The repetitive cry of the loon echoes across nearly every body of water by day, and by night the haunting howls of wolves pierce the darkness. Bald eagles soar above the interconnected waterways, then settle into nests to scan their domain. Northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass negotiate the frigid waters, as anglers on boats try to lure the prey from the depths. And visitors in kayaks and canoes propel themselves through the aqueous wonders of Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park, intent on quietly partaking of nature.
Established in 1975 and consisting of 218,054 acres, Voyageurs delivers thrills aplenty to travelers who enjoy aquatic adventures. Since a third of the park’s area is liquid, visitors to this southern section of the Canadian Shield should at least have a desire to experience some kind of watercraft. They do not, however, have to explore this North Woods habitat of more than 30 lakes and 500 islands via birch-bark canoes, as did the French Canadian explorers for whom the park is named. Negotiating the four major lakes — Sand Point, Namakan, Kabetogama and Rainy — is certainly part of Voyageurs’ appeal, but the watery labyrinth can easily disorient boaters. Therefore, in order not to inadvertently cross into Canada, travelers should carry maps and pay close attention to navigational markers.
The park’s abundant islands hold dozens of pine-thick campsites situated on bluffs, but campers must access these sites by boat. However, some private campgrounds on the shores of the national park allow RVers to partake of the park’s watery wonders and still sleep in their own beds. Woodenfrog State Campground also offers dozens of rustic sites. Voyageurs’ numerous camping options are listed in the Rendezvous, a park publication that travelers can view online or request by phone from park headquarters.
Today’s visitors don’t have to possess the fortitude of the fur traders who negotiated these waterways in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If exploring in their own boats is too daunting, travelers can paddle in a replica of a voyageurs’ North Canoe at the two visitor centers during the summer. Tour boats display the scenic attractions of both Rainy Lake and Kabetogama Lake. On terra firma, visitors can view obsolete mine shafts and artifacts — remnants of the Rainy Lake Gold Rush — on Little American Island.
On the edge of the park, resort communities provide access to the park’s entrances. Ash River, Crane Lake, International Falls and Kabetogama Lake deliver unique experiences, and visitors should not delude themselves into thinking they can experience “all the park has to offer.” Multiple trips are necessary even to attempt such a feat and, once the water turns to winter ice, Voyageurs serves up new outdoor opportunities — ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Chain of Lakes snowmobile trail allows for backcountry thrills, and the Black Bay Beaver Pond cross-country ski trails allow visitors to take in all that white scenery at a more leisurely pace. Anglers, of course, can sink their augers practically anywhere.
Voyageurs National Park, (218) 283-6600, www.nps.gov/voya