a permit at all times, so be sure to obtain one before you go. Front country sites are accessible directly by boat, while backcountry camps require more work, often involving hiking and paddling. Because they are easier to reach, the front country locations tend to fill up the quickest and are more crowded during the peak summer travel months.

The Aurora Borealis hangs over a tent illuminated in the night from the inside.

Steve Burns/Getty

Best Hikes & Trails

While many of the hiking trails found within the park are only reachable by boat, there are still some great options that can be accessed by car. The easiest of those to hike is the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, which is paved and flat, requiring about 1.5 hours to walk end-to-end. Both the Voyageurs Forest Overlook Trail and Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail are also easy and scenic walks for visitors looking to stretch their legs. For something a little longer, check out the Echo Bay and Blind Ash Bay Trails, both of which require 2-3 hours to hike, while the 28-mile Kab-Ash Trail is perfect for backpackers.

Where to Stay Nearby

Most visitors who spend the night inside Voyageurs National Park do so at one of the designated campsites. With 270 to choose from, there is almost always vacancy to be had somewhere. The question is, how challenging will it be to reach that campground?

Those looking for an actual lodge to stay in will want to book reservations at the Kettle Falls Hotel on the Kabetogama Peninsula. Like most places in the park, the hotel is only accessible by watercraft however, so just getting there is part of the adventure. Kettle Falls sits 15 miles from the closest road, but does offer a shuttle for those who don't have their own boat or canoe. The hotel is only open from May to September each year and books up well in advance of the start of the travel season. Be sure to get your reservations in early.

Living and sleeping aboard a houseboat inside the park is also permitted in certain designated areas. A permit is required for those types of stays as well, as the National Park Service treats it as camping on the water. A fee of $10/night is required and this is a popular way for visitors to enjoy the area during the warmer summer months.

Other options for staying near the park are available in nearby towns, including International Falls, Lake Kabetogama, and Ash River. These small, gateway towns, feature hotels and motels that can accommodate visitors all year round. They also have restaurants and shops available for food and drinks along the way.

Where to Eat

Inside the park, the only place to purchase food is at the Kettle Falls Hotel, so plan accordingly prior to your arrival. The hotel has an in-house restaurant with a full menu and is a popular destination for boaters. This can make it a busy place throughout the day, with long wait times for lunch in particular. If you pack your own meals, there are picnic tables at campsites and along trails that are open to the public to use.

How to Get There

Getting to Voyageurs National Park requires traveling to Minnesota and heading north. The park's three visitor centers are essentially the only places that are reachable by car. Start your trip to either of those destinations in International Falls. To reach the Ash River Visitor Center, 28 miles south on Highway 53, then taking the exit for the park before driving another 11 miles. The Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center can be found 25 miles to the south on Highway 53, a short distance off of that road. Meanwhile, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center is located on Black Bay 11 miles east on Highway 11 out of International Falls.

The closet major airport is in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which still requires a five hour drive to reach International Falls. The city does have its own international airport however, with a number of flights in and out each day. Flying to International Falls saves time, but will likely be more pricey. Driving takes longer, but also wanders through some remote wilderness areas while en route as well. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.

A serene lake bounded by rocky cliffs on the right.

Per Breiehagen/Getty

Accessibility

Despite the remote nature of Voyageurs National Park, the Park Service has gone to great lengths to make it accessible for travelers. The three visitor centers are all handicapped accessible, as are the parking lots, and restrooms. Beyond that, the Oberholtzer Trail and Kabetogama Lake Overlook trail are also accessible, as are the boats used in the guided boat tours. There are even a limited number of accessible campsites that can be reserved in advance of a stay.

As in most national parks, videos, demonstrations, and other multimedia elements offer close captioning for the hearing impaired. Braille transcriptions are also available on most signs at the visitors centers too.

The Northern Lights illuminate the sky above a placid lake.

BlueBarronPhoto/Getty

Tips For Your Visit

  • Explore by Kayak or Canoe: While there is much to see in Voyageurs while on dry land, to truly get a sense of what the place is all about, you need to hit the water. The original French-Canadian fur traders passed through this place in canoes and that is still one of the best ways to experience the wilderness there. Whether it's just for a few hours, or you're going for days of paddling and camping, you won't really get to know the park without kayaking its backwaters.
  • Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Wildlife: Voyageurs is home to an impressive array of creatures, so be on the lookout for animals while hiking and paddling. Sharp-eyed visitors might catch a glimpse of wolves, bear, moose, white-tailed deer, river otters, and beaver. There are also more than 240 species of birds in the park—including bald eagles, making it a popular destination for birders across the country.
  • Be Bear Aware: As noted, one of the animal species that can be found inside Voyageurs National Park is the black bear. While these creatures are generally not very aggressive and go out of their way to avoid humans, they can be dangerous from time to time. Be sure that you know how to handle a bear encounter should you come face to face with one, particularly a mama bear and her cubs.
  • Bring a Telescope: Because the park sits far from the bright lights of a big city, and is so massive in size, it is fantastic spot to go stargazing. In fact, it has been declared an International Dark Sky Park, making it one of the best places in North America to watch the heavens.
  • Embrace the Winter: Winter is a magical time in Voyageurs and not to be avoided by the curious traveler. The trails are typically all-but abandoned, but the place is spectacularly beautiful when covered in snow. Bring a pair of snowshoes, a backpack, and a sense of adventure. You'll find that it is just as rewarding when the water is frozen.
Back to Article

Voyageurs National Park: The Complete Guide