Stargaze on a Houseboat in One of America's Newest Dark-sky Parks
Voyageurs National Park, a 218,000-acre maze of labyrinthine lakes, thick forests, and 500 islands, is one of northern Minnesota's most attractive gems. It's situated along the U.S. and Canadian border, a transition zone where deciduous forests from the south blend with boreal forests of the north.
This far-flung locale promises limited light pollution, a trait that helped it nab the International Dark-Sky Association's dark-sky park certification in December 2020. The park has another night-sky superlative up its sleeve: Voyageurs' far-north coordinates result in dazzling aurora borealis displays.
While the park's many cabins, campsites, and lodges immerse visitors in serene and natural splendor, houseboats, by far, promise the best seat in the house.
Stargaze From a Houseboat Hot Tub
America's national parks boast an array of dark-sky experiences, and floating beneath the cosmos at Voyageurs is among the best of them. Deluxe houseboats, including the Vista series from locally owned Ebel's Voyageur Houseboats, come with waterslides, kitchens, multiple bedrooms, full bathrooms, sundecks, screened-in porches, and the star of the show: a hot tub.
"Houseboats offer a unique way to travel the park's waterways and sleep under the stars, with more comfortable amenities than a tent and sleeping bag," said Voyageurs Conservancy executive director Christina Hausman Rhode. "It's like a floating cabin."
Summer is perhaps the best time to stargaze in Voyageurs, with relatively cooperative weather and impressive astro displays. The Milky Way is denser and more visible during the summer, especially on new-moon nights, when skies are at their darkest. And, while many associate auroras with winter in far-north destinations like Iceland, the northern lights can show up any time of year, as long as the skies are dark and the conditions are right — some apps like My Aurora Forecast help aurora hunters predict.
For safety, all houseboats are required to be moored to shore after dark. A host of scenic and secluded houseboat sites strewn across the park's four main lakes promise steady ground for photographing the constellations, with fire pits and sandy beaches ripe for marshmallow roasting and quick morning dips.
Houseboat Activities in Voyageurs National Park
Stargazing at Voyageurs may be out of this world, but its daytime experiences impress just as well. Wildlife ranging from black bears and beavers to moose and gray wolves roam the forests, while bald eagles, loons, and owls soar through the sky.
House-boaters can wind through this maze of lakes on the search for Voyageurs' elusive animals, or stop for a hike across one of the park's 500 islands. History buffs will enjoy Kettle Falls, one of the park's top attractions. Kettle Falls Hotel, just a stone's throw from Canada, has entertained guests since the early 1900s. The route through Kettle Falls was a main travel path for Native Americans, voyageurs, and prospectors seeking riches at the nearby Rainy Lake gold mines.
Voyageurs' land-based adventures do delight, but with a hot tub and waterslide (on select vessels), it's hard to justify leaving that luxe houseboat. Ebel's fleet includes an additional 14-foot boat with each houseboat rental; these smaller crafts easily navigate the park's most remote nooks, crannies, and fishing holes.
Renting a Houseboat in Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs' houseboats aren't solely for experienced boaters, although prior experience is a plus. Companies spend at least an hour training guests, with a portion of that preparation on the water.
Houseboat sizes and prices vary, with the most budget-friendly options starting at $345 for the smaller vessels (no hot tub included). More deluxe houseboats like the Vista series, which come with a hot tub and waterslide, run for $685 per day, or $3,420 per week. Boats in this series can fit up to 10 guests maximum, depending on size. Voyageurs' houseboat rental season runs from May through October.