Voyageurs National Park is a remote and stunning wilderness in northern Minnesota. The park offers a variety of activities, from boating to hiking, with a wide range of top sights to see along the way. Voyageurs is home to four large lakes and many smaller ones scattered throughout the park. Top sights include the Ellsworth Rock Gardens and Kettle Falls Hotel; and the visitor’s centers are also popular spots to pay a visit. If you’re not sure what to do or where to go next during your visit to Voyageurs National Park, keep reading for the ultimate itinerary!
We’ve included 2 different lengths for these Voyageurs National Park itineraries. One will get you just a quick overview and a couple of great stops in a one-day pit stop. The other is a 3-day itinerary for visiting Voyageurs National Park, which will give you a little more variety.
Don’t just limit yourself to a few days, though! Especially if you love the outdoors, then you could likely spend much more time out here enjoying all of the natural beauty!
When is the best time to visit Voyageurs?
The best time of year to visit Voyageurs is dependent on what you want to do while there – if you’re looking for some more solitude, late fall or early winter might be your best bet. Just beware, temperatures drop quickly!
If you prefer warmer weather, head out during the summer months. The summer months are busier, though, with family vacations and those enjoying the many campsites scattered throughout the park. Some of the campsites are able to accommodate large houseboats, making this a popular summer family vacation destination. More on that later!
April and May are typically busier with fishing seasons, especially after the ice has melted from the lakes.
Fall brings beautiful foliage for a short time, but temperatures quickly turn from cold to frigid.
Ice fishing and winter recreation opportunities exist, though, for those looking to get out and explore Voyageurs during the coldest months.
The itineraries included here are probably best suited for the shoulder seasons, in May before Memorial Day and September after Labor Day, when things aren’t quite as busy in the park.
How to get to Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs is located on the state of Minnesota’s border with Canada, so it might be easier to fly into International Falls. There are daily flights from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to International Falls.
Alternatively, a drive from the twin cities will require between 4-5 hours, depending on the area of the park you are heading to.
The city of Duluth is a little closer, with 2.5-3 hours of driving separating the two locations.
Fly into one of these two more easily accessible airports, then drive through the beautiful northern Minnesota countryside.
Getting Around the Park
We loved using this National Geographic map to find a great campsite and plan the stops that we wanted to see. Hiking trails are included on the map, too.
It really helped us to get a lay of the land. There is also a separate paddling route map, and they’re both waterproof!
You’ll need a car to get around the mainland areas of the national park.
After you arrive at Voyageurs, you’ll most likely need to switch your mode of transportation.
Boats are the best way to get around and see much more of Voyageurs. With 1/3 of the park covered in the water of the lakes and waterways, you’ll surely miss so much by not getting out to explore them.
You’ll need some boat access to complete this Voyagers National Park itinerary.
If you don’t own a boat but want to use one to explore Voyageurs, there are several rental options. Find a full list of links and contact information here for all the marinas, rentals, and guide services for those looking to take advantage of the waterways.
If you’re nervous about navigating those waterways on your own, there are plenty of options for guided tours and taxis. They’re included on the list in the link above, organized by the lake that they service.
Some even offer houseboat rentals and other water activities like fishing or kayaking.
Is Voyageurs National Park worth visiting?
Absolutely! Voyageurs offers so many things to do and see. You shouldn’t get bored here!
Many visitors are lured in by the fishing opportunities that Voyageurs National Park provides. Fish populations include walleye, northern pike, perch, whitefish, panfish (bluegill), largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, trout, and muskie. Fishing is fantastic in Voyageurs during the summer months, but winter ice fishing also exists on some of Voyageurs’ frozen lakes.
Voyageurs National Park offers some excellent opportunities for hiking, too. There are over 100 miles of trails to explore while you’re there! Hikers enjoy views of wildlife like loons, eagles, osprey, and more. There are also opportunities to view rich history at places like the Kettle Falls Hotel and Little American Island.
If you’re looking for a more relaxing adventure, just choose a campsite, boat out, and settle in for a few days of isolated relaxation. There are both options that have a dock for a boat and options that, after boating to a trailhead, require a hike, and in some cases, a canoe paddle, to reach a campsite.
Voyageurs is a wonderful place to visit for any type of traveler, offering something exciting and interesting for everyone!
Voyageurs National Park Lodging
Camping or Cabins? Hotels or Bed & Breakfasts? What’s your style?
Voyageurs offers many campsites scattered throughout the national park that can accommodate houseboats, and regular-sized boats, or can be reached via a backcountry hike to the sites.
These sites require a decent amount of effort to reach them, but it’s very much worth the effort!
There are plenty of cabins, located along the Voyageurs National Park mainland surrounding the lakes, that require a drive to access. There are also some cabins out on some of the islands that require a boat to reach!
Check out this Cozy Cabin on Stop Island!
They range from rustic camping cabins to beautiful modern log homes complete with indoor plumbing and heating systems. Many even have a view of the lake they are situated on!
Bed & Breakfasts
Though to our knowledge, there aren’t any bed & breakfasts actually in the park, many of the lodges and “resorts” offer a bed & breakfast feel. Many of these options, too, can be found by word of mouth.
Voyageurs has one hotel in, owned, and operated by the park, called the Kettle Falls Hotel.
It’s rustic, with shared bathrooms and very basic furnishings. A boat ride is required to reach the Kettle Falls Hotel, and it can be arranged through the hotel when you book your stay.
For options to include more modern lodging, you’ll most likely have to head over to the city of International Falls. Located adjacent to the far western edge of the park, this is the most modern area near the park.
Check out the Cantilever Hotel in International Falls. It is quite unique, and it has a lot of history during the Prohibition Era. There is now a distillery onsite and a cocktail room to highlight local spirits!
View Availability for the Cantilever Hotel in International Falls.
One-Day Voyageurs National Park Itinerary
This itinerary includes some of Voyageurs National Park’s most popular attractions and a sample “path” to follow. This will be a full day, so buckle up!
The most popular lake to visit is Kabetogama, as most of the main attractions are along the shores of this lake. This is where you will get the most bang for your buck!
Some tours also begin from the Rainy Lake Visitor’s Center, but for this one-day itinerary, we’ll plan to stay on Kabetogama. This Voyageurs National Park itinerary is also meant for summer when boats are able to navigate the lakes without ice!
Begin the morning with a tour by boat.
Getting out on the water is the best way to get the most out of your experience in Voyageurs National Park. Voyageurs has many options for guided tours as well as boat rentals, so you can choose a larger group tour or something very private and tailored to your needs.
Tours by the national park head to either the Ellsworth Rock Gardens or to Kettle Falls Hotel. We’d recommend heading to Ellsworth Rock Gardens. The shorter of the two tour options get more bang for your buck. You’ll be able to explore the gardens and all of the rock sculptures for over 90 minutes. The Kettle Falls tour is expected to be 5.5 hours long, taking up a large part of your one day.
Book either of these tours on recreation.gov.
Take the Scenic Drive to the Ash River Visitor’s Center.
From the Kabetogama Visitor’s Center, head towards County Road 129. This road, also known as the Ash River Trail, winds through the forested and marshy areas in and near the park.
Be sure to keep an eye out on this drive. There is a good chance that you will come across wildlife including deer grazing in the green patches along the roadway.
If you visit Voyageurs National Park in the summer, take advantage of this scenic drive to cool down. It’s a great way to see more of Voyageurs and get away from the hustle and bustle that is common at Kabetogama Lake!
Pack a Picnic Lunch and Explore the Center.
This Voyageurs National Park one-day itinerary includes lunch, so make sure to pack a picnic! The visitor’s center has some tables and benches for you to enjoy. Grab a spot with a view, or pick a shady spot under the beautiful tree cover.
Either before or after lunch, don’t overlook a stop-in to check out the visitor’s center. The building itself is a historic lodge housing things like informational exhibits and a small theatre. This is a great place to learn more about Voyageurs and get more info for the rest of your trip, so be sure to check it out!
Get out and Hike the Trails.
There are two trails that we’d recommend near the Ash River Visitor’s Center. While a little bit of shuffling around is required, we’d recommend hiking to the Beaver Pond Overlook and the Blind Ash Bay trails.
The Beaver Pond Overlook can be found on County Road 129 and will be on the left when heading towards the visitor’s center. If you’re looking to avoid driving around in circles, you could stop and explore this quick hike of fewer than 0.5 miles.
Although the name is a little deceiving, and there are no longer beavers inhabiting this pond, there is a chance you will see birds and other large wildlife, especially if visiting earlier or later in the day.
The Blind Ash Bay Trail can be accessed from the upper parking lot at the visitor’s center, away from the lake. You’ll find the trail near the back right corner of the lot when looking in the opposite direction of the lake. In the beginning, you’ll navigate a few stairs and steep uphill climbs.
There are some mild elevation changes along the trail, which we’d describe as lollipop-shaped. In the beginning, commit this terrain to memory- you’ll have to cross over it again!
Although this trail is advertised online as a 2.5-mile hike, we found the signage along the trail to tell a different story.
Beginning from the parking lot, you’ll have to hike 1.2 miles before you reach the split for the loop.
Then, you can choose which way to travel the loop. We don’t really have a preference, either way!
If you’re visiting near sunset, though, take some time to appreciate the view from the overlook on the loop section. Facing in a west direction, you may be able to catch a fiery sky!
In total, we found this hike to be more like 3.1+ miles. It may not seem like much extra, but that 0.6 miles can definitely make you late for your shuttle! We found this out the hard way!
Call it a day.
At this point, you’ve sure done quite a bit of exploring. If you have time, stop at the other overlooks on the way out from the visitor’s center. There is one overlooking Kabetogama Lake, also facing west for sunset, and one overlooking more of the lush, green (in summertime) Voyageurs forests!
Otherwise, you’ve earned a good night’s sleep wherever you have chosen to stay!
Three-Day Voyageurs National Park Itinerary
This itinerary includes some of Voyageurs National Park’s most popular attractions and a sample “path” to follow. It also recommends the best time of year to visit Voyageurs for this particular type of trip (camping).
We also recommend, to get the most out of your experience, staying in different locations each of the two nights. This will require extra effort, but in our opinion, is the best way to see the park.
Don’t worry! There will definitely be some time to relax!
One other thing to note: This itinerary is very weather-dependent. Any storms or strong wind drumming up waves on the lakes could make them dangerous to cross, so plans could be totally derailed in inclement weather. We’d recommend having a backup plan, just in case!
First, if you’re heading into the backcountry, you’ll probably have arranged ahead of time to pick up a key at one of the visitor’s centers. This key will give you access to a canoe. This canoe will get you to a campsite. They’re pretty important.
Don’t forget to stop and pick it up!
Begin with a tour & shuttle combined experience on Kabetogama.
There are plenty of tour and shuttle companies authorized to provide their service in the national park, and contact information can be found via a list here.
We were able to secure a private water taxi departing from the Wooden Frog Campground docks, which began as a tour around the lake and to the Ellsworth Rock Gardens.
On our way, we were able to view the plants and wildlife, even bald eagle nests with young still in them! We learned on our tour that there are over 50 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the park. Bald eagles mate for life and return to the same nest each year.
Arriving at the Rock Gardens, our guide allowed us to explore the grounds at our own pace, made sure we had a map, and pointed us in the right direction. We were able to wander around and view all of the rock sculptures. This is a great way to see the gardens.
After the tour, head towards your trailhead. When you are dropped off, arrange and agree on a time for your taxi guide to pick you up in the morning.
For the first night, you’ll be pitching a tent.
Some of the best overnight accommodations in Voyageurs National Park are the backcountry campsites. If you have the opportunity and ability to reach one, DO IT.
If not, choose one of the sites situated right on the main lake. There are quite a few, so take your pick!
If you can get to backcountry sites, both the areas around the Locator Lake Trail and Shoepack Lakes are great areas to look at!
To reach some of these campsites, after hiking a trail, you’ll then find a canoe waiting for you in the middle of the wilderness, which will be the final leg of your trip.
Many of these campsites have a fire ring, grill, bear pole or locker, and a tent pad or area. After setting up camp, you can either relax or bring along some fishing equipment and try to secure some fresh catch to supplement your dinner.
You may even see some other wildlife, including deer, beavers, turtles, etc. Beavers were very active around the Shoepack Lakes, and we saw multiple on our most recent visit.
Be cautious with food and scented items, though. Black bears do reside in the park and have been known to travel miles for scents and disturb plenty of campers’ food supplies.
After nightfall, look up. On clear nights, the stars are fantastic here. If you’re lucky, you can see clear views of the Milky Way. If you’re really lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the glowing Northern Lights.
On day 2, you’ll begin by packing up your camp and returning back to the trailhead. Get up a little early and spend some time canoeing around the lake you’ve camped on.
Then, you’ll be returning to the trailhead, where you’re water taxi guide will pick you up and return you to Wooden Frog.
Since it’ll probably be pretty early when you return, there will be time to situate your belongings and head over to the Ash River Visitor’s Center. Enjoy the scenic drive along the Ash River Trail and stop at the Beaver Pond Overlook on the left for a nice view and to stretch your legs over a 0.4-mile walk.
Continue on to the visitor’s center, where you can explore the exhibits and get things together for the next leg of the adventure.
Catch your water taxi to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel
Located in a remote corner of the park on the far east side of the Kabetogama Peninsula, the Kettle Falls Hotel is a destination a little more difficult to reach in this park. 15 miles separate it from the nearest road.
The hotel does have a water taxi that you can book along with hotel accommodations for an extra fee.
Guests are picked up at the dock to the right of the Ash River Visitor’s Center. You’ll be on the boat for about 30 minutes or so, and you’ll pass tons of beautiful Voyageurs scenery.
Now, let me be clear, the Kettle Falls Hotel is not a place where everyone will enjoy the accommodations. It is a historic site, and it is kept as such.
We have run into fishing groups who make a yearly trek to the hotel, as well as first-time visitors. Most come to get away from the hustle and bustle.
However, this site can become quite busy in peak season. Being one of just a few notable “attractions” in the national park, many people do stop by for a visit.
During the day, you may have a difficult time finding that retreat, but this is not meant to scare you away. Merely, just to prepare you for what to expect here, as it’s unlike many other places we’ve stayed before.
Enjoy your getaway to the Kettle Falls Hotel
When you arrive at the docks, you’ll be greeted by the staff with golf carts who will take you up the long dirt drive to the hotel with your belongings. You’ll be able to check into your room or villa and get settled.
The hotel itself reminded us more of a bed & breakfast style accommodation, with rooms on the smaller side and shared bathrooms.
The villas, a little further down the drive, are nestled in a forested area close to the water. They’re kind of like duplex cabins, and some have full kitchens, small patios with grills, and can accommodate 2-8 people.
After you’ve settled in, spend some time exploring the grounds. There aren’t really designated hiking trails, but you can walk the paths to the docks on each side of the hotel.
The path on the Rainy Lake side, to the left when coming out of the hotel, includes a cool little boardwalk over a marshy area. It’s worth the short walk.
Walk down the dirt drive in front of the hotel where it meets the water, and head up the short path, where you will find the Kettle Falls dam.
There isn’t an actual waterfall here, but there are about 10 feet of difference in water level between the two lakes joining here, so you’ll likely see plenty of rushing water.
You can also wade in the water at the small “beach.”
Did you know that there are spots in the US where you can look to the south and be looking into Canada? There are!
Other than obviously Alaska, here at Kettle Falls in Voyageurs is another spot! All of the land across the water here (and in the photo above) is Canadian. Enjoy the rare oddity while you’re there, but don’t let it play tricks with your mind!
After exploring the corners of the grounds, you can play a game of volleyball or horseshoes in the yard.
Sit back and relax in one of the cozy chairs on the screened-in front porch with a good book.
Rent a canoe or kayak from the hotel and explore the nearby waters.
Unless you bring your own food for dinner, there is a dining room on-site with a small menu including sandwiches and a few dinners. This is the only food option here.
After dinner, head around the porch to the on-site bar, the Lumberjack Saloon, for a drink and a game of pool. You might be surprised when you walk in the door, but we won’t give away the surprise. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself! On a hot day, the “pinky”, their signature slushy drink, really hits the spot.
The Lumberjack Saloon is open to the public during the day but stays open “late” for overnight guests. There is no set closing time for the bar. It’s all dependent on the visitors.
The small staff that works here at the hotel and helps to provide the amenities also live on-site all season.
In the morning, grab breakfast in the dining room, and prepare for your departure back to the mainland. Staff will return you to the taxi dock on the same golf carts you rode in on.
When you arrive back at the Ash River Visitor’s Center, you may think that you’re done!
Get one Last Hike in.
Before you leave, though, be sure to hike the Blind Ash Bay Trail for a beautiful view over Kabetogama. Plan for about 2 hours for this hike, just to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the views.
You’ll find the trailhead off of the upper parking lot at the visitor’s center. It’s a great way to stretch your legs after the water taxi ride and before leaving the park and heading on to your next destination, wherever that may be.
Packing for this Voyageurs National Park Itinerary
For the three-day itinerary, you’ll be spending each overnight in two very different ways. We’d recommend packing two separate bags and having them ready to go in your vehicle whenever you depart for the park, so you don’t have any delays when arriving at your shuttles or water taxis.
For the first overnight, pack your hiking pack with all of your normal backcountry gear, including your tent, sleeping pad, meals, and fire-starting tools.
If you’re going to be heading to one of the campsites where you must set out on a canoe, you’ll need to have your own life vest. One of these packable, manually inflatable live vests is a good option.
Pack bug and tick spray and wear clothing that covers your legs. Ticks here on some of the backcountry trails have been some of the worst we’ve seen and experienced.
If you’re into fishing, bring your pole and a few supplies. Fishing is a very popular activity here!
For the second overnight, your regular overnight duffel or small bag will do. The Kettle Falls Hotel accommodations provide sheets, pillows, towels, and basic supplies just like any other hotel.
Throw in a good book, a deck of cards, or whatever you like to do for peaceful entertainment for both nights, and you’re all set!
If We Were Spending More Time in Voyageurs…
Have more time to relax and enjoy this destination?
Renting a houseboat would be a great way to have a little piece of luxury while still enjoying the natural beauty. There are plenty of campsites specifically designated for houseboats throughout the park.
Families often head up north to Voyageurs to spend their weeklong summer vacation on one of these rented houseboats! Unless, of course, you can bring your own!
If you’re looking to see and cover as much ground as possible, after leaving the Ash River Visitor’s Center, you could hop in your car and head up towards the city of International Falls and the Rainy Lake Visitors Center.
There are plenty of spots to explore in the city if you’re looking for a little change of pace. There are also the Black Bay hiking trails just a short one-mile trip across the Black Bay Narrows.
Head out to Little American Island on Rainy Lake just north of the visitor center to learn about the history of gold mining on the island. There are still remnants of machinery and mine shafts used, which can be seen from the 1/4 mile loop walk around the island.
FAQ’s About Voyageurs National Park
Is there a fee to enter Voyageurs National Park?
No! Unlike many other national parks, especially in the west, there is no entry fee. Only ferries, organized tours, and camping require fees. Exploring on your own is free!
What is the weather like at Voyageurs?
Voyageurs National Park is located in the northernmost part of Minnesota, so you can imagine that the weather can get pretty cold.
Winters are very harsh and snowfall frequently occurs throughout the winter months; expect lots of ice on ponds and lakes!
Summers are warmer with temperatures reaching into the 70s (F) regularly – it’s a great time to enjoy the water, especially by boating, kayaking, and fishing.
Is Voyageurs National Park still worth visiting in winter?
Voyageurs is open year-round! However, some services may be closed during certain parts of the year depending on weather conditions or other factors.
Winter activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing through untouched woods, ice fishing (though it’s not for everyone), and of course, the beauty that only a blanket of snow can bring to Voyageurs.
Can you see the Northern Lights at Voyageurs?
Sometimes! It is possible to see the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) from Voyageurs. If you want the best chance at seeing them, we recommend heading up north in October-March!
Longer periods of darkness provide more of a chance, though there is a chance that the Northern Lights can be seen any time of year in Voyageurs National Park.
What national parks are nearby Voyageurs?
The closest NPS sites near Voyageurs include the Superior National Forest to the south and Isle Royale National Park over in Lake Superior.
If you’re looking for a new place to explore, Voyageurs National Park may be the next destination for you.
Located in northern Minnesota on the state’s border with Canada, this beautiful, less-visited national park has everything from large lakes and small ponds scattered throughout to historic Kettle Falls Hotel buildings.
Explore by boat or through guide services depending on your preferences – but make sure you don’t miss any of the top sights included on these Voyagers National Park itineraries!
The vast, untouched wilderness of Voyageurs National Park is a place that will challenge you and inspire you. It is the perfect setting for an adventure or just relaxing with friends. There are so many ways to explore this breathtaking park!
Now the only question is… when are you going to visit?