Voyageurs National Park is Minnesota’s only full-fledged national park. It is uniquely water-based among national parks, with its interior accessible only by water. 240 camping, houseboat and day-use sites dot the shores of four large, island-studded lakes, and dozens of smaller lakes, along the Canadian border. There are roughly 500 islands and 655 miles of shoreline to explore within the park.
The park is named after the French Canadian voyageurs—French for “travelers” —who paddled these waterways in large birch bark and cedar canoes in the 17th and early 18th centuries, trapping and transporting pelts of beaver, otter, mink and more.
Today, visitors enter by canoe, kayak, motorboat and sailboat, but the park is perhaps best known as Minnesota’s premier destination for houseboat vacations. Imagine a luxurious floating vacation home moored on your own private bay or island, with a hot tub and a waterslide for the kids, and a motorboat attached for fishing or exploring the park’s extraordinary sights.
Visitors can rent a houseboat that sleeps anywhere from two to 12 people, with everything needed to live on the water for days, a week, or longer. All have kitchens, bathrooms, two-way radios, and many have the aforementioned hot tub, waterslide and attached motorboat. Houseboat rentals are available on Rainy Lake, Ash River or Crane Lake; the boats can also be moored on Kabetogama, Namakan or Sand Point Lake.
For shorter trips into the park, the Kabetogama and Rainy Lake visitor centers provide guided boat tours into September. Some take visitors to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, built in 1913 near a dam between Namakan and Rainy lakes. The hotel offers dining and lodging in the main building as well as a couple cabins. Boat tours also point out the natural features of Voyageurs, including active eagle nests along the shores.
While it takes a boat to fully explore Voyageurs, the park does have 15 hiking trails, many of which have trailheads at the visitor centers. In addition, many resorts and outfitters just outside the park offer lodging, guide services and more to help you explore the area.