How to Explore Voyageurs National Park (No Roads Required)

A red canoe on the lake at Voyageurs National Park

The National Park Service protects many of America's wildest places, but even by that standard, Voyageurs National Park is out there. Nestled among the ancient forests and maze-like waterways of the Canadian Shield, this Minnesota park is truly one of a kind.

A land like no other

Located at Minnesota's northern extreme, Voyageurs National Park encompasses a vast area of interconnected lakes and waterways, with islands and peninsulas that don't look much different than they did a hundred years ago. The park is named for the French-Canadian fur-trappers  or voyageurs  who were the first European settlers to travel extensively through the area, exploring the vast wilderness by boat. Even today, the bulk of the park is accessible only by water, leaving intrepid visitors to venture out into the park much like the earliest voyageurs

Lake at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

While the park has a fascinating human history, its story, as with most places, begins long before people entered the picture. In fact, it starts with the rocks. At Voyageurs National Park, the ancient geology of the North American continent is on display for all to see. The rocks that form the park’s foundation are 1 to 3 billion years old, and while sedimentation and volcanic activity added many new layers throughout the millennia, these have been largely stripped away by glaciers and weathering, leaving ancient strata exposed in the park's cliffs and outcroppings.

Canoeing at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Keeping busy

Opportunities for recreation abound at Voyageurs National Park, especially for those who feel right at home on the water. Roads lead to a few key areas, such as visitor centers and boat ramps, but for the most part, this park is an opportunity to leave your car behind. This isn’t the place for road-tripping, but here are a few alternatives that you’re sure to enjoy:

  • Canoeing and kayaking – Traveling by canoe or kayak, you can explore areas where few people ever go. The park includes all or part of four major lakes  Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake  along with the vast network of smaller lakes, backwaters, channels, and streams that connect them. That's enough water to keep even the most dedicated paddler busy for a lifetime! 
  • Camping – There are more than 270 campsites in the park, all accessible only by water. Developed campsites include tent pads, picnic tables, campfire rings, and bear-resistant food storage lockers, but there are also undeveloped backcountry sites with few or no amenities.

Camping at Lost Lake in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
  • Houseboating – Traveling by houseboat is the Voyageurs equivalent of RV camping, giving you a wilderness experience with modern comforts. Houseboating is permitted in many areas throughout the park, and designated sites are set aside just for houseboats. 
  • Fishing – Outstanding fishing opportunities are available in countless areas throughout the park, including chances to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, muskellunge, crappie, perch, and many other species. A Minnesota fishing license is required. 
  • Hiking – The few areas of Voyageurs National Park that are accessible by vehicle offer a wealth of hiking options, from the easy Rainy Lake Recreation Trail to the strenuous 27-mile Kab-Ash Trail. 
  • Winter sports – When the waters freeze in winter, a thick layer of ice provides snowshoe, snowmobile, and cross-country ski access to many areas that are cut off from the mainland throughout much of the year. Visiting Voyageurs in winter offers a completely different experience. 

Canoeing on the lake at Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, with a rainbow

Voyageurs National Park is one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states, and for lovers of the outdoors, it's paradise. Plan your visit today, and get lost in the park’s 340 square miles of wilderness  just be sure to pick up a map first to avoid getting literally lost!

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