Take a break from your home away from home RVing and visit Voyageurs National Park. Voyageurs is Minnesota’s only national park and is unique because it offers a completely water-based experience for those willing to take the plunge.
With over 218,000 acres that are accessible year-round, Voyageurs National Park is an oasis of forests, waterways, and wild, undeveloped areas. Sharing its northern border with Canada, you will enjoy some of the best-unspoiled nature available in Minnesota.
Why Visit Voyageurs National Park in an RV?
Take a break from the road and trade in your tires for oars. Experience over 84,000 acres of waterways, 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and more than 500 islands. Open year-round, with no entrance fee, you can explore the pristine nature anytime.
Boating, hiking, snowshoeing, stargazing, paddling, and more are all great ways to experience the park. The solitude and beauty of the park keep visitors coming back year after year.
Roughly a 4.5-hour drive north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Voyageurs National Park is located in the northernmost part of Minnesota, sharing a border with Canada.
While you can’t stay in your RV within the park boundaries, you can park at any visitor center, explore boat rentals to access the various camping sites, or trade in your tent for a houseboat. RV camping is available in nearby communities for those wishing to explore the park during the day.
When to Visit Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is open year-round for enjoyment no matter the season. Check the National Park Service’s website before visiting to discover road or access closures.
Voyageurs National Park in the Spring
Spring is an unpredictable season in Voyageurs. Weather changes quickly and can snow well into late April and early May. The average ice-out is May 3rd. Check local weather and updates on the NPS website before planning your trip.
If visiting the park to fish – opening weekend in May is touted as some of the best walleye fishing in the world. Late spring brings life to the park with the first signs of offspring. Ducklings, fawns, and the occasional moose calf can be seen dotting the landscape.
Voyageurs National Park in the Summer
This is the busiest season for Voyageurs. Planning your trip in advance is crucial to ensuring you stay where you want, as campsites will fill up quickly. The mosquitos, flies, and gnats are in full force this time of year – pack mosquito nets and bug spray.
Your first aid kit should also contain antihistamine and anti-itch cream. June, July, and August boast mild weather and highs in the ’70s. This is the best time for swimming at Voyageurs. Although not too warm, pack plenty of sunscreen as the water reflects the sun.
Voyageurs National Park in the Fall
One of the greatest times to visit is early fall. The weather is pleasant, the bugs are gone, and the magical sunset hour is breathtaking. Fall colors cast perfect reflections on the water.
Packing extra clothes is important in the fall as you never know what the wind will bring. September and early October will keep the night lows above freezing.
Voyageurs National Park in the Winter
As an ice-fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling paradise, the lake is a perfect destination for those that enjoy playing with old man winter. Be mindful of ice conditions and weather reports, as temperatures can dip below 0℉.
Where to Stay
A highlight of visiting Voyageurs is tent camping on a private island. The nightly call of mainland wolves, waves caressing the beach, and loons chatting in the distance. Some islands even have docks so you can motor to them. Others are accessible by canoe or kayak only.
All campsites within the park are only accessible by watercraft, with the exception of two hike-in sites near the Ash River Trail.
Voyageurs has 270 reservable sites, including campsites, houseboat sites, and day-use destinations. Many of the sites available within Voyageurs are on islands. There are four accessible campsites (N41, R26, R74 & K54) with accessible boat docks and tent pads.
Frontcountry campsites include tent pads, bear-resistant food lockers, a metal picnic table, a fire ring with a cooking grate, and access to an outdoor vault toilet. Amenity availability may depend on your choice of small, large, or group sites.
Backcountry campsites have a fire ring and pit toilet. It is recommended to bring bear-proof containers or rope to hang food. Visit the NPS website and click on a site to view its location, distance from visitor centers, boat access type, and the size and max person limits of each site.
Another great opportunity to experience the park is to rent a houseboat. There are many companies available to rent from. If renting a houseboat, you will want to reserve a houseboat site on Recreation.gov for each night of your stay.
If you desire a break from your sleeping bag, you can book a stay at the Kettle Falls Hotel. The only hotel and restaurant available in the park are located 15 miles from the nearest road and only accessible by boat. Kettle Falls Hotel is open May-September.
Staying Outside the Park
Although there are no RV sites within Voyageurs, there are opportunities in the park’s gateway communities. Staying nearby, you can have the amenities you desire while accessing the park for day excursions and activities.
- Pines of Kabetogama Resort: Located in Kabetogama, about 5 minutes from the Lake Kabetogama visitor center. Open May through October.
- Rainy Lake RV: Located in International Falls, about 10 minutes from the Rainy Lake visitor center. Open May 1st – October 1st.
- Ash Riviera Resort: Located in Orr, about 10 minutes from the Ash River visitor center. Open late April through late October.
- Woodenfrog State Forest Campground: Located in Kabetogama, about 11 minutes from the Lake Kabetogama visitor center. Open early May through November.
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Tips for your Camping Stay
Use these tips to plan your stay nearby or camping at Voyageurs National Park:
- Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov and open November 15th for the following High-Use Season (May 15 – October 15) and April 15th for Low-Use Season (October 16 – May 14.)
- Look at the pictures and orientation of the site. If you are hoping to see the Northern Lights, finding a site with a north-facing beach is ideal. If you want a view of open water, choose a site that isn’t nestled in the trees.
- Ensure the beach of your site can accommodate the watercraft you’ll be using.
- Check fire restrictions before your visit. All wood must be purchased from retailers approved by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
- Tent campers can park vehicles at any visitor center for up to 14 days during their reservation.
- Check-in at all sites is 3 pm, and checkout is 12 pm. Sites can be temporarily used for swimming or picnicking between 12-3.
How to Get Around Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is a water-based park accessible by watercraft or, in the winter, snowmobile. Plan ahead by bringing your watercraft or securing a rental from a nearby outfitter.
There are three visitor centers in Voyageurs National Park and additional access sites at Crane Lake and Orr/Pelican Lake. The visitor center parking lots have ample RV and boat trailer parking available.
From June through September, guided boat tours and ranger-led programs are available. These depart from the Kabetogama and Rainy Lake Visitor Centers. More information can be found on the Events Calendar.
Places to Go
Add these destinations to your itinerary when visiting Voyageurs National Park:
Voyageurs has three visitor centers. At each location, interactive exhibits, a theater for viewing the park film, a children’s activity table, and a staffed information desk provide details of park activities, boat tours, and ranger-led programs.
- Rainy Lake Visitor Center sits on the shore of Black Bay in Rainy Lake and is open year-round.
- Kabetogama Visitor Center is on the southwest shoreline of Kabetogama Lake and is open from late May to late September.
- Ash River Visitor Center is inside the historic Meadwood Lodge and is open from late May to late September.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens
Ellsworth Rock Garden is a breathtaking attraction created by Jack Ellsworth in the mid-1900s. The gardens contained 62 terraced flower beds filled with over 13,000 lilies. It features art sculptures made entirely of stone, including multi-tiered tables and carved figures.
Ellsworth passed in 1975, and the location became part of the park. The gardens were partially reclaimed by nature until the early 2000s when a group of volunteers started to clean up the grounds and reassemble sculptures. A sense of what used to be has returned, yet to understand the glory of the historic Ellsworth Rock Garden truly, one must use a little imagination.
Grassy Bay Cliffs
Grassy Bay Cliffs are located in Sand Point Lake in the Southeast part of the park. Rising 125 above the lake, these cliffs of sheer granite are an incredible testament to the beauty of nature. The best time to visit is in the fall when the trees are blazoned with colors.
If wildlife is what you seek, look no further than Gold Portage. Located in Black Bay on Rainy Lake, this Wildlife Management area boasts bald eagles, black bears, moose, foxes, and occasionally wolves. 24 acres of northern boreal forest and 776 acres of wetland allow the perfect place to watch different species.
Things To Do in Voyageurs National Park
Whether you like to cruise along enjoying the sights, cast a line for the chance at a good fight, or paddle around looking at geological formations, Voyageurs has something for everyone looking to enjoy nature.
Canoe and kayak your way around some of the best waters in Minnesota. You can bring your own personal watercraft or rent one – available at many area businesses near the park.
World-class fishing is available year-round at Voyageurs. Over 50 species of fish call these waters home, from walleye, perch, northern pike, and bass to crappies. Grab your Minnesota fishing license before embarking on your trip.
Locator Lake Trail is one of the best hiking trails in Voyageurs. It is 1.9 miles one way and will take 2-4 hours to traverse the forests and wetlands from the north shore of Kabetogama Lake to Locator Lake. There are vault toilets at both trailheads. If you explore Locator Lake, rental canoes are available, and several reservation-only campsites to choose from.
If lucky, you will have a chance to witness the Northern Lights. Starting as a faint glow on the horizon, they will begin to dance while filling the sky above. Even if the Aurora doesn’t show, you will be treated to an endless supply of stars as Voyageurs is certified as an International Dark Sky Park.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
You won’t find many amenities once you launch a watercraft to explore the park’s interior lakes. Visitor centers have vault toilets, potable water, and garbage/recycling receptacles.
Cellphone service is spotty the further into the park you go. Prepare by letting friends and family know when and where you will go and when you plan to return.
- Map: Always bring a printed map. If you have a handheld GPS unit, downloading maps can be beneficial too.
- Permit: Make your reservations well in advance and print your permit. Slipping your permit into a plastic baggie will help to prevent it from getting wet while boating. If you arrive and realize you forgot your permit, the visitor center can print it during open hours.
- Firewood: Firewood must be purchased from a DNR-approved retailer. Most gas stations around the park sell bundles.
- Dry Bags: Dry bags are essential to keep cell phones, wallets, and keys dry. Since this is a water-based national park, you will be flirting with disaster if you don’t bring them.
- Personal Watercraft: Don’t forget your kayak, canoeing gear, or even a stand-up paddleboard if you know the winds will be mild.
- PFD (Personal Flotation Device): One PFD for each individual riding in a watercraft.
- First Aid Kit: Remote activities could cause a big issue if unprepared for an emergency. Packing a first aid kit can help you stay ready should a need arise.
- Rain Gear: Rain gear is needed during the Spring-Fall months due to weather changes and unpredicted showers.
- Insect Repellent. Visiting later in the summer can help you avoid some bugs here, but insect repellent is a must in this national park.
Remember, pack it in, pack it out. Everything you bring in with you must leave with you.
Brief History of Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs became a national park in 1975. Voyageur is the French word for ‘traveler’ and was given to the park as these waterways were an important segment of the fur trade over 250 years ago. Although the park now receives over 200,000 visitors each year, there is enough space and backcountry land to ensure a tranquil visit.
Containing some of the oldest rocks on the North American continent, Voyageurs was sculpted some 2.5 billion years ago. Glacial activity continued to scour the earth creating the patterns of lakes and grooves in some rock formations.
Voyageurs National Park offers free entrance allowing all to experience the bounty of the Minnesota Northwoods. Experience complete serenity at Voyageurs today.
Have you visited Voyageurs National Park? Share your experience or tips in the comments below!