HOW CAN YOU VISIT VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK?
Voyageurs National Park is located in the lake country of northern Minnesota and has been described as "Minnesota's gift to America." The park’s 55-mile northern boundary is the international border between the U.S. and Canada. This includes an important segment of the “transcontinental highway” traversed by French-Canadian voyageurs during the late 1700s and early 1800s. It is a land steeped in beauty, history and unique destinations.
It is about a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities (or a three-hour drive from Duluth) to reach the shores of Crane Lake, Ash River, or Lake Kabetogama. Add 45 minutes of travel time to Rainy Lake, which is east of the city of International Falls.
Voyageurs National Park Association offers this information to help you with trip planning. Information is subject to change. If you have specific questions, please refer to the National Park Service website, download a Visitor Guide (PDF), or speak directly with park staff by calling 218-286-5258 or 1-888-381-2873.
TOP TEN Tips FOR VISITORS
1. Leave your car behind.
One-third of Voyageurs National Park is covered in water. The park features four large lakes and 26 smaller interior lakes (as shown on park maps). The large lakes offer a unique opportunity to travel a National Park by boat. The interior lakes dot the Kabetogama Peninsula and offer excellent opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation.
There are three access roads into the park. These will take you to the park’s three visitor centers – Ash River, Kabetogama Lake and Rainy Lake. The park is quite large at 218,054 acres in total. Rather than trying to hurry from one part of the park to another, choose one area to explore for the most relaxing trip experience.
During the summer months, you can sightsee by motorboat, canoe, kayak, or houseboat. You can also explore the park’s many hiking trails. Many historic sites and visitor destinations are accessible by boat or by taking a guided tour of the park on one of the two park boats.
If you wish to explore the interior lakes, the Kabetogama Peninsula’s can be reached by boat or water taxi (a service provided by nearby resorts and outfitters). In order to prevent the spread of invasive species on the interior lakes, use Park Service canoes or rowboats only to explore these smaller lakes. Reserve these in advance.
Have a large group or do you want to make a special event more memorable? It is possible to charter a park boat.
Striking out on your own? If you are planning to go boating in the park, please review the Voyageurs National Park Lake Navigation Guide. Due to the park’s unique geology, there are submerged rocks that can present potential hazards to boaters. You'll need to carry Lake Navigational Maps (even if you have GPS) and must know where you are on the water at all times. Check with the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs before crossing the international border. Canadian Customs services are available by water at Portage Bay on Sand Point Lake and by vehicle at the Crane Lake Public Landing and at the International Falls Bridge. Canadian boating requirements are available on the Ontario website.
Need a little boost of encouragement to get outside and explore the park on foot? Check out the Hike to Health Trails Passport Program!
2. Keep your binoculars handy.
The combination of forest, bog, and lake environments at Voyageurs National Park provides a wealth of habitats where a diversity of wildlife flourishes. Listen carefully on a quiet night and you may hear the cry of a loon, the howl of a wolf, or the hoot of an owl. Wander in the forest after a freshly fallen snow and you might discover the tracks of fisher, mink, even moose and lynx.
Focus your binoculars on the sky to see soaring bald eagles and osprey and on the trees to glimpse colorful and elusive warblers. The park is home to over 240 different species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 10 species of reptiles and amphibians, 53 species of fish, and numerous invertebrates. Voyageurs is one of only two national parks in the continental U.S. that has an indigenous population of wolves.
Please view all wildlife from a distance for safety, and do not disturb them. Using binoculars or a telephoto camera lens will help you view animals “close up” without affecting their behavior. Be especially careful to avoid nesting birds on the shoreline.
3. Bring your fishing permit.
Voyageurs is known for its world-class fishing. You can fish anywhere in the park except Beast Lake. The lakes are known to have over 50 different species of fish, including lake sturgeon, walleye, northern pike, black crappie, and smallmouth bass.
Many believe these waters have some of the best walleye fishing in the country (if not the world) and some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in Minnesota. Bring your Minnesota fishing license (visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources). If you plan to fish on the Canadian side, you will also need an Ontario fishing license.
4. Step into history - and prehistory.
Situated on the southern portion of the Canadian Shield, Voyageurs National Park contains the most complete and extensive Precambrian geologic features in the United States. In fact, the rock formations in the park, many more than 2.5 billion years old, are some of the oldest exposed rock in the world.
What is now Voyageurs National Park was born of underwater volcanic eruptions that created mountainous islands rising from a sea that does not exist today. Billions of years of rainwater erosion cut away at the rock to a depth of several miles, effectively leveling out the landscape. However, the unique geography of the park is mostly a product of the region’s comparatively more recent past.
For roughly 2 million years, advancing and retreating glaciers further eroded the land, scouring and sculpting an area that may have previously resembled the Great Plains. What was left behind was the water of melted glaciers and a barren, jumbled landscape of ancient bedrock, polished and marked by glacial striations.
Water from glacial melt filled in the areas of rock gouged out and quarried by glacial ice to create large lakes. 8000 years ago much of the area that is Voyageurs National Park today may have been covered by Lake Agassiz, what is possibly the largest freshwater lake to have ever existed. As portions of the glacial melt drained, land masses of ancient bedrock became exposed and life gradually returned to the region. Lichens, mosses, grasses, and shrubs colonized the surfaces, probably along with modest populations of birds and other wildlife. In turn the decay from these early arrivals produced a layer of soil thick enough to allow the forests in the south to spread north.
Nearly 10,000 years ago, the first people arrived in the park as the waters of glacial Lake Agassiz receded. Various groups lived in the park, including descendants of Algonkian-speaking groups, the Ojibwe, the Cree, and the Dakotan-speaking Assiniboin. Eighteen American Indian tribes are culturally associated with the park. The Bois Forte Ojibwe and Canadian Ojibwe First Nations retain very strong cultural connections to their traditional lands in the park.
In the 1700s, there was a high demand for animal fur in Europe. Fur trapping began on the east coast of the United States and eventually moved westward. French-Canadian voyageurs paddled large canoes filled with beaver pelts and other trade goods between Montreal and the Canadian Northwest. Their North Canoes were designed and built by the Ojibwe. These canoes were 26 feet long and could hold a crew of eight men. The area known today as Voyageurs National Park was part of the voyageurs' route. By the end of the American Revolution, the voyageurs' “customary waterway” between Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods became the basis for the international boundary between the United States and Canada.
There are many visitor destinations where you can explore the park's history. These include the Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Kettle Falls Hotel, the I. W. Stevens Pine Cove Resort, Casareto Cabin on Crane Lake and the Ojibwe Ethnobotanical Garden. You can see these destinations on the park’s day use site map and learn more about the history behind them on our Voyageurs National Park Destinations list.
5. Embrace the seasons.
The best time of the year for wildlife viewing is mid-spring through early fall. During these months the Park is both a waypoint and an endpoint for a number of migratory birds, and the summer months are when much of the non-migratory wildlife is most visible and active. A broad collection of wildflowers occurs in the Park, including species of irises, lilies, and orchids like Minnesota’s State Flower, the Lady’s Slipper. Also, through the summer and into the fall, different wild berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries are plentiful.
Pine, spruce, and fir mixed with birch and aspen comprise much of the tree cover, along with elm, oak, and maple. The fall weather brings beautiful color to Voyageurs.
Voyageurs’ lakes usually freeze in late November or early December, then thaw in April or early May. The average ice-out date is May 3rd but varies from year to year. Annual precipitation (rain and snow) averages 25-28 inches in the park and average snowfall ranges from 55-70 inches. During the spring and fall, there are periods when you cannot travel the park's lakes due to melting (or freezing) ice.
For a truly Minnesotan winter experience, embrace the cold and venture to Voyageurs to enjoy the fresh air and snow. Winters are very cold here and ice may be more than three feet thick! The park maintains two ice roads and a number of snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski trails that link to nearby communities.
For the adventurous, camping offers amazing opportunities for night sky and wildlife viewing. Keep in mind, all overnight stays at campsites within the park require a reservation in advance.
Voyageurs even 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 Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open year-round. Winter hours are Wednesday - Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Stop in before you head out to explore. Cross-country skis, boots and poles are available free-of-charge for adults and kids. Call (218) 286-5258 for availability. Come back through after your day of winter activities to warm up and browse the park bookstore.
6. Make a reservation (and bring your maps).
The park is a remote area. That's one of the things that visitors love most! But when traveling to an area where cell service may not be available, you should plan ahead.
If you prefer, there is a wide variety of area lodges and resorts that welcome visitors. You can even explore the park by houseboat! For more information on those options, read on - and check out Explore Minnesota.
7. Enjoy stargazing!
The distance from city lights and the northern latitude location of Voyageurs National Park creates an extraordinary nighttime show. Constellations are prominent, the band of the Milky Way is often distinguishable, and sightings of the northern lights are not uncommon.
8. Stay safe.
Please dress for the weather and bring extra layers with you, especially in the spring and fall when conditions for hypothermia are especially present. To prevent disease from ticks, wear long pants if you are planning to hike in tall grass. Check yourself for ticks after hiking. It is also recommended that you wear bug repellent to help deter mosquitoes. Black flies are sometimes present in the park, particularly in July and August. The best defense against black flies is to wear long sleeves and pants. Filter or treat water before drinking.
Black bears will typically avoid people, but it is very important to keep your food properly stored. All food, garbage, scented items, and cooking equipment must be stored in a vehicle, metal bear-proof locker, or hung at a minimum 10 feet high and 4 feet out from a pole or tree. Bears can easily open a cooler, even with rocks on the lid.
Dial 911 for emergency help inside the park. For the National Park Service dispatch, call (218) 286-5258. Rainy Lake Medical Center serves the region around Voyageurs 24 hours a day and can be reached at (218) 283-4481.
For weather conditions and forecasts in any season, the National Weather Service is an excellent resource. You may also stop in at a park visitor center to find out the most recent weather forecast. We’ll post the latest trail conditions on our blog or you can find them on the Park's Winter Ice and Trail Conditions page.
Be sure to layer up, carry food and water, always check conditions before heading out, and bring a friend along for company and safety.
9. Protect the park for the future.
Take only photographs and leave no trace of your visit. Damaging or removing park property is prohibited. For example, do not collect plants, animals, artifacts, rocks, driftwood, flowers or pine cones. You may harvest up to one gallon of berries for personal consumption. Carry out your trash and leave day-use sites and campsites just as beautiful as you found them.
Hunting is not allowed in the park and you should not feed or approach wildlife for any reason.
Jet-skis and similar watercraft are not allowed in Voyageurs National Park.
Pets are only allowed in certain areas of the park, such as visitor center parking lots, and the 2-mile Oberholzer Trail adjacent to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, and certain campsites. Learn more about how to keep your pet safe and happy at Voyageurs.
Dog teams and dog sleds are permitted on frozen lake surfaces within the park when adequate ice and snow conditions are present. A written Special Use Permit is required for dog teams and dog sleds traveling on designated snowmobile portages. Please contact the park directly to obtain one.
You can help prevent the spread of invasive species!
- Leave your own boat behind and use National Park Service boats to explore the interior lakes. Spiny water fleas are a species of zooplankton from Eurasia that threaten the park’s aquatic ecosystems. The main lakes are already infested. The park would like your help to prevent them from spreading into the interior lakes on the Kabetogama Peninsula. Spiny water fleas and their eggs can be spread by bait buckets, anchor ropes, fishing line, boats, waders, nets and any other gear that has come in contact with infested waters.
- Do not bring firewood into the park unless it has been purchased from a MN DNR approved vendor. You may collect dead and downed wood near your campsite.
- Remove all vegetation and clean your boat before moving it from one body of water to another.
- Never release any pet or aquarium species of fish or crayfish. Using live crayfish for bait is prohibited to help prevent the spread of rusty crayfish, an invasive species.
10. Explore the community and make new friends!
All three Visitor Centers operate gift shops and souvenirs are available at a number of shops and gas stations round the region. Several shops in International Falls sell camping equipment. Basic sporting goods and fishing equipment is also widely available in international Falls as well as Kabetogama and Crane Lake.
United States Postal Offices are located in International Falls, Ranier, Crane Lake, and Ray. There are banks available in Orr and International Falls. There are ATMs in Crane Lake, Kabetogama, International Falls, and at the juncture of highway 53 and the Ash River Tail. Grocery stores are located in International Falls and along MN 53 in Virginia and Eveleth.
Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Adventist, Catholic, and Mormon services are held on Sundays in International Falls. The closest mosque is in Duluth and the nearest synagogue is located in Virginia, Minn.
Icebox Days, held annually in January in International Falls, is packed full of fun and zany games for all people, including frozen turkey bowling, “smoosh” races, moonlight skiing in Voyageurs National Park, the infamous “Gizzard” runs and much more.
Check out Explore Minnesota, Destination Voyageurs National Park, Orr – Pelican Lake Resort Association, Ash River Trail / Kettle Falls Tourism, Crane Lake Visitors & Tourism Bureau, International Falls Ranier & Rainy Lake CVB, Kabetogama Lake Association & Tourism and the Orr Travel Information Center.