Moving yet further north on our fall foliage trip to Minnesota we found ourselves almost into Canada. In fact, we brought our Passports with us just in case we decided to cross the U.S. / Canadian border as we passed through International Falls, MN. But this particular Rainy Lake Visitor Center was up at the Northwest end of the park and was actually the only one (of the three) that was open at this time of the year and I wanted to make sure that I got my “National Parks Passport” stamped and you can only do that at a parks visitor center. But we did manage to visit the two other visitor centers (Kabetogama Lake and Ash River) in our travels through the park.
Before visiting this National Park, I had no idea what a voyageur was let alone the reason for the park’s status as a national park. While we were in the Rainy Lake Visitor Center the Park Ranger there explained to us that for over one hundred years, French-Canadian “voyageurs” left Montreal for the adventures of the fur trade. Traders and trappers ventured into the Ojibwe Indian territory to trade with them. The traders, trappers and Ojibwe Indians traveled these waters in birch bark canoes. The voyageurs carried tons of European-made trade goods in their canoes and bartered them for furs trapped by the Ojibwe Indians.
The voyageurs canoed the waters in a customary route that became the border between the U.S. and Canada. A portion of that historic route is commemorated in Voyageurs National Park. And as we looked at all the birch trees in the park, we could not help but think of how much work that musts have been to build those canoes, but also the 12 hour days they had to endure to get there goods to market.
Although the first proposal to designate the area as a national park occurred in 1891, it wasn't until 1975 that Voyageurs National Park was established after a lengthy legislative battle that began in 1962. Many people were involved in the movement to establish Voyageurs National Park, including Ernest Oberholtzer, one of the founding members of the Wilderness Society in 1935.
Rich in the history of the early, exciting exploration of our great country, Voyageurs will serve as a living legacy linking generation to generation and century to century.” On April 8, 1975, Voyageurs National Park was established “to preserve for the inspiration and enjoyment of future generations, the outstanding scenery, geological conditions, and waterway system which constituted part of the historic route of the Voyageurs who contributed significantly to the opening of the Northwestern United States.”
The peninsula is Voyageurs’ largest landmass and can be reached by water in summer or over the ice in winter. Rainy Lake is 60 miles long and 227,604 acres in size; it has 929 miles of shoreline. The park includes 36,418 acres of Rainy Lake. Within the park Rainy Lake has a maximum width of 12 miles, maximum depth of 161 feet, an average depth of 35feet, and 200 islands. Kabetogama Lake is 15 miles long and 25,760 acres in size. It has 78 miles of shoreline, a maximum width of 4 miles, a maximum depth of 80 feet, and 200 islands.
Today, around 250,000 people visit the park each year. Visitors can access the park via four points along U.S. Highway 53. From Orr, County Road 23 leads to Crane Lake. County Road 129, also called the Ash River Trail, leads to Ash River. County Road 122 leads to the third entry point, Kabetogama. The fourth road providing access to the park is Minnesota Highway 11 east from International Falls to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. The park also has visitor centers at Kabetogama and at Ash River. Crane Lake has a Ranger Station. Visitor destinations include the historic Kettle Falls Hotel built in 1910, and Ellsworth Rock Gardens begun in 1944, as well as many other historic sites.
Visitors to Voyageurs National Park have miles of waterways to explore, hundreds of islands to enjoy, dozens of fish to catch, and over 200 boat in campsites to call home on a quiet evening. Nature abounds here. Because of the combination of forest, bog and lake environments, Voyageurs has a wealth of habitats that support a rich diversity of life.
Park naturalist programs allow visitors to safely explore the park. You can even become a modern- day voyageur on a North Canoe adventure. Or you can take a cruise with a naturalist to the Little American Gold Mine, Kettle Falls Hotel and Dam, or the Ellsworth Rock Gardens. In fact our Park Ranger is one of those boat guides during the summers up there. He happened to have spent his whole life up there as a fisherman prior to becoming a Park Ranger.
The park is located 300 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul and stretching across 55 miles of the border country between Minnesota and Ontario, Voyageurs National Park is Minnesota’s only national park. The Park is one of the nation’s wildest, most remote and unique national parks, and is widely loved for its beauty and recreational opportunities.
Adventures really abound in the Park. One can explore the four major lakes dotted with hundreds of isolated islands, or escape into the wild heart of the park, the Kabetogama Peninsula, which is ringed by water and strewn with inland lakes, towering pines, rugged cliffs, and swamps. But, the summer is the prime season for boating, canoeing, camping, fishing, and hiking, and in the winter the Park is a choice destination for snowmobile vacations, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter camping, but if you love falls colors, I can attest that is a very time in the park.
Voyageurs Park is a boater’s park. And, as the Park Ranger told us; “Visitors must leave behind their car and explore by boat.”
But (given the time of year of our visit), that was not an option for us. But in spite of that we still fully enjoyed the beauty of the park anyway (as you can see from the photos I captured) while we were there.“The uniquely scenic and historic Voyageurs National Park, stands as a monument forever to the dedicated citizens and conservation organizations whose vision, ingenuity and courage match the splendor of this superlative wilderness area.”
~ Richard M. Nixon (January 8, 1971 on the occasion of the creation of Voyageurs, the 36th National Park)