Voyageurs National Park – Minnesota

July 2018 — This national park is right on the Canadian border (with Minnesota) and without a boat, it’s a little challenging to explore, but we managed. There are no campgrounds you can reach, except by boat, so we stayed just outside the park in The Pines of Kabetogama Resort, which was right on Kabetogama Lake, very close to the Kabetogama Visitor Center.

Our first challenge was figuring out how to pronounce Kabetogama, and the staff at the Visitor Center were very helpful – Cab – eh – toe – guh – muh, with the accent on the toe. After discussing options with the staff, we made two reservations (Grand Tour and North Canoe) and decided on a third activity. Since everything in Voyageurs happens on the water, they have a lot of guided tours and activities you can sign up for (or just show up for). Not everything happens every day so check the schedule carefully.

1. Monday, 10:30 a.m. – Guided canoe trip at Ash River Visitor Center. A volunteer couple led about 8 of us (each pair in our own canoe) as we paddled to Blind Ash Bay and back. Not much wildlife viewing, but it was a relaxed, easy canoe trip, though when the wind picks up, you have to work at it. You can hike roughly the same route, but the canoeing is more fun.

2. Monday, 2:00 p.m. – Drove up to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center (about an hour’s drive from Ash River) to catch the Voyageur Grand Tour Boat around Rainy Lake. This was a big group (over 50 people) and cost about $30 each. Narration is provided by a park ranger, and the captain was great at finding and slowing down to view eagle nests (with baby and adult bald eagles), nesting loons, and historic sites (e.g., a short-lived gold mine). This tour was our Voyageurs highlight—beautiful sunny weather, out on the water, gorgeous scenery, and lots of bald eagles.

A "baby" bald eagle

3. Monday, 4:30 p.m. – We brought our bikes with us, so we could do the short bike ride along the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail. It is pretty short (maybe 3-4 miles round trip), but a nice little ride nevertheless.

4. Tuesday, 10:00 a.m. – Back at Kabetogama Visitor Center, we joined about a dozen other tourists and two guides to collectively paddle a 26-foot North Canoe. This was really an opportunity to learn about the French voyageurs of the early 1800s—how they lived and why they paddled thousands of miles. The guides were fun and entertaining with stories and French accents, and we did get to sing while we paddled a short distance (it was hard work!).

5. Tuesday evening – We rented a kayak from our RV park and paddled around Sphunge Island, which was a calm, beautiful trip with lots of birds to see. That was followed by a nice chat around the outdoor firepit as we watched the sunset.

Here’s our thought about Voyageurs. If you are tight for time or don’t have a boat, it’s probably one you can skip. But if you’re trying to check off the national parks one by one, it has some enjoyable activities and pretty scenery, though nothing as dramatic as the mountain, desert, or ocean parks we love.

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