Voyageurs National Park cloaked in its winter array is a beautiful, dramatic landscape of glistening snow, frozen lakes and frost-glazed pines. There are few places to experience a winter vista largely free of roads and buildings, and it's worth a trip to Voyageurs, along Minnesota's northern border, to enjoy this captivating, snow-draped panorama. It's also a great place to play in the snow.
Snowmobilers are drawn to Voyageurs for its 110 miles of groomed trail, mostly across frozen lakes. In addition, the 11-mile, ungroomed Chain of Lakes Trail explores the interior of the Kabetogama Peninsula wilderness. Many snowmobilers plan long-distance loop trips on area trails, linking into the park's trails along the way.
Cross-country skiers enjoy the 6-mile Black Bay trails a mile north of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, with both beginner and intermediate level loops through pine and birch forest, with a view of a beaver pond. The Oberholtzer Trail leads right from the visitor center and connections with the Tilson Creek Trails, for a total of 16 miles of trail.
Ski rentals are available at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, which is open Wednesday through Sunday during the winter. There is no charge for using children's skis, and snowshoes are also available for use free of charge.
For beginners, a trail area near the center is smoothed for snowshoeing. Those ready to break their own trail through deep snow can head out anywhere except on groomed ski trails; one popular snowshoeing spot is the 1.2-mile Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail. Visitors drive the Rainy Lake ice road to this trailhead.
A 7-mile plowed ice road starts near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and follows the frozen lake along the north edge of the Kabetogama Peninsula, and another stretches 9 miles from the Lake Kabetogama to Ash River Visitor Center. Both are open when the ice is thick enough for safe use. Anglers use the roads to get out on the lake for ice fishing, but they are unique winter drives for anyone. Voyageurs lakes are very popular for ice fishing, with ice house rentals and guide services available from several area resorts open during the winter.
Winter visitors can also look for animal tracks in the snow, including deer, snowshoe hare, moose and wolf tracks. Several wolf packs roam in the park, and there's a chance of spotting one out on the ice or hearing them howl at night. Another fun find is otter slides in the snow.
Naturalist programs are offered on February and March weekends; check the park website for a schedule of programs, plus information on trail and ice road conditions. In addition to resorts around the perimeter of the park, there are several hotels in International Falls, 12 miles west of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.