Voyageurs National Park is unlike any other national park that we have been to. At this point, we are the only people we know who have been to Voyageurs National Park. When we talk to people about going to this park they cite it as a “logistical nightmare” to get up there. This is because the park is spread out through Rainy Lake, Lake Kabetogama, Namakan Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Crane Lake waaaay up on the northern border of Minnesota. A water craft is a necessity in order to really experience the park. It is not known for hiking, iconic landmarks, or wildlife. It is a classic Minnesota lake experience. This post will help you sort out some of those logistics.
Do I need a boat?
The park is 40% water. There are three visitors centers, each located on the mainland, and accessible by car. Past that, the rest of the park can only be experienced by water craft. At this site you can see the available boat tours. This is a good way to see a good chunk of the park. The best way to really experience the park, though, is to bring with or rent a watercraft.
Can I camp in the park?
The park is also best experienced by either camping in the park or getting a houseboat. The camping is unique because each campsite is situated on its own island. On the mainland around the lakes there are many resorts, RV parks, and other camping. But the island camping is the way to go. It is quiet, somewhat secluded, and really just a lot of fun. Houseboats, though we did not go this route, are similar to the island camping in that you stay at a private spot on the water. Both island camping and houseboat locations need to be reserved. Visit this post to find out how to do this.
Is it really a logistical nightmare?
When we started planning our trip to Voyageurs, our only reliable resource was the NPS website for this park. There were a lot of phone calls, voicemails, and emails as we tried to reach out to people and piece together the most convenient, affordable way to visit Voyageurs. For example, we do not own a boat and Voyageurs does not do any boat rentals, which made it difficult to obtain an affordable watercraft. So, it is a little more tricky to plan than most parks. However, if you think of it like a trip to the lake, the details start lining up a little more easily.
We finally settled on reserving an island for camping and then finding a canoe to transport ourselves to the island. This put as at a total of $110 for three days and two nights at the park.
We rented our canoe from Northern Lights Resort on Lake Kabetogama. This was a fantastic find! The receptionist made sure that our campground was not too far from their boat launch. We reserved our campsite first (I do not recommend this route; if you read my post on camping you will see that I recommend choosing a boat launch first) and the Northern Lights receptionist was going to recommend a different outfitter or that we change our camping reservation to something closer. Fortunately, our campsite was only a 30 minute paddle from their boat launch. Their canoes are only $22 a day, which is the cheapest I found. We picked up our canoe the morning of a Tuesday and dropped it off the morning of Thursday and were only charged for two days. We were also able to park our car in their parking lot for free. They sell water, ice, and firewood, which was super convenient.
Frontcountry Campsite Specs:
The campsite was way cooler than I thought it would be! We had this entire island to ourselves. This was some of the quietest, most beautiful camping I have ever done.
The camp site included:
- Picnic Table
- Fire Pit
- Two Bear Boxes
- Open-Air Pit Toilet
- Two Tent Pads
Some islands are outfitted for larger groups and supply more tent pads, tables, and bear boxes.
Black Bears are present in the Voyageurs National Park area. However, they rarely frequent the islands. The bear boxes are just a really good precaution.
This is some of the quietest, most beautiful camping I have ever done. However, it does have some inconveniences. These include:
- Crazy Bugs. Not only mosquitos, but an insane amount of ants, deer flies, and spiders.
- It got REALLY HOT. Everyone talks about how cold it is “up north” but the days we were there were boiling with high humidity.
- Paddle Distance. Since we only had a canoe, we could not paddle very far to see other things. Honestly, though, not being able to go other places was not the worst thing. There is not a lot of landmarks to see anyway, so we used it as a time to just relax.
Get to Voyageurs. Camp. Soak in a Minnesota summer. Go home feeling refreshed.
- If you fish, bring your gear! Kenon and I do not fish but every boat that passed our little island had fishing gear.
- Bring a fun flotation device! This is a great way to beat the heat and have fun on the water.
- Prepare for bugs. Ants, mosquitos, flies, spiders, crickets, beetles – Voyageurs has it all! Especially while camping, it is difficult to escape the bugs. Consider bringing an Instant screenhouse with mosquito netting so you have somewhere to enjoy meals and relax without being bothered. It can also provide necessary shade.
- There is a lot of sun and the temperatures get very hot! Remember those rumors that it actually does get hot in Minnesota during the summer? They are true. Yes, it can get very cold in northern Minnesota, even in July. However, plan for both. When we were visiting it was 85 degrees and humid all day long.
- Decide what kind of boat you are going to have. You will either need to rent one or bring one. Your boating option will determine a lot of your visiting options. Your options are:
- No boat: You will not be able to see very much of the park but you can still explore the waterways by getting on a Ranger-led canoe program or a ferry tour. Find those here. Lodging will be limited to the mainland campgrounds or resorts. There are a lot of them and many of them are really great.
- Self-powered boat, like a canoe or kayak: You should choose carefully what parts of the park you want to see and where you will camp. You can only paddle so far in one day.
- Houseboat: This is a fun option that we found was very popular among Minnesotans. We have not explored this option but would like to in the future.
- Motorized boat: This really widens your option. When we go again, this is probably what we will do.
As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you have while planning your trip to Voyageurs National Park!