Voyageurs National Park

By: Freelance Contributor
Rainy Lake Visitors Center in Voyageurs National Park Minnesota. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Education Images/Universal Images Group / Getty Images


A Land of Water and Hardwood Forests

Full of intricate waterways and hardwood forests, Voyageurs National Park is a beautiful collage of land and water. Summer, spring, winter, and fall: The park is a peaceful oasis throughout the year.


Activities in Voyageurs National Park

Winter sports enthusiasts will find lots of great activities in the park, from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to ice fishing. The Blue Ash Bay Trail, popular among snowshoers, is a two and half mile roundtrip that starts near the Beaver Pond Overlook on the north side of Sullivan Bay. For experienced cross-country skiers, the Kab-Ash Trail is popular. The trail offers nearly 30 ungroomed miles to explore. Many sections of the trail are remote and challenging, so skiers are advised to be well-prepared with a map of the trail.

During summertime, the park’s interconnected waterways, a defining feature of the park, allow visitors to explore the region by boat as the voyageurs once did. During the months of June through August, the National Park Service provides many guided boat tours. The Kettle Falls Cruise on Kabetogama Lake takes visitors on a voyage to the Kettle Falls Hotel and dam. Visitors get two hours of land time to explore the area, dine at the hotel, or picnic. The Kettle Falls Hotel is the only lodging available in the park outside of campsites. This hotel has accommodated visitors since its construction in 1913.


Visiting Voyageurs National Park

Open year-round, the park is great a destination for all seasons. The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is the only visitor center open throughout the year. There is no fee to enter the park, but there are fees to take boat tours. Visitors can make boat tour reservations up to three months in advance.

Camping in the park is free, but requires a permit which can be obtained at a visitor center. While the park does not accept reservations for camping, there are usually plenty of sites available — it has more than 200 designated campsites. Campsites are only accessible by boat. Boat and canoe rentals are available for $10 a day.


Wildlife in Voyageurs National Park

The park maintains an extensive bald eagle research program, assessing the health, habits, and population of the bird. The status of an eagle’s health is a fairly good indicator of the park’s aquatic ecosystem. Researchers take measurements of the eagles, determine their age and sex, and then attach a United States Fish and Wildlife band around one of their legs to help keep track of eagle populations in the park. Since the park’s establishment in 1975, the park’s bald eagle population has risen greatly from just a few breeding pairs. Today, it isn’t uncommon for visitors to hear or catch a glimpse of this noble bird.


History of Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park, named for the French-Canadian fur trappers or “voyageurs” who explored the area in search of beaver pelts and other furs during the late 1600s. Voyageurs were the first to explore the frontier territory, competing with the diminishing fur trade in the east. They were also the first to interact with the indigenous people of the region. The primary Indian tribe, the Ojibwe, served as guides with their extensive knowledge of the animals and geography of the region.

The 1890s brought major logging and mining operations to the Michigan, Wisconsin, and central Minnesota areas, including the area where the national park stands today. The logging operation was so huge that it completely altered the region’s geography, in some cases wiping out entire forests. Evidence of the logging operation can be seen in the park today. The forests that make up the national park are significantly smaller than they would have been originally, especially the forests of the red and white pine.

The gold prospects in the area led to the development of mining, which in turn brought settlers, who established Rainy Lake City. Rainy Lake City was complete with a schoolhouse, saloons, restaurants, and more. However, the boomtown quickly went bust, and by 1901 the city was nothing more than a ghost town. By the time the area was established as a national park in 1975, the area was full of resorts, cabin sites, and recreational buildings. Most property owners sold their property to the National Park Service, but some did not. To this day, there are privately owned properties within the park.

Other key dates in Voyageurs National Park’s history:

  • 1923 – Commercial fishing is banned on Kabetogama Lake.
  • 1942 – Only 10 licensed family fishing operations are active in the park.
  • 1962 – The legislative battle to establish Voyageurs National Park begins.
  • 1987 – The National Park Service renovates the Kettle Falls Hotel.