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Voyageurs National Park Camping

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The Voyageurs National Park camping experience is unlike any other park you’ve been to – and by that we mean it’s better. Gone are the crowded campgrounds, noisy generators, and screaming kids. Gone, even, are the worries of not finding a site or having yours stolen. No, here in the far reaches of Minnesota’s northern border you can put your worries away and enjoy spacious and peaceful lakefront campsites all to yourself.

Voyageurs National Park More Than Just Parks
Voyageurs National Park Camping

Yes in Voyageurs National Park you will actually never see another camper. (Pause for dramatic effect after reading that). That’s because every one of the park’s more than 150 campsites have been designed for total seclusion and privacy. Many campsites are on their own islands while the others are spread very far apart from each other.

Voyageurs Video

Check out our award-winning short film on Voyageurs National Park to get an idea of what’s in store at this watery wonderland.

Award-Winning More Than Just Parks VOYAGEURS Short Film

There’s a Bit of a Catch…

You didn’t think you could have the best camping experience in the national park system without any effort did you? The catch is that all of the campsites in Voyageurs National Park are reachable exclusively by water.

What Does This Mean For Me?

It means that you’ll have to ditch that car of yours at a lodge and rent a boat (canoe, kayak, or motorboat) to get to your campsite. Or you can bring your own boat. But fear not, it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds and trust us when we say it’s well worth it. Read on to be well on your way to the best national park camping experience you’ll ever have.

Voyageurs National Park
Autumn on Namakan Lake – Voyageurs National Park Camping

The Lakes

Voyageurs National Park has three main lakes, Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Namakan Lake.

Kabetogama Lake Overlook Voyageurs National Park
Sunset at Kabetogama Lake | Voyageurs National Park Camping

Rainy Lake is the largest lake in the park stretching over a whopping 360 square miles of spectacular scenery. Rainy is also the most visited lake in the park as it stretches well beyond the park boundaries into Canada and provides access to many homes and developed areas that predate the park, including the city of International Falls, MN. All three lakes provide ample camping opportunities as does the smaller Sand Point Lake further to the east.

Kabetogama Lake is the only one of the main lakes that is entirely within Voyageurs National Park (and the United States for that matter). Kab, as the locals call it, is sometimes referred to as the crown jewel of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes and you can certainly see why when you visit.

Namakan Lake straddles the Canadian border and connects Kabetogama to Rainy Lake near Kettle Falls. Namakan may well provide the most scenic and secluded camping opportunities in the park.

Things To Know

  • The park is almost entirely accessible ONLY by water. I know we covered this at the beginning, but it’s worth pointing out again that this just isn’t like any other national park you’ve been to – and that’s part of what makes it so great!
  • You can see the Northern Lights here! Yes! You can absolutely see the northern lights here in all their glory. No I’m not talking about a faint glow on the horizon, I’m talking about the entire sky coming alive and dancing in front of your very eyes in dazzling displays of blues and greens for hours or more. Fall and spring are great times to catch this amazing phenomenon without freezing your butt off.
  • DO NOT cross into Canada without first obtaining a remote border crossing permit. The park’s lakes straddle the Canadian border and it can be very easy to stray into territorial waters, sometimes without even knowing it. Both countries take their borders very seriously and you can get into a lot of trouble if you end up in Canada without going through the proper channels.
  • Know your limits. Canoeing and kayaking are loads of fun, you might even say boatloads of fun – see what I did there? But it’s important to know your physical and geographical limitations before embarking on an unforgettable canoe trip. Plot out how far away your campsite is and know how much gear you’ll need to bring. You can check out all of our boating tips here.
  • Check the weather! Since getting around this park means getting in a boat, knowing the weather beforehand is twice as important. While your car may have no trouble in the rain and wind, the same can’t be said for a canoe or a kayak.
  • Avoid Winter. Winter in Voyageurs National Park is an entirely different world. The huge lakes are completely frozen and temperatures in the park are routinely far below zero. In short, this might not be the best time to go camping! For more on Voyageurs in the winter check out our park guide.
top 10 national parks in 2021
Northern Lights Over Kabetogama Lake – Voyageurs National Park Camping

What You’ll Need

  1. A boat. You can rent canoes and kayaks at nearly any lodge on any of the park’s three main lakes. The going rates for these venerable watercrafts are typically $30. You can also rent motorboats of all sizes, from houseboats (think RV’s of the water) on down to pontoons and small 2-person fishing boats.
  2. A reservation. Campsite reservations can be made online at recreation.gov and range between $12-35/night depending on the site. Unlike some parks, apart from maybe the busiest holidays, you should have no trouble at all finding a site.
  3. Supplies. Since you’ll be leaving your trusty steed in the stable (that’s a joke about your car) you’ll need to bring all of your food, water, and camping supplies with you in the boat. Varying sizes of dry bags for the items you don’t want getting wet are highly recommended.
  4. A Map. Don’t sleep on this one. The right map is crucial to getting around the giant lakes of this park and finding your campsite. It’s also doubly crucial to finding your way back!
  5. When in doubt, a guide. Look, as much as we’d all like to picture ourselves as the salty captain in the yellow slicker from the frozen food packages, we have to face that most of us are actually mildly to moderately helpless once beyond the comforting range of cell towers. Luckily the Voyageurs area is full of wonderful lodges and outfitters that can take you anywhere you’d like to go in the park – and they can even drop you off at a campsite and pick you up the next day!

The Campsites

voyageurs camping
One of our campsites from our trip to Voyageurs National Park

How many campsites are there in Voyageurs National Park? Over 150!

What kind of amenities do these campsites have? Each of the more than 150 frontcountry campsites is equipped with a dock, a fire ring, a picnic table, a site for your tent, a bear locker, and a secluded pit toilet – everything you need for an amazing getaway.

I don’t know, I’m not sold yet. Why should I go? Camping in Voyageurs National Park is simply as good as it gets. Few campsites in other parks can rival the experience of docking your boat, pitching your tent, cooking your meal over an open fire, and listening to the calming sound of water gently lapping against the shoreline, only occasionally interrupted by the distant calls of loons.

Okay, what about camping for experienced backpackers/boaters looking to get even further off the beaten path? Voyageurs also offers 15 more primitive “backcountry” campsites which are typically located within interior lakes. You can read more about backcountry camping opportunities at Voyageurs on their website here.

If You Just Can’t Leave Your Car Behind

Alas there are options for ye land lubbers, though you’ll technically have to leave the park boundaries. Woodenfrog Campground, part of Kabetogama State Forest, is located on the southern shores of Lake Kabetogama and offers one of the only drive-in campgrounds in the area.

When to Visit Voyageurs National Park

More Than Just Parks Voyageurs National Park
Gold Portage | Voyageurs National Park Camping

The best time to visit Voyageurs National Park is September and October when the park displays it’s magnificent fall foliage. The busy fishing and tourist seasons are over and the park is serene and quiet, perfect for an outdoor getaway. An added bonus is your chances of seeing the northern lights are pretty good!

How Does Voyageurs National Park Camping Sound to You?

Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts on this incredibly unique national park camping experience. Do you have a favorite park for camping?

Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive Voyageurs National Park Guide! Also be sure to watch our film on Voyageurs National Park near the top of the page for all the inspiration you need!

Also be sure to check out the Voyageurs National Park website for the most up to date information on camping in the park. The park’s camping page has more information about each individual campsite and what to expect.

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Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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