Voyageurs National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the country in that it can only be accessed by boat.
But there’s no need to be a seasoned captain to navigate the lakes of the park – check out our guide (see below) for the breakdown of how to easily rent a boat and navigate the park. Once aboard your chosen watercraft there is SO much to see and do in Voyageurs National Park.
We’re breaking down the top eight things to do in the park right here. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
Best Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
- About Our Travels to Voyageurs National Park
- Things to Know Before You Visit Voyageurs National Park
- Where to Stay
- Watch the Award-Winning Voyageurs Video
- Best Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
- List of Top 10 Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
- Map of Things to Do at Voyageurs National Park
About Our Travels to Voyageurs National Park
We visited Voyageurs National Park for the first time back in 2016 and were blown away by it’s jaw-dropping north woods beauty. The park is truly an unspoiled canoeists paradise with vast pristine lakes, islands, and boreal forests beckoning to be explored.
Bald eagles soar overhead, moose trek through the forests and interior lakes, and native wolves roam the park freely.
We spent several weeks in the park plying its waters and filming its beauty to bring you the best things to do and see in the park. This watery wonderland has so much to offer and we’re excited to share some of it with you here.
Things to Know Before You Visit Voyageurs National Park
There are no entrance fees to Voyageurs National Park.
Cell Service is hit or miss throughout the park. The visitors centers have service and most places with roads do. Rainy Lake has some coverage, but as you go east on the other lakes coverage is rare.
Best Guide Book is this one which we used extensively on our visit.
Map: The best map for Voyageurs is this one which we carried with us everywhere.
Dry bags are an essential Voyageurs item keeping wallets, phones, etc nice and dry in a very wet park. We used / loved this dry bag.
Getting to Voyageurs
Getting to Voyageurs National Park is as easy as flying in to Minneapolis and renting a car from there. The park is 4 and a half hours from the MSP airport. You can also fly directly in to International Falls which is serviced by a few of the major domestic carriers. Once there you can rent a car and you’re already practically in the park.
The entire park is accessible only by boat! Rentals are easy and our Voyageurs National Park Guide provides a comprehensive guide to renting boats in the park.
Best Time to Visit
Best Time to Visit Voyageurs National Park is in the Fall. The bustle of summer fishing and house boating is long gone and the park’s shores and trails are ablaze with magnificent autumn reds, yellows, and oranges. Fall is a feast for the eyes at Voyageurs, but be quick as it’s also very short in this coldest area of the continental U.S.
Watch the Award-Winning Voyageurs Video
We created this short film based on our travels through Voyageurs National Park that happened to win an award or two and now has been seen over a million times around the world. We’re pretty excited about it. Enjoy!
Best Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
1. See The Northern Lights
On clear nights in Voyageurs you can see the most spectacular light show in the world, the northern lights.
They start as a faint glow on the horizon before working their way up the sky, dancing in real time right before your eyes.
Here in the remote north woods there is almost no light pollution whatsoever and the night sky is truly a wonder to behold.
There’s no need to go to Iceland or Norway or even Alaska if it’s the northern lights you seek, you’ll find them here in all of their glory.
Fall and winter give you your best chances of seeing the northern lights, but you may be lucky enough any time of year if the conditions are right.
2. Ellsworth Rock Garden
On the quiet shores of Lake Kabetogama lies this incredibly unique garden featuring countless works of art made entirely out of stone. Some of the stones are massive monoliths balanced delicately upon other stones.
This fascinating attraction is entirely the work of one man, a humble carpenter from Chicago named Jack Ellsworth, who built these amazing works of art over the course of 20 years starting in the 1940’s.
After a period of falling into disrepair, the National Park Service acquired and restored this beautiful rock garden to its former glory and now you can visit it and look with wonder at the artistic expressions of one determined man.
The Ellsworth Rock Garden is accessed via boat and is a short ride across the lake from the Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center.
3. Grassy Bay Cliffs
Located in the southeastern part of the park on Sand Point Lake, these sheer granite cliffs rise 125 above the lake making for a striking contrast with the surrounding area.
The cliffs are particularly beautiful in the fall when they are crowned by brilliant autumn reds and yellows.
Learning about how these lakes and rock formations were formed over some 2.5 billion years ago and seeing these natural wonders up close can make your visit all the more enjoyable.
As with most everything in the park, Grassy Bay Cliffs can only be reached by water. Head over to our Voyageurs National Park Guide to learn all about renting boats in the park. To learn more about the geological history of the park visit a park visitors center or check out the park website.
To learn more check out our Grassy Bay Cliffs post.
4. Gold Portage
The Gold Portage area is a terrific place to spot some of the park’s more elusive and iconic wildlife such as moose, bears, foxes, and maybe even wolves.
Here you’ll find a half-mile trail that connects Rainy Lake with Kabetogama Lake. Hikers, canoeists, and kayakers can make their way between the lakes using this scenic portage route.
- Distance: 0.5 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
Note: This is a trail and canoe portage route that can only be accessed by boat. There is an area to tie-off your boat and access the trail.
To learn more check out our Gold Portage post.
5. Kettle Falls
Kettle Falls is located in the heart of the park and is, of course, accessible only by water. Here you’ll find a quirky red-roofed historic hotel with an old slanted dance floor and plenty of north woods charm.
The Kettle Falls Hotel has been welcoming visitors from lumbermen to fishermen to tourists since 1913 and is sort of an unofficial symbol of the park.
Stop in as you’re touring the lakes and islands of the park for some refreshments and relaxation or book a stay at the only hotel inside the park. It’ll definitely be an experience you won’t forget!
6. Go Fishing!
The waters of Voyageurs National Park and the surrounding areas are teeming with native fish that are great for eating or just for sport.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of catching your own meal and cooking it over an open fire on an island all to yourself.
Kettle Falls is a great spot in the middle of the park to refuel your boat and/or grab a bite to eat if you weren’t so lucky with the fish.
Be sure to follow National Park Service and Minnesota DNR rules governing fishing in the area and fish responsibly.
7. Junction Bay Falls
Located in the southwestern corner of Namakan Lake is Junction Bay.
Following the bay inward you’ll find where the Johnson River flows into Namakan Lake in a series of waterfalls known as Junction Bay Falls. In autumn these falls are ablaze with red maples and golden aspens.
This is a great spot in Voyageurs to stop and look around. To learn more check out our Junction Bay Falls post.
8. Kabetogama Lake Sunset
At over 25,000 acres of watery wonderland, Kabetogama Lake features some of the most spectacular waterways in the world.
During the Fall this lake is especially stunning with kaleidoscopic autumn foliage on display. Renowned for it’s lengthy magic hour, a sunset in Voyageurs National Park’s Kabetogama is a bucket list item for many.
9. Anderson Bay Overlook
Anderson Bay Overlook provides a spectacular view of the park’s famous watery landscape. From here you can see what makes Voyageurs National Park so special. Pristine lakes, islands, and boreal forest stretching into the vast north woods horizon.
Listen for the call of a loon or see if you can spy a passing fisherman wrapping up a day on the lake at sunset.
The overlook is accessed via a day use area which also provides a dock, picnic tables, and barbecues, perfect for cooking up the day’s catch. From there you can hike the 1.75-mile loop trail to the overlook.
You might also want to check out Kabetogama Lake Overlook, which can be accessed by car from the mainland.
10. Go Camping on Your Own Island
One of the coolest things you can do at Voyageurs National Park is to go camping on an island all to yourself.
The park’s giant lakes are filled with these kinds of opportunities and all one has to do is reserve their site here, hop in a boat and make your way to your very own remote island campsite.
The campsites come equipped with picnic tables, a tent area, bear lockers, and a pit toilet. Many also have trails offering opportunities to get different views of the surrounding area.
11. Hike the Locator Lake Trail
Distance: 4.3 miles (round trip)
Time: 2-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Locator Lake is one of the best trails in Voyageurs National Park featuring some of the park’s only real elevation gain. At 4.3 miles long this trail takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete and has just under 400 feet of elevation gain.
List of Top 10 Things to Do in Voyageurs National Park
- See The Northern Lights
- Ellsworth Rock Garden
- Grassy Bay Cliffs
- Gold Portage
- Kettle Falls
- Go Fishing
- Junction Bay Falls
- Kabetogama Lake Sunset
- Anderson Bay Overlook
- Camp on Your Own Island
- Locator Lake Trail
Map of Things to Do at Voyageurs National Park
Planning a trip to Voyageurs National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Voyageurs National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.
>> Voyageurs National Park Guide <<
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Voyageurs Camping: Voyageurs National Park Camping (Everything You Need to Know)
About Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I say that without an ounce of hesitancy.
From kaleidoscopic sunrises and sunsets mirrored on glassy waters of its lakes to some of the most spectacular displays of the northern lights you’ll find anywhere on earth, Voyageurs is a true monument to the wonders of nature.
If you’re wondering how challenging it is to visit Voyageurs given that it’s almost exclusively accessible by boat – don’t!
The area has countless lodges and outfitters that will rent you any kind of boat you could want from a canoe on up to a houseboat at very reasonable prices.
The park is extensively mapped and easy to navigate once out on the waters. Trust me, you won’t want to miss out on an unforgettable experience because you’re unfamiliar with boating.
Voyageurs Visitor Centers
The park has three visitors centers where you can grab a map and learn about the park.
The Rainy Lake Visitors Center in International Falls, the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center off of Highway 53 in Kabetogama, and the Ash River Visitors Center on the eastern end of Kabetogama Lake.
The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open year round while the others close for the season at the end of September.
The History of Voyageurs National Park
You cannot talk about the history of Voyageurs National Park without two names coming up, Sigurd Olson and Walter Mondale. One was a renowned naturalist and writer and the other a U.S. Senator from Minnesota who later became Vice President.
Walter Mondale & Voyageurs
Walter Mondale was a U.S. Senator from Minnesota and later Vice President to Jimmy Carter.
Throughout his life of service he was a tireless champion of conservation and is responsible for the protection of countless natural wonders that we enjoy today, including Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Fritz, as his friends called him, enjoyed canoeing the lakes and rivers of Minnesota and was instrumental in their protection.
He, along with fellow Senator Frank Church from Idaho, also championed the passage of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act which protected countless pristine rivers in their natural state throughout the United States.
Sigurd Olson & Voyageurs
Sigurd Olson is the man that put into words what makes this corner of the world so special and has served as an inspiration for many later environmentalists.
Over decades spent canoeing the Quetico-Superior Country (the area that encompasses Voyageurs and the Boundary Waters) Olson made a name writing about his travels and the immense beauty of the area. I’m the proud owner of several of his movingly poetic books.
Protecting the Area
Together, Olson and Mondale fought to protect the area from increasing pressure from mining and logging interests and ultimately succeeded in creating Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and designating a number of Wild & Scenic Rivers. But the fight is still not over!
Save The Boundary Waters
Right now Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters face the threat of permanent despoilment from mining interests looking to exploit the area for metals located beneath the lakes and rivers, namely the Twin Metals Mine.
The late Senator Mondale spoke out against this mine and advocated for permanent protection for the area from extractive industries. You can do your part to help save this precious wild area by visiting or donating to Save The Boundary Waters here.
Voyageurs National Park Map
Where is Voyageurs National Park?
Voyageurs National Park is located in the Northernmost region of Minnesota, straddling the Canadian border.
The park is about 275 miles north of Minneapolis, about 4 and a half hours driving. Voyageurs National Park lies adjacent to Superior National Forest and the renowned Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Visiting Voyageurs National Park – Directions & Location
There are a few ways to access the park from different directions.
Closest Airport: INL – Falls International Airport (International Falls, MN)
The fastest way to get to Voyageurs National Park is by flying into Falls International Airport in International Falls, which basically puts you at the park’s doorstep.
Flights into International Falls can be hard to come by and are typically on the spendier side with rental car options also being limited.
Of course the proximity can’t be beat as it’s just a few minutes drive from the airport to the nearest part of the park at Rainy Lake.
Minneapolis to Voyageurs National Park
Getting to the park from Minneapolis requires a bit of a drive, but takes you through some scenic country.
I recommend renting a car from the airport and driving to International Falls (roughly 300 miles from the airport) where dining and lodging is easy to come by. The drive takes a little over 4 hours without traffic.
Duluth to Voyageurs National Park
Another option is flying into Duluth and making the 3 hour drive northwest to the park.
This route can sometimes make more sense depending on where you’re coming from and what airline you’re flying.
It’s uncommon that it’s less expensive than Minneapolis after the flight and rental car, but it’s worth looking into as it can make sense in some instances and offers an even more scenic drive.
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