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It's the ultimate watering hole. 

January 20, 2017

Voyageurs National Park, located in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border, gets its name from the French-Canadian fur traders who were the first to explore this stretch of the country.

This national park is best known for its network of pristine lakes, and has long attracted water sports enthusiasts who love to fish, kayak, and canoe. And secluded islands, accessible only by boat, are hidden all around Voyageurs. After all, the largest lakes (Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand Point) make up 40 percent of the entire park. In the winter, the lakes freeze over, opening up additional opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.

In many ways, the inaccessibility and vastness of Voyageurs make it the perfect place for an escape, as it's not difficult to find yourself alone amongst the park’s pines and waterways. If you're planning a trip to this charming expanse, consider this your definitive guide to Voyageurs National Park

Spend the night on a houseboat 

You won't find any drive-in campsites at Voyageurs. Boating enthusiasts, however, will be pleased to know there are over 270 designated boat-in campsites, houseboat sites, and day use sites scattered across the park. A map of the sites can be found on the National Park Service's website. Visitors must make reservations in advance.

For those who do not have access to a watercraft and do not plan on renting one, there are drive-in campsites available just outside of the park boundaries. The Woodenfrog State Forest Campground is one of the best campgrounds near Voyageurs, and is located just beyond the park on Kabetogama Lake. This campground offers campers only the basic necessities: fire pits, tables, vault toilets, and drinking water.

Or rent a room nearby

Multiple hotels and inns can be found in the nearby town of International Falls. If camping is not on the itinerary for your trip to Voyageurs, spend a few nights at the Bear Ridge Guest House. One, two, and three-bedroom suites with views of Rainy Lake are available on a weekly or monthly basis. Kettle Falls Hotel, a historic property located 15 miles from the closest road, is accessible only by boat. Commercial water taxis, float planes, and tour boats are available to bring visitors to the hotel.

Be prepared to get wet 

Even in the winter, the most popular activities in Voyageurs will be spent on the park's lakes—they'll just be frozen over. For a truly remote experience, consider renting a canoe or rowboat on one of the interior lakes within the Kabetogama Peninsula. The trailhead to this area can be reached by personal boat or water taxi, and then by foot on one of the access trails. It's important to reserve a boat well in advance. Voyageurs Outfitters, for example, offers canoe and kayak rentals, as well as boat tours, birding tours, and custom experiences. To preserve the untouched wilderness, motorized watercraft are not allowed on these lakes. 

Come wintertime, the park transforms into a frozen, snow-covered world. All the water in the park freezes, and focus shifts from boating to cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Many of the places that could once only be accessed by boat can now be reached by foot. Visitors can also try ice fishing for pike and pan fish.

Enjoy endless stargazing

The night sky above Voyageurs is one of the darkest in the country, so it’s an excellent place for stargazing. The large waterways and uninhabited islands are virtually free from light pollution, and allow visitors the opportunity to view shooting stars, the Milky Way, and even the occasional aurora borealis. During the summer months, children are invited to join so-called dark rangers on a Night Explorer program for telescope-viewing and an evening hike. 

Check out the newest trail 

In July 2015, Voyageurs opened the multi-use Rainy Lake Recreational Trail: a 1.7-mile stretch that works from the eponymous Visitor Center to the International Falls Bike Trail. The newest way to enjoy the park is great for snowshoeing and cycling, but no motorized vehicles are allowed. Because it's paved, it's ideal for families. 

Visit any time of year

The late spring and summer months are a great time for travelers to pick edible berries, explore the beaches, and see the lady slippers bloom (which happens around late June). And the crisp temperatures of fall mean beautiful foliage hikes and serene afternoons paddling along the waterways that meander through the untouched forests. When winter descends upon the park, you can find frozen pine boughs as early as late October—and the snow can linger through April. While it gets very cold this time of year, it's also a great opportunity to access some of the park's more remote stretches.  

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