Voyageurs National Park Announces Fall Visitor Center Hours

Photo by Gordy Lindgren

Photo by Gordy Lindgren

Voyageurs National Park visitor centers begin fall hours of operations starting Wednesday, September 5, 2018.

Due to unexpected early departures of multiple summer staff, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be open Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm beginning Wednesday, September 5. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be closed on Thursdays and Fridays through September 30, 2018.  

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will have the following late fall and early winter hours:

  • October 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018: open Thursdays through Sundays, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

The Kabetogama Lake and Ash River Visitor Centers will remain open seven days a week through September from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Beginning Monday,  September 24, 2018 both visitor centers will close for the season and will reopen in mid-May 2019.

 Voyageurs National Park staff encourages you to come out and explore the park this fall and enjoy the colors of North Woods.

2018 National Park Teen Ambassador Program

At a campsite on Lake Kabetogama amongst the bushes of wild blueberries, tiptoeing around the knots of toads and braving the relentless buzzing of mosquitoes, the 2018 National Park Teen Ambassadors gather around the campfire to rest and reflect on their trip to Voyageurs National Park. All agree that the park offered a still, peaceful serenity that is hard to come by in more urban areas. The orange glow from the fire illuminates their faces showing signs of being immersed in the wilderness for five days - unkempt hair, dirt in unexpected places, tired but happy eyes. They are looking forward to a shower, but also cannot wait to share their experience with friends and family back home.

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In its sixth year, the National Park Teen Ambassador Program continued its mission to connect youth from throughout the state of Minnesota to the outdoors and environmental careers. Participants paddled and camped in Voyageurs National Park and explored the Mississippi River and Recreation Area. This years’ Teen Ambassador cohort all heralded from the Twin Cities area, and, for most, this was their first time in a national park! During their 5 day, four night stay at Voyageurs, the youth met with park staff, helped install wildlife cameras in the woods with park researchers, and explored the historical sites on Lake Kabetogama.


A couple weeks after returning home, the Teen Ambassadors met up again for a weekend excursion at Fort Snelling. This trip gave them the opportunity to explore a park right in their backyard. Along with hiking around Pike Island and paddling on Lake Snelling, the Teen Ambassadors participated in a citizen science activity by testing the water quality of the Mississippi River.  

The youth represented eight different high schools, with ages ranging from 15 to 18 years old. Many were first generation students, all came from varying backgrounds, and they bonded together over a mutual interest in the environment.

Mary, a Teen Ambassador from Champlin Park said, “This trip gave me the opportunity to meet some people who are interested in nature like me. I really enjoyed canoeing with everyone and comparing Voyageurs National Park to the Mississippi River and Recreation Area, because they are both so different but really cool.”

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Her fellow Ambassador, Tony from Harding High School, agreed, “The highlight of my time in [Voyageurs National Park and] the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is sharing a new experience with kids my age because this generation is mostly about technology and not learning about wildlife and how to preserve it.”

It is this shared experience that Tony mentions that makes the National Park Teen Ambassador program so special. Before the trip, none of the Teen Ambassadors knew one another. As they discovered the beauty, history and importance of preserving national parks, and the experienced trials and tribulations of being out in the wilderness for 5 days together, a lasting bond was formed. Up next, the Teen Ambassadors will share their experience with the friends, families, and communities, serving as the next generation of champions for national parks.


Thank you to our program partners and sponsors: Wilderness Inquiry, The National Park Service, The National Park Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, The Fredrikson & Byron Foundation, The Edina Morningside Rotary, Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation, Scott and Di Photography and AmeriCorps VISTA.

Kettle Falls Archeological Inventory

By Andrew LaBounty, National Park Service

For the past four years, Voyageurs National Park has been developing an archeological inventory of the Kettle Falls area.  The project began with a review of what we know, and from there the project was designed to target missing information.  For example: there are hundreds of historic photographs of the Kettle Falls area, but it is often a mystery exactly what they show, where the photographer was standing, and when the shot was taken.  Through careful review of the historical record and a little bit of careful excavation, we learned a number of things about Kettle Falls in the past few years – and generated a lot more questions.

One of park staff’s main goals for the archeological inventory was to pin down the location of historic buildings that are no longer standing.  There are many examples of historic structures at Kettle Falls, but Chris Monson’s trading post is one of the most iconic.

Chris Monson was the first damtender who lived in the old log cabin that stands toward the west end of the National Park Service (NPS) marina on Namakan Lake at Kettle Falls.  At some point after 1910, he built and operated a trading post on the Namakan side of Kettle Falls.  There are many photos and oral histories, but little evidence of when or where his store was located.

The archeological inventory combined four kinds of data: 1) ground penetrating radar, 2) archeological excavation, 3) historical photo analysis, and 4) oral histories.  Using all four of these, park staff were able to put Chris Monson’s trading post on the map with confidence, and to assign it some tentative dates of operation within the greater history of Kettle Falls.

Chris Monson’s Trading Post and the Timeline of Archeological Research

Park staff knew the general location of Chris Monson’s trading post through oral histories and previous archeological research.  For example: in 1991 Reuben Christenson related to a Voyageurs National Park (VNP) historian that:

“Chris was a very likeable guy, wore glasses. He lived in the building where he operated his store. It was located near the lake shore in front of where the company house [the white building] is now on the Namakan side. It was still there in 1938.” –Reuben Christenson, 1991

This provided a starting point for recording the physical location of the building and determining what—if anything—was left.

Blue/purple shading shows the compacted detected by ground penetrating radar in 2015. Two different areas look like they may have been related to buildings.

Blue/purple shading shows the compacted detected by ground penetrating radar in 2015. Two different areas look like they may have been related to buildings.

In hopes of putting Chris Monson’s trading post on a map, park staff operated ground penetrating radar over the lawn of the existing company house in 2015.  The results were inconclusive, and did not identify a foundation.  Instead, a few highly compacted areas of soil were revealed, which park staff believed indicated where a large building sat directly on the ground surface.

NPS Archeologists from Lincoln, Nebraska carefully excavate layers of soil in 2016 to recover any preserved information related to Chris Monson’s trading post.  One Test Unit is in the foreground; a second Test Unit can be seen in the background.

NPS Archeologists from Lincoln, Nebraska carefully excavate layers of soil in 2016 to recover any preserved information related to Chris Monson’s trading post.  One Test Unit is in the foreground; a second Test Unit can be seen in the background.

After using ground penetrating radar to select excavation locations, few artifacts were revealed indicating a building ever existed. One small area east of the supposed structure revealed rusted nails and tarpaper tacks that suggest the location of Chris Monson’s Trading post.

All of the evidence gathered so far was brought into a geographic information system (GIS) using precision Global Positioning System (GPS) and field measurements. This allowed park staff to overlay historic maps with the compacted soil, the meager collection of structural artifacts, and any existing landscape features (such as the company house mentioned by Reuben Christenson). Through these overlays, the International Boundary Commission survey was found to be the earliest map with a corresponding building at the correct location. The map dates to 1913 or 1914, just about exactly when the Kettle Falls hotel was built, which happens to be a logical construction date for a trading post as well.

Using historic photos and the known location of another trading post to the east, park staff were able to confirm the identity of Chris Monson’s trading post. This “unlocked” several new visual cues and dates.  When looking through historic photographs related to Kettle Falls, just one photo shows all three structures in sequence—the 1910 damtender’s cabin on the left, Monson’s store in the center, and the second trading post to the right.  The same buildings could then be identified by their style from different angles in other historic photos, generating a visual record and additional dates, helping to build the timeline of all three structures.

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International Boundary Commission survey map, sheet 14.  Survey data was collected in 1913 and 1914, and then published in 1928 (Source: VNP Collection).  Circled in red: the most likely location of Chris Monson’s trading post according to archeological survey results.  What are the other large structures at the Namakan landing?  Why doesn’t Jack Ryan’s trading post appear here?

Continuing Research
It is still not exactly clear when Chris Monson’s trading post was closed and removed.  Reuben Christenson relates that it happened sometime after 1938, and the store was probably gone by the time the company house was built in 1945 (the white cabin you see when you disembark at the Namakan landing today).  What is clear, however, is that Chris Monson’s store was a prominent landmark in the history of the Kettle Falls area.  We now know precisely where this building was located, we know its size and orientation, and we recognize evidence of the structure in a layer of compacted soil.  Based on soil profiles in the immediate area, we also believe that part of Chris Monson’s trading post may have been impacted by flooding and erosion, with a section of the building now lost to the lake.  Perhaps it was the dynamic shoreline and the water levels behind the dam that ultimately prompted the veteran damtender to move into his new house in 1945 (which is high and dry, comfortably upslope behind the old trading post).

Archeological research continues in 2018 to further develop this and other stories throughout the Kettle Falls area.  Park staff are currently working on a full report of the archeological inventory, which will help guide park planning and lead to greater interpretation on-site and in park records.  As each question is answered, however, more questions are raised.  What are the other two large structures depicted on the International Boundary Commission map west of Monson’s store?  When was Jack Ryan’s trading post established, and why doesn’t it also appear on the map?  Archeological research is often iterative, and as one research project raises questions, the next research project will build toward new answers.

1910 Log Cabin (center-left), Chris Monson’s trading post (center-right), and Jack Ryan’s trading post (far right). Photo taken toward the northeast from Namakan Lake between 1913 and 1930, when Jack Ryan’s trading post burns down (Source: VNP Collection).

1910 Log Cabin (center-left), Chris Monson’s trading post (center-right), and Jack Ryan’s trading post (far right). Photo taken toward the northeast from Namakan Lake between 1913 and 1930, when Jack Ryan’s trading post burns down (Source: VNP Collection).

Cattail Removal Kicks Off in Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park staff are working with contractors to remove areas of invasive, hybrid cattail in selected wetlands within Voyageurs National Park from July through October of 2018. Activities include “grinding” up mats of floating cattails with specialized floating barges and then removing the debris using a harvesting barge where it is deposited on shore to decay naturally. Some areas of treated wetlands will also be re-seeded with native aquatic vegetation such as wild rice and bulrushes.

Hybrid cattails have invaded approximately 500-acres of wetlands in Voyageurs, displacing native communities of plants such as wild rice, sedges, rushes, and native cattail. This long-term project will improve habitat for wildlife, provide enhanced opportunities for fishing, and help restore wetlands to more diverse, natural states. More information on the project can be found at:

Work began in early July in a wetland near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on Rainy Lake. Once completed, efforts will be shifted to remove a large floating mat in Rudder Bay, Kabetogama Lake, before returning to Rainy Lake to treat selected wetlands in Reuter Creek and Dove Bay in the park. Removal operations will only occur during daylight hours, and some noise is generated by the specialized grinding barges. Park visitors are reminded to not attempt to use boats or watercraft in recently treated wetlands to avoid getting stuck, as these areas are naturally shallow and mucky. Follow-up removals will be repeated this summer as necessary to remove any debris.

This project is funded by a variety of organizations including Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA), Clean Air Act Settlement Fund, the National Park Service, and by the Initiative Foundation and the Outdoor Heritage Fund as part of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.


Photo courtesy National Park Service. Large dense stands of cattail from years without proper management. This is a region wide issue.

Photo courtesy National Park Service. Large dense stands of cattail from years without proper management. This is a region wide issue.

Eagle Banding in Voyageurs National Park

As the waters warm and spring arrives, you can see any number of animals emerging and even more returning from other waters to the south where they have been wintering. Loons, ducks, and even smaller songbirds such as White Throated Sparrows. But it is the eagles that fascinate many of us.

With wingspans sometimes greater than six feet and the ability to fly at seventy-five miles an hour, eagles are physically impressive birds. They sit atop the food chain and strongly affect their environments. They regulate other predators through their territorial nature, especially during the breeding season. They also serve as bellwethers for the health of the waters they fish.

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As common and established as the Bald Eagle is today, that was not always true for Voyageurs or the nation as a whole. They were sadly and strongly affected by a chemical that was a part of life for many Americans: DDT. While it excelled at killing all manner of insects harmful to people, it had unforeseen consequences for the animals that ate those insects. Perched at the top of the food chain, eagles were particularly harmed. Although they weren’t killed when they ate fish contaminated by the toxin, it affected their eggs. Tragically, the chemical caused the shells of their eggs to form too thin, and when the eagles sat on their eggs, they would break.

This DDT poisoning nearly led to the extinction of bald eagles in the United States. It was only a nationwide recognition of the problem and a concerted effort to cease use of the chemical that helped save the bald eagle. Once this was accomplished, work began towards the stabilization and eventual revitalization of the eagle population, bringing them back from the brink. At its inception, Voyageurs National Park only had one successful breeding pair of eagles; today we have over fifty.

Today those efforts to monitor and study the park’s eagles continue. In mid-June, eagle banding season began once again. Biologists and volunteers ventured out to nests all throughout the park, braving the angry parents circling above, to carefully place special bands on the legs of this year’s eaglets. While their feathers and bodies might have more growing to do, when they are five to six weeks old the chicks’ feet and talons are fully developed. Once banded, they are returned to the nest where their parents continue to care for them. Not long after banding, the eaglets will fledge and begin to fly and hunt for themselves.

Banding of eaglets is vital to researchers nationwide as it allows for eagles captured anywhere in the nation to be traced back to the waters of their birth. Additionally, biologists can use these banded eagles to tell us useful facts such as their migration routes, their age, and many other things. Eagles generally nest in the same locations year after year, so biologists can use these bands to learn which birds survived another year no matter where they choose to spend their winters.

So keep an eye on the skies as you explore your park. You might see one of these amazing birds and a little piece of metal on their leg, reminding us how we can make a difference in our world for the better.

Courtesy of Namakan District Interpretation Staff

Fuel Oil Spill on Kabetogama Lake

On Friday June 22, staff at Voyageurs National Park were notified that there had been a 15-20 gallon fuel oil spill on the north side of Peterson Bay at a private residence during a delivery of fuel by contractors. 

Within an hour of the reported spill, 130 feet of fuel containment boom and 200 fuel spill absorbent pads were deployed around the fuel spill area to contain it. The U.S Coast Guard Response Center, EPA, MN DNR, Kabetogama Fire Department, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency were all contacted and notified of the spill. 

Due to the fuel oil being diluted and dispersed after the spill, containment efforts were not fully successful as fuel oil spread out beyond the boom.  At 9:04 p.m. the park received reports that fuel was along the beach on the south side of Peterson Bay.  Rangers responded and found that there was an oily sheen along the southern shoreline.  

At this time the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has advised us that evaporation is our best option as there is no way to siphon or soak up the diluted fuel off the water surface.  The park is monitoring the fuels movement and the boom will stay in place until Monday June 25th at 9 a.m. to allow for evaporation to occur. 

The Park Service reminds local businesses and contractors who dispense fuel to have fuel containment supplies on hand and containment plans in place prior to spills.  Rangers are working to contact local residents and businesses to advise them of the incident, and continue to investigate.


REI Partners with Voyageurs National Park Association, Park Service to Open New Launching Dock for Paddlers

June 23rd Ribbon Cutting and Festivities at the Paddle-Picnic-Yoga Family Event at Rainy Lake Visitor Center

The public is invited to witness the opening of Voyageurs National Park’s new launching dock for paddlers on Saturday, June 23. The new launching dock is made possible with support from REI and Voyageurs National Park Association. The ribbon cutting ceremony will take place during the Paddle-Picnic-Yoga for Families celebration at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center picnic area, located near the boat launch and new paddle launch. Guests can pack a snack and join Voyageurs National Park Association for an afternoon outdoors in Minnesota’s national park. There will be canoes and kayaks for anyone to use, hot dogs on the grill, family-friendly yoga, and lawn games.

Paddle-Picnic-Yoga Day


Saturday, June 23, 2018, 11:00 am - 1:30 pm

11:00 am: Ribbon cutting

11:30 am - 1:30 pm: Outdoor activities including canoes/kayaks available to use, lawn games, family-friendly yoga at 12:30

Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Voyageurs National Park (picnic area located near the boat launch and new paddle launch)

Voyageurs National Park Association’s Paddle-Picnic-Yoga event partners include: REI, Voyageurs Outfitters, Community Wellness Action Council, and Replenish Yoga and Wellness.

About the New Paddle Launch

REI works to reduce the barriers to life outside. Since 1976, REI and The REI Foundation have invested more than $87 million in organizations across the country that share our goal of creating access to outdoor places and enabling transformational experiences in the outdoors for all people. Voyageurs National Park Association and the National Park Service are proud to partner with REI to make this new recreation project possible. 

Previously, paddlers launching at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center had to share a launch area with visitors using motorized boats causing safety issues. The new dock will make it safer and more enjoyable for paddlers to begin their Voyageurs National Park adventure, provide a gear staging area, and ease congestion for other boats at the main launch.

Special thanks to the Park Service team that constructed the new launch:
Bill Johnson
Mark Goulet
Keith Stevens
Brad King
Garrett King
John Sloan
Von Morgan

Jack Ellsworth's Vision

By Catherine Crawford, National Park Service

Jack Ellsworth started with a rock ridge in the wilderness and created a work of art.  Beginning in 1944 and over the course of 20-plus years, Jack built rock-walled garden beds, pathways, sculptures, architecturally interesting structures, and directional features to form the “Showplace of Kabetogama.”  Jack’s creation was intriguing to many and people visited Ellsworth Rock Gardens by the thousands. 

Aerial View of Ellsworth Rock Garden in the Early 1960s

Aerial View of Ellsworth Rock Garden in the Early 1960s

Due to poor health, Jack Ellsworth never returned to his cabin and rock gardens after 1965.  The forest slowly recaptured the rock formations and, by the time the National Park Service purchased the property from Jack’s widow Elsie in 1978, only a few statues were visible among the trees and shrubs.  Yet, the allure of Jack’s masterwork endured and people continued to visit the gardens in the summer.

View of the Gardens from the Lawn Facing West, 1979

View of the Gardens from the Lawn Facing West, 1979

In 1996, after pressure from the local Kabetogama Lake community, park staff began removing trees and shrubs from the gardens.  Since the first “Garden Blitz” in 2000, staff, contractors, and volunteers have repaired statues and rock walls and buildings, continued to remove non-historic vegetation, and replanted historic flower varieties.  With the help of volunteers, work continues each summer to restore and preserve Ellsworth Rock Gardens.  Slowly, Jack Ellsworth’s concept is re -emerging.   

Changes will be taking place at Ellsworth Rock Gardens starting June of 2018.  In the works is a two-year project that will improve visitor accessibility, provide better information about the history of gardens, and increase dock space. The dock system will be moved to a location that is closer to the Ellsworth’s original dock which will enhance sharing the story of the site.  This year, phase 1, will include construction of an accessible comfort station, accessible path to the picnic shelter, and development of interpretive media.  The new dock system will be completed by spring 2019 and Jack’s gardens will continue to charm and welcome a wider audience. 

2018-2019 Project to Improve Visitor Accessibility, Provide Better Site History, and Increase Dock Space

2018-2019 Project to Improve Visitor Accessibility, Provide Better Site History, and Increase Dock Space


All current facilities will remain open throughout construction.

Funding from Voyageurs National Park Association and its generous donor community will be used to support some of the restoration and visitor education elements of this Ellsworth project.

Ash River Visitor Center Gets New Accessible Picnic Area

By Seth Nelson, National Park Service

This spring, Voyageurs National Park maintenance staff constructed a new picnic area on the lawn of the Ash River Visitor Center that is accessible to all.  The new picnic area has two accessible picnic tables and an accessible fire ring for visitors to enjoy a lunch or just have a fire and enjoy the evening. The Ash River Visitor Center sits on top of a rock ridge overlooking beautiful Kabetogama Lake with views to the east and west.  The previous picnic area was located on a point below the visitor center with a steep incline that was difficult to access. 

About the Ash River Visitor Center

The Ash River Visitor Center is located in the historic Meadwood Lodge. Take a moment to explore this historic, rustic building. There is a bookstore, a children's activity corner, exhibits, a small theater, and a staffed information desk. Programs are sometimes offered as staffing allows. There is a free public boat launch and separate paddle access area are available.The Ash River Visitor is closed from late September - late May. The Ash River area is accessed off Highway 53 just south of the Kabetogama Lake turn-off. Drive on the scenic Ash River Trail (County Road 129) .


Tourism to Voyageurs National Park Creates Over $18 Million in Economic Benefit

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 237,249 visitors to Voyageurs National Park in 2017 spent over $18 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 273 jobs in the local area. "The environment of northern Minnesota is integral to our economy in so many ways. Assuring we have places like Voyageurs National Park to provide a way to escape to and connect with our environment is vital to our economy as well,” said Superintendent Bob DeGross.


The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service Environmental Quality control economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas, Lynne Koontz, and Egan Cornachione. The report shows $18.2 billion of direct spending by 331 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 306,000 jobs nationally and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $35.8 billion.

To download the report visit The report includes information for visitor spending at individual parks and by state.

Voyageurs National Park Association Welcomes Carl Numrich and Matt Mueller to Board of Directors

It is with great pleasure that VNPA announces the addition of two new board members: Carl Numrich and Matthew Mueller. Both of these individuals are poised to offer their experience, enthusiasm, wisdom and commitment to public lands and protecting Voyageurs National Park.

Carl Numrich joins the board as an associate attorney at Fredrikson & Byron P.A., a firm that has supported VNPA through pro-bono services, volunteer leadership, and grant funding over many years. Carl brings to the board his legal expertise, commitment to giving back to the greater Minnesota community, and a desire to help VNPA continue to grow.

“I am fortunate to work for a law firm that values and encourages community presence and service,” commented Numrich. “With a strong, enthusiastic executive director and an engaged board, VNPA seems poised for growth. I look forward to joining the Voyageurs community, meeting park supporters, and helping grow VNPA.”

Matt Mueller has been involved in the commercial property and casualty insurance industry for over thirty years. He is the founder, and currently serves as the president of Berkley Technology Underwriters in Minneapolis. With his organizational and business development skills, Matt strives to make the state of Minnesota a great place to live, work, play and visit.

“There is nothing more quintessentially Minnesota than Voyageurs National Park, It houses and protects a landscape and environment that is special and unique. It is also home to a history that is important on a transcontinental level,” said Mueller. “As ‘Minnesota’s National Park’ more of our state residents and those from beyond, need to be connected in some way to the park. At Voyageurs, the north woods were never greater. To me the park is very much an “everyone” type of place; paddlers, motor boaters, snowmobilers, birders, rock climbers – they all have a home there.”

Matt has visited 30+ national parks so far, but you will always find him at least one week out of the year pursuing Northern Pike on Rainy Lake.  

The Quiet of Spring in Voyageurs

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”

– Gordon Hempton


Spring might be the quietest season in Voyageurs National Park. The snow and ice have melted enough to prohibit snowmobiling, but fishing opener has not yet started. For a short period, the park is free from the drone of the boats and snowmobiles, and the wild qualities of this vast land can be sensed by sight, sound, and smell. I love spring in Voyageurs because of this.

In early April 2014, when I started my first field season working at Voyageurs, I arrived at park housing by the Ash River Visitor Center where I lived for a month. I quickly realized that there was not a soul around; there were never any cars at the Ash River Visitor Center parking lot, there was a foot of ice on the lake still, and when I hiked the Kab-Ash or Blind Ash Bay trails I never saw other footprints in the remaining patches of snow. Here I was in a national park and I had it all to myself!

Most nights during April, I would walk down to the rocky point by the Ash River Visitor Center and sit on the barren rock, watch the sunset, and absorb the sounds of spring. The warm glow of the sinking sun on my face during these calm spring evenings was reason enough to come to the point every night. Yet there was a stillness and silence across the land that was particularly intoxicating and satisfying. There is immense peace and contentment found when listening to the wild unimpeded, when detecting the minute sounds of the forest. Sadly, I have found so few places in the world that I can still experience the natural world without the sounds of people or their machines.


Often on the point there was a robin who would perch in the top of a tall, lanky spruce and sing with a joyful warble. The robin’s song would echo across the icy lake and far away I could hear several other robins adding their song to the silence. When the robin would stop, I could hear the soft tinkle of thousands of small ice shards dropping from the thick ice sheets that had been pushed up on the rocky shoreline. A few red squirrels over by Lost Lake seemed to argue with one another each evening, using their long high-pitched shrills and barks to state their discontent. During dusk, a saw-whet owl would sound from a shoreline across the icy desert with its eerie too-too-too call. Every once in a while, a sudden large crack would rip across the frozen lake as the ice sheets battled the spring thaw.


One evening, I laid down on the sun-warmed rock and closed my eyes just to listen and breath deep the cool northern spring air. All the cares of life just seemed to slip away for a few minutes, for a brief second I was part and parcel of the wild north. For a while as I laid there I became envious of the people who for thousands of years lived not separated from but in the natural world; I was envious of the Voyageurs who saw the lands of the park when the towering pines still stood and the caribou roamed. I wonder if these canoe men ever considered that the wild places they traversed might one day be irreparably changed.


After a while, I opened my eyes and far across the ice I could see a red fox dancing along the shoreline. Although the animal and plant life of Voyageurs might be different today, the protection of this land as a national park has preserved some of the eternal qualities—such as the silence and wildness—that have existed since the formation of this land eons ago. During the busy seasons of summer and winter these qualities can be elusive at times but in the spring the quiet can still be heard, but more importantly, it can be felt. One has only to come sit on the point near Ash River in April and be still. There you can experience the land of old, sense the majestic silence, and be touched by the glowing sun.


Article and photos by Tom Gable

Voyageurs National Park Closes Ice Roads and Snowmobile Trails for Season

Voyageurs National Park is no longer recommending travel on frozen lake surfaces within the park. Due to warming weather and lack of snow; ice conditions are deteriorating, standing water is appearing on frozen lake surfaces, and bare ground is appearing on the safety portages.

Park trail markers and hazard signs are no longer able to remain upright so park staff have begun the removal of those markers. The Rainy Lake Ice Road, Kabetogama Lake Ice Road, and all snowmobile routes are closed. Other winter recreation trails in Voyageurs National Park are no longer being maintained.

Visitors are welcome to come and hike the Oberholtzer Trail and the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail as conditions permit. Park staff would like to remind visitors the Rainy Lake Visitor Center remains open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Thank you to all Voyageurs National Park visitors for making this a safe and enjoyable winter season.

Ringing in 2018 with a Ski to Ellsworth Rock Gardens

By Eric Grunwald, Voygeurs National Park Interpretive Ranger

It was the first day of 2018 and I was excited to get the new year off to an adventurous start by getting outside and doing some exploring. It had been a cold end to 2017 with temperatures in the last week of the year bottoming out at -37F. With a forecast high of 0F, I wanted to enjoy some of the relative “warmth.” I layered my clothing and packed up my gear: my skis, poles and lumbar pack with snacks, map, warm water (so that it wouldn’t freeze), and ice picks. When I reached the parking lot at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center boat ramp, it appeared I would have Voyageurs National Park all to myself; not a single other vehicle was parked there.

I strapped my boots into my ski bindings and set off. It was a cold start to the day at -19 and my skis didn’t seem to glide very well on the crusty, wind-blown snow. I picked out landmarks across Kabetogama Lake to guide my way to my destination: Ellsworth Rock Gardens about 4 miles distant. My first landmark was a distant Sugarbush Island. As my skis warmed up through the friction of gliding across the snow, they seemed to slide a bit more easily. Soon enough I found myself in between 3 islands, Sugarbush Island and an unnamed island to my right and Harris Island to my left. I stopped for a short break in the relative shelter of the islands, and then continued on to my next landmark, the southeast side of Cutover Island.

Every now and then I would pick out some animal tracks in the snow. Wind had obliterated most to the point where they were unrecognizable, but I was able to identify a few wolf tracks, unmistakable in their size. As I rounded the south side of Cutover Island a wooden boat dock came into view; I was nearly at Ellsworth Rock Gardens. I arrived at the rock gardens to find that I was the first human visitor in quite some time. The only footprints in the snow belonged to animals, mostly foxes and deer.

The gardens are a whimsical landscape of terraced flower beds and over 200 simple, rock sculptures. Some would describe the site as folk art, but I like to think of it as an “art environment” where one can fully immerse him or herself in the vision of the artist. In winter, the site is devoid of flowers, but the snow draping the sculptures seemed to add to the scenery and mystique of the place. It made me wonder if its creator, Chicago building contractor Jack Ellsworth, ever got to see his creations covered with soft, fluffy snow. Jack Ellsworth built the rock gardens between 1944 and 1965. The reason for Mr. Ellsworth’s labors are not quite clear. In a rare interview with a reporter from the International Falls Daily Journal, Ellsworth stated “We love this country and wish we could spend more time here, but I just had to have something to keep me busy.” The rock gardens certainly kept him busy. At one point Ellsworth estimated he spent over 14,000 hours laboring on his beloved masterpiece and one local resident recounts a story of when Jack Ellsworth’s wife was struck by lightning one summer. Supposedly Mr. Ellsworth refused to take his wife to the hospital after the incident “because he was too busy in the garden.”


Unfortunately, by 1966 Jack Ellsworth’s health had declined to the point that he was no longer able to spend his summers at his rock gardens. He passed away in 1974, by which time his gardens had become overgrown. In 1977 or 1978 the National Park Service purchased the property for inclusion in Voyageurs National Park. In 1996 a site survey, inventory and preservation plan were drafted, leading to the reestablishment of Ellsworth Rock Gardens as the “Showplace of Kabetogama Lake.”

I trudged through the snow and admired the art. Some of the boulders that Jack Ellsworth used in creating his sculptures must weigh several hundred pounds. It must have been hard work moving them around. As much as I wanted to spend more time at the gardens, a cold wind was starting to blow. It was time to move on. While Jack Ellsworth was never at this site in the winter, the brutal cold got me thinking about another group of people who may have spent their winter at this site, though before there were any rock gardens here. Where the gardens now sit, was once the site of a logging camp. Winter was prime time for logging in the North Woods. No biting insects to contend with and a nice frozen surface where there had been swampland in the summer. Was the logging camp that existed where Ellsworth Rock Gardens now sits a winter camp? We don’t know for sure, but it seems logical that it was.

I imagine the loggers working here in the extreme cold, felling trees with crosscut saws and moving them by horse drawn sleigh to the shores of Kabetogama Lake where they would be floated in huge booms to the sawmill come ice out. I imagine the trip back to their crude log bunkhouse after a long day in the woods. Think of what a welcome sight and feeling it would be to warm up inside the bunkhouse by the hot stove and eat a hearty meal in the camp dining hall. The thought of it was getting me thinking about making my way back to my own warm home, and so I made the ski back across Kabetogama Lake to my car for the drive home.

As I drove I reflected on what I had seen on that day and thought about all the changes that had happened to the lands where Ellsworth Rock Gardens now sits. We know about the logging camp and the gardens, but we don’t know what was there before. Did anyone live there before the logging camp? Perhaps an Ojibwe family once called the area home. If so could they have ever envisioned what the site has become? And what does the future hold for this interesting spot on the northern shore of Kabetogama Lake?

Career Reflections by Ranger Pete Sweger

"Keep Your Boots Waxed!"


By Pete Sweger, Voyageurs National Park Ranger

I was working a wildland fire in the Boundary Waters in the summer of 2006. My crew arrived late in the fire and was responsible for a lot of mop-up operations. One day during a break I was sitting on the steps waxing my boots to keep them water-proof. The incident commander walked by and paused as he saw what I was doing. During that pause I briefly wondered if I was in trouble.

He then said, "A lot of times it is not about what we've done as what we are prepared to do," and then he walked off. That comment has stuck with me for the last 12 years because it captures the essence of my job.

I am a park ranger in the Visitor and Resource Protection Division which means emergency response, among other things. Emergencies have included wildland fires, snowmobile crashes, broken arms, lost boaters, capsized boats, hazardous material spills and a variety of law enforcement situations. Nobody wants an emergency to happen. Nobody can predict when an emergency will happen. The best we can hope for is that we are available and ready to respond when the call comes.

That comment from 12 years ago means that you are ready to respond. Whether or not a call comes, being ready is a mark of doing the job right. You must prepare your mind, your body and your gear. Getting adequate rest is critical for alertness and good decision making. Proper nutrition gives you the energy you need and lends to good health. Appropriate and regular training keeps your skills sharp and your confidence high. Keeping your boots waxed makes them waterproof so you are ready to hustle down the trail no matter what puddles lie ahead. Of course, there is more than just boots to take care of.

You never know when the next call will come. It might happen before you've finished the paperwork from the first emergency. Equipments is always made ready immediately after being used. Make sure the snowmobile is fueled up, the truck tires are inflated, the medical bad is re-stocked, the tow line is dried and neatly coiled, put fresh batteries in the flashlight and sharpen that knife. Or, it could be several weeks before the next big emergency. Emergencies don't happen every day and a break can be nice. This gives you chance to congratulate the sportsman on their trophy fish or hear the camper's tale of a visiting bear. But, there is a challenge to remaining vigilant as time goes by. The need for training seems less urgent, and you get assigned other tasks to keep you busy. Pretty soon you are so bogged down with chores that you failed to stay ready. you feel interrupted when the emergency call comes.

As a ranger, I routinely hear visitors say "Boy, you've got a great job! I always wanted to be a park ranger!" I'm sure other rangers hear this too. I wonder how many of them just nod and smile like I do. I wonder if the visitor realizes just how much time and effort it takes to stay response ready. Being reading isn't only about getting your chores done on time. It is a state of mind. It's a way of life. I guess visitors are right, because it is a great life. For all of those who wanted to be a ranger but never did, "Keep your boots waxed!"

The Kab-Ash Trail: A Path through the Wild North

By Tom Gable


"The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of present travel...through the northern forests, the home of the giant moose, the forests of fragrant and murmuring life in summer, the iron-bound and melancholy of winter. The joy of living is his who has the heart to demand it"

- Theodore Roosevelt, The Joy of the Wild

Few that ever come to Voyageurs wander down the more than 20-some-mile long Kab-Ash Trail that runs from the resort community of Ash River and ends near Kabetogama, Minnesota. The Kab-Ash is the only large trail network in Voyageurs National Park that can be accessed year-round without a boat. The trail only has a few access points and typically the conditions during the summer—when most visit the park— are buggy, hot, and humid. Further the verdant Minnesota summers quickly swallow the trail in vegetation as the Kab-Ash is not regularly maintained throughout the summer. Given all of this, few ever use the trail making it an ideal path for those who crave a true wilderness experience. Over the past 3 years, I have hiked, for both research purposes and recreation, more than 200 miles on the Kab-Ash. Though the Kab-Ash trail does not have the scenic overlooks of famous trails in other national parks, it has a subtle magnetism and beauty—a beauty that is only found when spending time in seldom-visited wild places.

There is no doubt that the Kab-Ash is a wilderness trail. You almost certainly will not see another soul when on the trail and the miles of thick forests surrounding the trail stifle the sounds of the modern world. Indeed, once you get away from the trailhead the only sounds you will hear are the wind whispering through the weathered tops of the pines, the red squirrels alarmed by an intruder, and the gentle notes of birds all around. As a result, the Kab-Ash is a refuge of sorts, a place for reflection, contemplation, and introspection, a place to ponder the natural cycle of every living creature, to wrestle with the struggles of one’s life. On several days when I have simply needed to think and consider, I have rambled down the Kab-Ash for a few miles and mulled through the thoughts that were troubling me. Sometimes, I would just sit down at the base of a towering pine or on the roots of some ancient cedar, and be still. Sit, listen and observe. There is something refreshing and intoxicating about being a silent observer in a world where your problems or struggles are irrelevant, where life goes on the same day after day with or without you. Indeed, the eternality of nature provides a certain clarity regarding the brevity of our own lives and the often inconsequential nature of the problems we face.


The open rock ridges of the Kab-Ash are particularly beautiful in the fall.

Yet, it is the wild and natural aspects of the Kab-Ash which facilitate its emotional value to wanderers such as myself. From one walk down the Kab-Ash, one could experience almost every habitat type in northern Minnesota and for this reason I would argue that the Kab-Ash, more than any trail in the park, is a perfect representation of the incredible diversity of forest and wetland habitats that Voyageurs National Park protects. Indeed, the Kab-Ash goes through the iconic mixed forests (coniferous and deciduous trees) of the northwoods, over red pine covered ridges (which are not common in VNP), through dark primordial cedar lowlands, across large sparsely vegetated barren rock ridges, around beaver ponds, through black spruce, tamarack and leatherleaf bogs, and along some stunning aspen and birch stands. Due to this large variety of habitats, incredible numbers of birds can be seen or heard during the summer on the Kab-Ash. Warblers, finches, and vireos fill the treetops of the upland forests while the thrushes and veeries seem to hide in the darker, more secretive areas. On a calm June morning just at sunrise, the sound of bird song on the Kab-Ash—or any area in Voyageurs for that matter—can be almost deafening from the multitudes of winged sentinels welcoming in another northern day. I am always left with a sense of splendor and wonderment when witnessing such vitality and vigor from these small creatures. How they make the woods seem to boil with life!

Many of the park’s larger residents also occupy haunts along the Kab-Ash, and though seeing them is rare, often some sign of these animals can be found. When snowshoeing on the Kab-Ash, I almost always see fisher, marten, and fox tracks in the snow. The foxes, it seems, like to use the Kab-Ash to travel as I have followed fox tracks for over a mile on the trail. In June 2016, I saw a female porcupine with a small porcupette (a porcupette is a baby porcupine) on the Kab-Ash, which was the first time I had ever seen a porcupette. Although uncommon, moose tracks can be found on the trail from time to time. In late summer, when the blueberries are ripe, some bears head for the large rock ridges that the Kab-Ash crosses over to eat berries. The blueberries are incredibly abundant in these places (another great reason to hike the Kab-Ash!) and thus these ridges are likely an excellent place for bears to start gaining weight for winter. Beavers commonly dam up the small creeks that the Kab-Ash crosses. There is a quaint woodland creek with a small foot bridge that crosses the Kab-Ash about 2 miles from the trailhead at the Beaver Pond Overlook. For the past 3 years the creek has quietly flowed out of a large black spruce bog, across the Kab-Ash, down a steep hill, into another beaver pond, and then into Lake Kabetogama. In summer 2017, however, a brave beaver or two worked their way up the steep hill, dammed the creek, and created a new pond about 100 yards from the Kab-Ash.


A new beaver pond, created during summer 2017, about 100 yards from the Kab-Ash trail (photograph taken in late October 2017).

Then there are the wolves. Many come to Voyageurs and other parts of northern Minnesota excited about the prospect of seeing a wolf, which often does not happen (I studied wolves all last summer and only saw 1 wolf during this period and it was crossing the highway). Although your odds of seeing a wolf are extremely low on the Kab-Ash, wolf sign generally abounds, especially in the winter. The Kab-Ash goes right through the heart of two wolf packs— one that occupies the area east of Daley Bay and west of the Meadwood Road (the road to the Ash River visitor center), and another that occupies the area west of Daley Bay. In the summer wolves use the trail to get around their territory and while doing so commonly deposit scats (wolf turds) on the trail. And though you might not see a wolf, you could hear one. In 2015, I heard wolves howling off the Kab-Ash trail several times during the summer. In the winter, there are almost always wolf tracks somewhere along the Kab-Ash. In fact, I have yet to hike the Kab-Ash in the winter and not find wolf tracks. Just a few months ago in late October 2017, after a fresh snow, I was following a set of fresh wolf tracks down the Kab-Ash. The tracks veered off the trail, crossed the newly created beaver dam mentioned above and went over the beaver lodge where the beavers had been busy working the night before. I am guessing the wolf was hoping he could find an easy, free meal!

The most incredible area of the entire Kab-Ash, however, has remained seemingly undiscovered or at least unknown to almost everyone. When I first found this area on the section of trail just south of Irwin Bay I was in awe and beside myself for days. There, among the Voyageurs forest, a small grove of monstrous, old growth white pines with one giant, ancient white spruce. In total, I identified 8 white pines in a few hundred feet that were all over 4 feet in diameter, with one pine that had recently died measuring a staggering 5 feet in diameter. It is hard for me to put into words my feelings when standing next to these trees…I think one simply has to experience it. Based on some measurements, I estimated the trees were >300-400 years old. Consider that…these pines are probably older than our country! Moreover, these trees were almost certainly around in the days of the Voyageurs and perhaps could even hear the Voyageurs’ song as it danced across the water! Amazingly, for some reason almost a century ago, these old-growth trees were spared from the saw. I like to think that an old grizzled lumberjack, reflecting on the plight of the northern forests, left this stand for posterity and for others to enjoy decades after his time. After my discovery, I asked some park staff if they were aware of this grove of giants but could not find anyone who knew of this place. Though the grove is  about 4 miles from the nearest trailhead, the reward of seeing these trees is worth all the effort. Thoreau shared a similar sentiment regarding majestic trees, exclaiming, “I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines”.


A monstrous white pine, estimated to be more than 300-400 years old, just off the Kab-Ash south of Irwin Bay. This pine is part of an old-growth stand that has remained seemingly undiscovered or at least unknown to almost everyone for many years. If there is one spot you should hike to on the Kab-Ash, this is it.

As aforementioned, the Kab-Ash traverses a variety of different habitats with unique and specific characteristics based on the topography, moisture, and soil type, which all influence the plant and animals that live in these areas. When starting at the Beaver Pond Overlook trailhead heading west (I have omitted discussing the ~3 mile stretch from the Beaver Pond Overlook to the community of Ash River), the path works its way around the well-known beaver pond and then climbs and descends several small rocky ridges covered with majestic white pines and blueberry bushes. The trail then reaches the first of several “loops”. You can either take the south or the north section of the loop. I suggest taking the south section first (take the north section on the way back) which climbs up a large granitic ridge covered in scrub oak, some weather-beaten pines, and vast amounts of blueberry bushes. The best views on the Kab-Ash trail are on this ridge and in certain spots you can look south for miles upon miles (this is especially true during winter when the leaves have dropped). The trail then works its way down the backside of the ridge through a jack pine and spruce forest before winding around a black spruce bog and the new beaver pond that I mentioned above. After passing the new beaver pond (and the creek that runs out of it and under the Kab-Ash), the trail continues for almost a mile through predominantly balsam fir and aspen forest before reaching the second loop of the trail. However, in this stretch the trail also crosses some dense red pine covered ridges and follows a boardwalk that meanders through a cool, mossy cedar lowland. There is also a giant white pine about 300 ft north of the trail in this section. It is hard to describe where exactly but you can see the pine towering above the rest of the forest if you look carefully.

At the second loop, I suggest taking the southern section which slowly climbs a large rocky ridge. Eventually the trail reaches the top of the ridge where there are scattered jack pines, blueberry bushes, and open rock faces. If you reach this section you are  about 5-6 miles from the trailhead. This area is quite remote and I suspect only a handful of people ever actually hike this far down the trail each year. In 2015, this area was used so little that a wolf pack established a rendezvous site (a place where the pups are kept in the summer while the adults go out to hunt food) on the rock ridge right next to the cairns of the Kab-Ash trail. After reaching the open rocky area the trail quickly descends down the ridge into the forest, curls around a beaver pond that is in a valley (by Minnesota standards) between two large rock ridges, and quickly starts to ascend the next big ridge. Once you get up the rock ridge, you reach the third loop on the trail. Again, I suggest taking the south loop which weaves and winds across the open granitic ridge top for about 0.3-0.5 miles. The trail then slowly descends, for about 0.5 miles, into white pine, birch, aspen, and balsam fir forest and before long the trail flattens out for about 1-1.5 miles as it goes through mixed forest lowlands. In the springtime this section can be quite soggy, however, there are some magnificent white spruce trees on the west side of the trail. In one spot, there are 5-6 lumbering spruces within a few feet of each other which is the largest grove of “big” spruces I have seen in the park. At the end of this section is a long (>100 ft) bridge that crosses the east fork of Daley Bay. The bridge is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans love this part of Daley Bay, and there is a beaver lodge close by the bridge where beavers are often out swimming around.


The bridge that crosses Daley Bay is an excellent place to observe waterfowl and take in the evening sunlight.

After the bridge you continue down the trail through more lowland forest. Keep your eye out for an enormous aspen, about 3.5 ft in diameter, right next to the trail…I have measured a lot of aspen trees in VNP and few even come close to the size of this aspen. About 1 mile from the bridge the Kab-Ash intersects a snowmobile trail. If you continue straight ahead after crossing the snowmobile trail you will quickly reach the trailhead for the Kab-Ash on Ash River Trail Road (i.e., a parking lot). However, if you want to continue hiking more of the Kab-Ash, then turn west and follow the snowmobile trail until it crosses, via a small bridge, the west fork of Daley Bay. Just a warning, the snowmobile trail is swampy as you get closer to the west fork of Daley Bay so use caution. One misplaced step and you might have wet feet for the rest of your hike. Right after you cross the bridge over Daley Bay, keep your eye out for the trail which veers north off the snowmobile trail. The trail is poorly marked in this area but it is no more than 30 ft to the west of the bridge. Once on the trail, you will walk along Daley Creek through largely white spruce, balsam, and aspen forest. I find this section of the trail to be a very peaceful, tranquil stretch. The trail eventually ascends some small aspen and pine covered ridges before reaching a marvelous section of the Kab-Ash: the bog.


An intimate view of a black spruce bog which are common in Minnesota. Bogs are very hard to walk through during the summer but luckily the Kab-Ash has a long boardwalk that goes through a bog which allows hikers a close-up look at one of Minnesota's most unique ecosystems.

Bogs are wet, soggy, hard to access places that have unique plant communities and are immensely beautiful. Fortunately, the Kab-Ash has a half mile of boardwalk that takes travelers right through the heart of a bog. The boardwalk weaves around mounds of sphagnum moss and Labrador tea, across black spruce and white cedar roots, and through stretches of tamarack forest. For a little while, you can experience a world that does not appear to change, a primordial place beyond time’s reach where the forest seems, per Gordon Lightfoot, “too silent to be real”.  The boardwalk through the bog does not appear to have been maintained in some time and in some areas the boardwalk floats up and down with the water level in the bog. I have crossed this section multiple times and kept my feet dry in hiking boots. However, exercise caution when crossing this section and go slowly as the boardwalk is often damp or covered in water, and therefore slippery. Nonetheless, this is one of my favorite sections to hike and there is no other place in Voyageurs where you literally walk through a bog and see it from the inside out.


Snowshoeing down the Kab-Ash is an excellent way to see Voyageurs and experience the splendor of winter.

The trail then meanders through some rocky mixed forest woodlands until climbing a peaceful red pine covered ridge—a place that has an ethereal, almost heaven-like, quality when warm beams of sunshine slip through the red pine boughs and illuminate patches of forest below. I think it does the soul well to sit in places like this for a few moments to soak in the wonder; akin to Gordon Lightfoot’s sentiments, “Just for now I’d like to rest in the shade of a maple tree, to the blue Canadian sky I’ll say a prayer for the world out there”. After the ridge, the trail flattens out and follows the base of a fair-sized rock ridge to the north through an aspen and birch forest. This stretch of forest, however, is unique because it has a relatively open understory which allows travelers to see through the forest (this is uncommon in the dense boreal forest of VNP). This stand is especially glorious in the spring and fall when the colors of tree buds or turned leaves glisten against blue skies. Another highlight of this section is a large, lone spruce tree right along the trail. After reaching this spruce, the trail heads north and skirts along the southwestern edge of a massive active beaver pond, which my friend and fellow wolf researcher, Austin Homkes has named “Dead Birch Pond”, due to the large quantity of dead birch trees poking out of the bog mat in the pond. The trail actually crosses just below the dam of the pond and in 2016-2017 the beavers were particularly active in this area, cutting several large balsam poplar and aspen, some of which fell over the trail. In fact, in spring of 2017, the beavers were actually using the Kab-Ash as a trail to reach trees to cut.


There are some beautiful aspen and birch stand along the Kab-Ash.

For another ¾ miles, the trail undulates over small rocky knolls and down into lowland forests before reaching the southern tip of Bowman Bay. When there are no leaves on the trees, Bowman Bay/Lake Kabetogama can be seen easily from the trail. After passing Bowman Bay, the trail turns swampy for about a half-mile as the terrain becomes flat, wet, and soggy. Ash lowlands predominate this stretch, with some enormous, stately cedar trees scattered about, and in the spring marsh marigolds carpet the forest floor in bright yellow. This trek through the swamp, though, is worth every muddy step because just beyond it lies the old growth forest discussed above. You will know when you reach this cathedral because right on the north side of the trail will be a towering white spruce and just beyond on the south side of the trail will be more of the ancient beasts—the pines are so much larger and taller than the rest of the trees that you cannot miss them. Take some time and revel in this natural wonder! Once passing through this old growth grove, all other trees on the Kab-Ash pale in comparison.


This towering old growth spruce that lingers high above the Kab-Ash marks the location of a grove of old-growth trees. Monstrous white pines can be seen in the background behind this spruce.

After passing this grove, the next 2 miles go through relatively flat mixed forest habitats until reaching a recently logged area that is just outside of the park. The trail follows the main logging road used to harvest this stand of cedars. In all seasons this logging road is muddy, wet and messy, and in the summer the vegetation on the road is incredibly dense because the trail is not well-maintained in this section. I generally choose to hike on the edge of the road where it is a little less wet and the vegetation not as thick. Eventually the logging road/Kab-Ash reaches the Arrowhead Snowmobile trail, and on the other side of the trail the Kab-Ash continues as a small hiking path through the primeval-looking cedar forests. The trail crosses a drained beaver pond via a boardwalk, continues through more cedar forest, and crosses the Arrowhead snowmobile trail once again. The last mile or so of the Kab-Ash goes through thick balsam forest and the typical mixed forest habitats of northern Minnesota. The last few miles of the Kab-Ash are not the most enthralling of the trail but still have that exquisite Northwood’s beauty.

The Kab-Ash is an obscure trail in a national park best known for fishing and boating, not hiking and exploring the wilderness. However, I would argue that the Kab-Ash, and most of Voyageurs National Park, is for all lovers of wilderness. Indeed, anyone who appreciates and enjoys the sights, sounds, and solitude of expansive areas of untouched forest, water, and wetlands would feel at home in the Park. Although the sound of boat motors might be prevalent on the main lakes of Voyageurs, it does not take much to escape the sound of the machines and find oneself in the midst of the wild north, a place where man is but an observer and witness to the grandeur of the natural world. It is here that the true beauty of Voyageurs lies. Dick Proenekke, a bushman and wilderness lover from Alaska, stated that one “who walks the land knows the land”. If you want to know Voyageurs National Park, the Northwoods, and wilderness itself, take a walk down the Kab-Ash. ♦

Government Shutdown Impacts at Voyageurs

Jan. 23, 2018 Update From Voyageurs National Park: Following the enactment of the continuing resolution, staff at Voyageurs National Park have resumed regular operations. Please visit for updated information about the park.

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center will resume normal winter operational hours. The Winter Event Series will resume as scheduled and park staff have resumed monitoring and grooming of trails.

Voyageurs National Park’s employees are happy to be back at work, serving the American people and welcoming visitors to their national parks.

Government Shutdown Impacts at Voyageurs

The federal government shut down on January 20, 2018. During the shutdown, Voyageurs National Park's remains accessible to the public, but emergency and rescue services are limited. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is closed and most park staff will be on furlough until the shutdown ends.

There will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services at Voyageurs, including public information, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities and roads maintenance, including plowing and trail grooming. Please use extreme caution when using trails and ice roads.

Because of the federal government shutdown, NPS social media and websites are not being monitored or updated and may not reflect current conditions. All park programs have been canceled, including: the Winter Event Series, at this time.

Voyageurs National Park Association will provide updated information as able.

The Department of the Interior is directing staff to “keep national parks as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”  Therefore, many sites will remain open for people to enter, but there will be very few staff on hand to protect visitors or park resources. A partial closure puts people and places at risk. We urge Congress to find quick solutions.

More about shutdown impacts from our partner, the National Parks Conservation Association.


Top 10 Winter Experiences at Voyageurs National Park

Top 10 Winter Experiences at Voyageurs National Park

If Minneapolis-St. Paul is the new 'Bold North' Voyageurs National Park is the Wild North. For a truly Minnesota winter experience, embrace the cold and venture to Voyageurs where the crisp air and fresh snow welcomes you. Voyageurs National Park is the ideal place for you to reconnect with yourself, friends and family, and the outdoors, even in colder weather. Here are a handful of the amazing experiences you can have at Voyageurs in the winter months.

Cross Country Ski Echo Bay, Black Bay, or Tilson Creek Trails

Immerse yourself in the tranquility of Voyageurs National Park with a day of cross country skiing. The Echo Bay Trail is located three miles from the Kabetogama Visitor Center (closed in winter) off County Road 122. This trail offers a wide path that takes you from aspens to pines as you pass through lowlands and rocky outcrops. Sections of this trail are groomed for skiing in the winter months - perfect for novice skiers - while other parts of the trail are of intermediate difficulty.

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center offers adult and child-sized skis, boots and poles free-of-charge. Call the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at (218) 286-5258 for availability. From the visitor center, you can access the Tilson Creek Ski Trails (just outside of Voyageurs) via a connector trail. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages this ten mile network of interconnected ski trails. Several routes are possible, ranging from short loops to longer excursions. Traveling 1 miles north from the visitor center, across frozen Rainy Lake, you can access the Black Bay Ski Trails.

You can also launch your cross country skiing exploration from other gateway communities around the park. Try the Kab-Ash Trail or follow these links for trail information near Crane Lake and Ash River.

Explore the Blind Ash Bay and Oberholtzer Trails by Snowshoe 

If skiing isn’t your thing, you can also explore the trails of Voyageurs National Park on snowshoes! The Blind Ash Bay Trail consists of a 2.5 mile loop of moderate difficulty accessible through the Ash River Visitor Center trailhead. The narrow winding trail will allow you to experience the wonders of the boreal forest and view spectacular scenery.

Rainy Lake Visitor Center has snowshoes in many sizes and shapes available free-of-charge. Call ahead for availability. From there you can access the 1.7-mile Oberholtzer Trail, snowshoeing through forests and wetlands.

There are many other snowshoe trails throughout the park. Find all of your options here! All open trails are available for snowshoeing and cross country skiing during the winter months conditions permitting. It is courteous to not trudge with snowshoes through cross country ski tracks. 

Go Sledding!

Did you know Voyageurs has an official sledding hill? The Sphunge Island Sledding Hill is open and accessible from the Kabetogama Lake Ice Road complete with picnic tables and a fire ring. The sledding hill consists of a small hill for younger children and a larger hill for older children and adults. To access the sledding hill, take the Kabetogama-Ash River Ice Road from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center.  The Sphunge Island sledding hill opens annually once there is sufficient snowfall and the ice road gets plowed on Kabetogama Lake.  There's also a skating rink at the site.              


Embrace the Cold at Icebox Days and other Community Events

Embrace the cold with the communities that surround Voyageurs National Park. Icebox Days, held annually in January, is packed full of fun and zany games for all people, including frozen turkey bowling; the locally invented “smoosh” races; moonlight skiing in Voyageurs National Park; the infamous “Gizzard” runs and much more. Find the full schedule of wacky events here.

The Voyageur National Park gateway communities of Kabetogama, Crane Lake, and Ash River also host a variety events and activities throughout the winter months.

Snowmobile the Chain of Lakes

For those who want to cover more ground when exploring Voyageurs in winter, the park allows snowmobiling on frozen lake surfaces and designated safety portages. There are 110 miles of staked and groomed trails for snowmobiling throughout the park. Be sure to obey all closure signs, speed limits, and familiarize yourself with the park snowmobile map. Areas are closed for your safety and to protect sensitive resources. For up-to-date local area trail conditions visit the following links: International Falls; Ash River/ Kabetogama; Crane Lake and surrounding area; Arrowhead State Trail

Dare to Winter Camp 

Spend a night, or two, or three, in the Voyageurs winter wonderland. Camping offers amazing opportunities for night sky and wildlife viewing. Perhaps you'll even catch the Northern Lights. Campsites are accessible via snowmobile, skiing and snowshoeing. Keep in mind all overnight stays at campsites within the park require a reservation in advance. You can access the reservation page by following this linkIf you need some convincing, check out this compelling argument about why camping in the cold is the way to go!

Fish from Your Ice House in a National Park

Winter quiet, rugged piney shorelines, and outstanding angling make Voyageurs National Park an ice angler’s dream. Place ice houses at least 50-feet from the center of snowmobile trails and the ice road. Check ice conditions before going out. Fishing license and ice house registration is required.                               

Explore Voyageurs by Ice Road 

Discover a new way of getting around the park's ice highways! The Rainy Lake Ice Road departs from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch. The Kabetogama Lake Ice Road travels between the boat launches of the Ash River and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Centers. The speed limit is a slow and steady 30 mph. Familiarize yourself with safety on the ice roads. Ice road routes change from year to year depending on ice conditions. Contact the Rainy Lake Visitor Center for the latest ice conditions or check the park’s website before planning a trip to see which ice roads are open for the season.                                    

Warm up at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center 

The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open year-round. Stop in before you head out to explore the park to chat with park rangers, learn more about the history of Voyageurs National Park, and pick up skis or snowshoes to play in for the day. Come back through after your day of winter activities to warm up and browse the park bookstore! During the winter season, RLVC is open Wednesday - Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm.                                           

2018 Winter Event Series 

Voyageurs National Park staff have some fun events planned for the coming winter months! From special wildlife speakers, to snowshoe hikes, to a painting workshop, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy. Check out the Winter Event Series for the full listing of events and registration information!

Minnesotans are known to be kind and resilient folk, but be sure to be smart when enjoying the outdoors in cold winter conditions. Be sure to layer up, carry food and water, always check conditions before heading out, and bring a friend along for company and safety.

See you out there!

Winter Trail Report 12-22-17

Voyageurs National Park Winter Ice and Trail Conditions Report

 The Rainy Lake/Black Bay to Kabetogama Lake to Ash River (Green Snowmobile Trail) has been staked and opened. Please be advised that trail conditions along the lake surfaces are rough due to wind-blown snow.  Several pressure ridges have formed on Kabetogama Lake and Black Bay. These pressure ridges have been marked and are safe to cross at designated crossings along the trail system. Trail users are advised to use caution when travelling across frozen lake surfaces at this time.

This winter season, the most up-to-date information regarding Voyageurs’ ice and trail conditions will be posted each Wednesday to the park’s Facebook page (VoyageursNPS) and on the park’s website at

Future winter ice and trail condition press releases will be issued only during major changes in trail conditions.

Snowmobile Trails

International Falls to Kettle Falls (Purple Trail) – Closed

Rainy Lake/Black Bay to Kabetogama Lake to Ash River (Green Trail) – Open

Ash River to Crane Lake (Green Trail) – Closed

Chain of Lakes (Dashed Black Trail) – Closed

Ash River to Kettle Falls (Yellow Trail) – Closed

East Namakan Lake to Sand Point Lake (Blue Trail) – Closed

Rainy Lake Ice Road – Closed

Kabetogama Lake Ice Road – Closed

Ski Trails

Echo Bay Ski Trail – Packed and tracked

Black Bay Ski Trail – Packed, not tracked

Tilson Connector Trail – Packed, not tracked

KabAsh Trail – Open, not packed or tracked

Snowshoe Trails

Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail – Open, not packed

Blind Ash Bay Trail – Open, not packed

Oberholtzer Trail – Open, not packed

Sullivan Bay Trail – Open, not packed

Rainy Lake Recreation Trail – Open, not packed



About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 417  national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at

The Wilderness of Voyageurs and What it Means to Me

By Tom Gable “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” - Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things"

Many come to Voyageurs to boat, camp, fish, or snowmobile while experiencing the beauty of the outdoors. Yet, Voyageurs is a vast area with large tracts of wild, undisturbed forests in which people rarely step foot. It is these wild places that give Voyageurs an intrinsic value outside of the recreational activities that most come to the park for. However, I think this intrinsic value of the park is rarely articulated, expressed, or appreciated.

I have spent the past four years studying wolves in Voyageurs National Park as both a graduate student and then an employee of the park. Much of my work entailed following wolves. Wolves cover large distances each day. As a result, to follow and understand them, I had to do the same. Thus, I have been fortunate to have an excuse to visit and experience parts of the park that few have ever seen or stepped foot in since the formation of the park in 1975. I have been fortunate to experience the park’s true wilderness.

But what is wilderness? Today there are increasingly more natural places, parks, and green spaces. While these areas are undoubtedly valuable, they are not wilderness. Many (such as Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, and Sigurd Olson) over the past 200 years have discussed what wilderness really means and how to preserve it. To me, wilderness is much more a feeling than a definition as wilderness is not simply a piece of land that meets measurable criteria – though there is importance in defining wilderness so that it  can be preserved. Indeed, I cannot strictly define, and often struggle to articulate, what I think wilderness is, but when in wilderness I know it. Although, the ‘feeling’ of wilderness always seems to come from the combination of solitude, silence, and the perception of physical isolation in the natural world. If one perceives that they are in a remote place, then it is wilderness. There are a multitude of scenic places in noisy areas that have exquisite physical beauty. However, because there is no solitude and silence, the experience is nothing more than what it is: a beautiful place in a noisy world.

The interior of Voyageurs National Park is a seemingly impenetrable forest with hundreds of beaver ponds, bogs and lakes. Traveling through these woods is challenging and, after a certain amount of time, a person feels swallowed by the forest. Covering even short distances can be arduous and take considerable time. However, therein is the beauty. Within minutes a person feels like they are in the middle of nowhere, lost in miles upon miles of wild forest. In a short while a person perceives wilderness and gains the esthetic and emotional benefits of being in a wild place. That is what Voyageurs is to me – a place of wilderness, a place to get lost, a place of quiet, peace, and solitude. In the truest sense, my soul feels rested and quiet when wandering through the woods of the park.

Often when traveling through the forest of Voyageurs, I am reminded of the prescient quote by Sigurd Olson: “Here again was the silence, and I thought how rare it is to know it, how increasingly difficult to ever achieve real quiet and the peace that comes with it, how true the statement ‘Tranquility is beyond price’.”

Here again was the silence and I thought how rare it is to know it.

In the busyness of the world with all its distractions, problems, and sadness, Voyageurs National Park is a refuge from it all. For a period of time, I can step out of the human world and slip into the natural world. Each day creatures live and die, and yet there is an eternal quality to everything in Voyageurs.

Over time, I start to feel and experience the fragility and resiliency of life, the changing of seasons, the rhythms of nature. During the spring and summer, the park’s treetops are invaded by thousands of singing warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and thrushes. With the coming of winter, these birds head south and different birds return from the far north of Canada. Flocks of delicately adorned white snow buntings heading south flit along the shorelines during ice-in. During the dead of winter, the soft whistle of the pine grosbeaks in the spruce trees– one of the most beautiful sounds of winter –dances across the frozen land.

The vast expanse of wild forest in Voyageurs supports many of the park’s elusive year-round residents such as the wolf, the moose, the bear, and the lynx. What they do, where they go, and how they live are a mystery. I often hope to catch a glimpse of these animals when I am in the woods, but I rarely ever do. Yet to know that they are out there is enough.

What pleases me most is the possibility of seeing them. Without these animals, Voyageurs would lose much of that indescribable feeling of wilderness. I recently moved to the Twin Cities to continue my graduate education. There is hardly a greater dichotomy between wilderness and civilization than going from spending every day in Voyageurs to spending every day in St. Paul. Instead of mile upon mile of untouched forest, it is mile upon mile of roads, buildings, and an endless stream of vehicles. Yet this only highlights the intrinsic value and importance of Voyageurs. The value is in knowing that, not far away, there is a vast wilderness, a place to escape the noisy and rushed world. The value is in the woods, the water, and the animals that live in the park. The value is in the possibility to perceive and experience wilderness, to sense true quiet and solitude, and to experience the seemingly eternal quality of the natural world as the busyness of life fades away.

Voyageurs is a place where I feel a boundless freedom and a peace that comes with it.

Photos by Tom Gable