Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota, just outside International Falls, where its waterways share a border with Canada. Voyageurs’ 218,000 acres is over one-third beautiful, blue water, has over 500 forested islands and 655 miles of both rocky and sandy shorelines. It was truly impressive- and not a single spot in this park wasn’t stunning! Plus, traveling from hike to hike by boat, is an endeavor you don’t want to pass up! This three-day itinerary will take you to almost every corner of the park, however, you could easily spend weeks there with an endless number of places to explore and adventures to take. The park offers boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking in the warmer months and snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and skiing in the colder months. Voyageurs National Park is truly a year-round adventure!
Entrance Fee: FREE
Lodging: The only hotel on site is the Kettle Falls Hotel, accessible only by watercraft and 15 miles from the nearest road. International Falls, Rainer, Kabetogama Lake, Ash River and Crane Lake all have hotel and resort options nearby. We stayed in Rainer (and LOVED it), however, when we return, we will probably stay closer to Kabetogama Lake only because it is more centrally located. International Falls and Rainer are at one end of the park and Crane Lake is at the opposite end. Kabetogama Lake and Ash River are in the middle, so for less driving between places those two are your best options, although all five communities are lovely. Voyageurs also offers both front country and backcountry camping. All camping is accessible only by boat and requires reservations and permits through Recreation.gov. The surrounding communities do have public and private camping if traveling by boat to camp is not what you prefer!
Dining: The only dining option on site is the restaurant at the Kettle Falls Hotel and they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if you are not planning on eating here, its worth going in to get drinks just to check out the interesting bar floor! Many of the islands have picnic areas if you plan on bringing in your own food with trash cans and bear boxes available. While the Kettle Falls Hotel can only be accessed via the water, there are more food options in the surrounding communities that are more accessible. International Falls (The Library), Rainer (Rainy Lake Grill, Cantilever Distillery), Kabetogama Lake (The Rocky Ledge), Ash River and Crane Lake all have a significant number of dining options. The restaurants listed are places we have personally visited and would absolutely return to😊
Must Know Before You Go:
1. Most of this park is accessible only by water. The easiest way to complete this 3-day itinerary is to either bring your own boat or rent a boat. All stops on this itinerary have docks that you can easily tie up your boat and go explore until you are ready for the next stop. If you do not have your own boat and do not want to rent one, there are several other options to help you see the park. Certain options work better, depending on the day, so look for those recommendations below.
2. The mosquitos and flies were abundant on all trails, so I would definitely have repellent with you.
3. Bring plenty of layers. It was cold in the mornings and evenings and swimsuit weather in the afternoon, even in July.
4. Sunscreen. There’s no shade on the water😊
5. I highly recommend maps and a compass before setting out.
6. Review Voyageurs National Park Boat Safety and Lake Navigation Rules and Regulations. Often you will be boating right on the border of Canadian waters, if you plan on crossing over and especially fishing on the Canadian side, please check out their rules and regulations as well!
7. Review Voyageurs National Park Wildlife Safety.
8. Not all Visitor Centers are open every day, double check hours before visiting.
Cell Service: Very sporadic to no service at all in most areas.
Day 1 (Crane Lake, Sand Point Lake, Namakan Lake)
*This entire day requires a private/rental boat or private tour. For a private tour, I could not recommend Guided Adventures more! We did Day 1 with them and then rented our own boat for days 2 & 3 and they were awesome! They also offer wonderful paddling, floating, and fishing adventures if you are staying more than the 3 days😊 This day is best started from the Crane Lake boat ramp.
Mukooda Trail– From the Crane Lake boat ramp, the dock for this trail is approximately a 6 mile trip. Even in the busy summer, there was plenty of dock space to tie up the boat (we only saw 1 other family the entire time we were there). There are restrooms and a picnic area at this stop and a lovely area to sit and enjoy the crystal clear, Mukooda Lake. This trail is a 3-mile loop that is moderate in difficulty and starts right behind the restrooms. It is not well labeled, and you are often walking over large rock so keep an eye out for the small rock towers- they’re used as markers, so you know you’re headed in the right direction. This trail takes you through dense forest, over rocky ridgelines and to some beautiful views of the lovely lake. This stop is also a front country campsite, if you are interested in camping.
Kettle Falls- Next we headed all the way up to Kettle Falls. The Kettle Falls docking area is roughly 20 miles from the Mukooda Lake dock. It is also the farthest point you will go today so the rest of your stops will slowly head you back toward the Crane Lake boat ramp. Once docked, its’s about a 0.25 mile walk through the forest to the Kettle Falls Overlook. The overlook was just recently updated and will give you stunning views of the dam and water. After the overlook, we walked another 0.25 miles to the historic Kettle Falls hotel. Stop for a quick drink or snack in the bar area to check out the bar floor! After the quick hotel and bar tour we headed back to the boat dock.
I.W. Stevens Resort- Your next stop is the I.W. Stevens Resort about 7 miles southwest from Kettle Falls. This beautiful island was once owned by Mr. Stevens, who built, ran, and maintained it himself. He grew and hunted his own food, built all the island’s structures and even installed his own electricity. He retired from the resort business at age 74 but continued to live on the island himself until age 94! The historic structures have been preserved and are now open to the public. There is a small trail that will take you around the island, where you can explore his cottage, one of the cabins, the sauna, woodshop, and root cellar. This is also a great place to enjoy lunch at the picnic tables. There are also restrooms available right near the dock.
My Island- The next stop was probably our favorite stop of the day. We pulled right into the beautiful beach and spent the next two hours lounging on our own secluded beach and swimming in the crystal-clear blue waters. My Island is 10 miles east of I.W. Stevens Resort island and is the island immediately north of Your Island (which is labeled on the Voyageurs map). My Island also has 2 front country campsites.
Grassy Bay Cliffs- These impressive granite cliffs rise 125 ft. above the surface of Sand Point Lake in Grassy Bay. The cliffs can be viewed beautifully from the water so there is no need to leave your boat- just enjoy the views! The Grassy Bay Cliffs are about 9 miles from the beach on My Island.
Vermillion Gorge Trail (Superior National Forest)- The last stop of the day is technically in Superior National Forest, but this trail is too beautiful to skip and is just a very short boat ride from the Crane Lake boat access. This trail from the boat dock is 1 mile roundtrip and the views are spectacular. You could also pick up this trail from land, but that hike is closer to 3 miles roundtrip- and if you are already on the water, you should be a boat docking pro at this point. I would vote for jumping on this trail by boat, before ending your day😊 The boat dock for this trail is about 10 miles from the Grassy Bay Cliffs. There are two inlets on the west side of Crane Lake, you will want to travel down the southernmost inlet of the two. The boat dock will be at the end, and the trail begins immediately from the dock- be sure to head right on the trail. This trail is moderate in difficulty with slight elevation changes. Once you get to the gorge, you will be on the cliff’s edge, so definitely keep those kiddos close.
Day 2 (Kabetogama Lake, Ash River)
Blind Ash Bay Trail- This trail can be picked up right by the Ash River Visitor Center. The 3-mile out and back trail takes you through beautiful forest to lovely views of Kabetogama Lake. It is moderate in difficulty due to some rocky terrain and slight elevation changes. The end is a small loop, with the very best views of the whole trail before taking you back the way you came. We hiked this trail in the early morning and had the whole place to ourselves!
*The next two stops require a private/rental boat or water taxi. We rented our own boat for this day, but this would be the easiest day to use a water taxi or shuttle. Both stops are accessible only by water and are not far from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. You can book a water taxi through any of these Voyageurs-approved commercial businesses.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens- This beautifully created work of art was constructed by Jack Ellsworth over a twenty-year period. Mr. Ellsworth maintained the beautiful gardens and creations until 1965. From 1965-1996, weather and nature took over its maintenance until 1996 when the National Park Service received funding to bring some restoration to the gardens we see today. Before you head out, in either your own boat or a water taxi, head to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center to pick up a pamphlet with a self-guided tour of the gardens. There are restrooms and a picnic area, so this is a great place to bring a lunch! We stayed in this area about an hour if you are using a water taxi.
Locator Lake Trail- The Locator Lake Trail is only 3 miles northwest from the Ellsworth Rock Gardens by boat. Whether you are coming by water taxi or private boat, there is a dock right at the trailhead to pull right up to, with plenty of spots. This 4-mile roundtrip trail is moderate-strenuous in difficulty and takes you through forest, wetlands and right up to the wonderful Locator Lake. This trail is very narrow and muddy in spots and does have some elevation changes, but worth the effort! Our favorite part of Locator Lake was the canoeing! There are canoes right at the lake, but the canoes must be rented/reserved beforehand. You can reserve a canoe at Recreation.gov (click the “Reserve Day Use Rental” under the “Build Your Itinerary” button) and then pick up the key at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center before heading out on the water. Also, there were SO many flies on this trail, so I would recommend repellant or a head net if you have one. The Locator Trail boat dock is just over 5 miles back to the visitor center and your vehicle.
Echo Bay Trail- The last trail of the day has you back on land! The Echo Bay hiking trail is a 3.5-mile drive north from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. The trail is an easy 1.5-2.5-mile loop (you can make it either a small loop or long loop and you don’t need to decide until you are on the trail😊). This trail is well marked and easy to follow through both dense forest and grassy wetlands. It is perfect for all ages and a great way to end the day!
Day 3 (Rainy Lake)
*Depending on your boat access I have two different options for this day. Both options start at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.
Option 1(access to private/rental boat):
Anderson Bay Loop Trail- This moderate trail is a 1.8-mile loop that will take you up a rocky cliff to spectacular views of Rainy Lake. It is about 22 miles by boat to Anderson Bay from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center but well worth the travel time. There is a dock at the Cruiser Lake Trailhead in Anderson Bay. Take that trail 0.25 miles to jump on the Anderson Bay loop trail. This was one of our favorites at Voyageurs and one you will not want to miss😊 If you wanted to do a little more exploring in this area, you could continue a little further on the Cruiser Lake Trail and visit the stunning Peary Lake before heading back to the dock. Adventuring to Peary Lake would add another 4 miles roundtrip to this hike.
Little American Island- After Anderson Bay, I would head back in the direction of the visitor center to Little American Island. Little American Island is about 1.5 miles north of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and is well marked on any map. At Little American Island you can explore what is now the remains of the Rainy Lake gold rush of the late 1800s. There is a 0.25-mile trail that will take you to mine shafts, a hoist wheel, and the Rainy Lake gold fields.
Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail- This trail is just a quick 1 mile from Little American Island. Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail is an easy 1.2 miles out and back trail that is great for all ages! Again, just like most stops, there is a dock at the trailhead and the trailhead starts right off the dock. The trail will take you through dense forest to an overlook of the charming pond as your turn around point.
Beach- After a day full of boating and hiking, we spent the rest of the day relaxing at the beach. Both Ranier and City Beaches are lovely and about 10-15 minutes northwest of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.
Option 2(no access to private/rental boat):
*If you are staying in Ranier, you could bike or drive to all your locations today using the bike trail! Bike rentals can be found here.
Boat Tour of Rainy Lake- There are two boat tours offered through the park at this time- Discover Rainy Lake Cruise (2 hrs.- you will stay on the boat the entire time) and Little American Island Tour (1.5 hrs.- you will take a ranger led 0.25 mile walk through the island). Reservations can be made for both through Recreation.gov and should be made early, because they often sell out. There are also several tours offered by private companies that are both longer and a little more in depth.
Oberholtzer Trail- This easy 2-mile trail starts right behind the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and is great for all ages. This trail will take you through both forest and wetlands, with some wonderful views of Rainy Lake along the way.
Beach day- Both Ranier and City Beaches are lovely and about 10-15 minutes northwest of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center😊
Feel free to reach out with any questions!
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!