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Day Trip to Kettle Falls in Voyageurs National Park
Kettle Falls, a unique spot in Voyageurs National Park.
Come along for a great day trip from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center some 30 miles east to the Kettle Falls Hotel and dam, where the Namakan Reservoir pours into Rainy Lake. Two small dams at the site of Kettle Falls in the US and Squirrel Falls in Canada control the water level of Rainy Lake. The International Boundary follows the traditional waterway route of the fur-trading Voyageurs, the line loops around a point in Canada then turns back to the east before heading north again. That results in one of the few spots in the United States where you can look south and see Canada.
We are boarding the Voyageur for this trip, the 49 passenger tour boat for Rainy Lake is a little over 58 feet in length and can travel at 28 knots. Two cummins diesel engines develop over 1200 horsepower to turn propellers that are just under three feet in diameter. Passengers can stay in the cabin at the lowest level in inclement weather, otherwise, there's room to move around on the main deck to see the sights. The upper deck has room for 25 to enjoy the view and accomdates the wheelhouse to provide the Captain with a clear view to navigate the sometime tricky passages on Rainy Lake. The Voyaguer's home base is the port of International Falls.
The tour boat schedule for 2015 will be announced after the first of the year and will be available on the Voyageurs National Park website at www.nps.gov/voya reservations can be made at www.recreations.gov
After leaving the dock at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, the Voyageur heads north out of Black Bay to reach the channel that will head east and north toward Brule Narrows, the strait that seperates the west side of Rainy Lake from the east side. As we head that way, we go past the site of Rainy Lake City, the village that sprang up when gold was discovered on Rainy Lake in 1893. The photo shows the general location of the village at the mouth of Black Bay. At one time, there were 17 saloons, a dry goods store, a lumber yard, bank, furniture store, bakery, brick factrory, post office, school and a couple hotels. There are still remanants of the village and relics from the now abandonded mines, but that is another lens. In fact, the link below will take you on that trip!
The trip will take us along the south side of Dryweed Island as we head east toward Cranberry Bay, where we will veer north to the Brule Narrows. The Voyageur's course goes through the old gold mining district in this area and offers the opportunity to glide past the mine shaft on Bushyhead Island. This is the only horizontal shaft in the district, and therefore, the easiest to spot. The shaft was cut into the rocky island on the south side and extends several yards north before boring down and into the gold deposits, the shaft is now filled with water, which had to be constantly pumped out when miners were trying to extract gold laden ore. The shaft shows up as a shadowy dark square roughly at the waterline in the middle of the island.
The Three R's!
Rainy Lake can be tricky to navigate as the lake was carved from the Canadian Shield by glacial action and there are numerous reefs and rocks. Safe navigation channels are marked by red and green bouys and the rule is to keep the red bouys on your right as you return upstream. The three R's here are Red, Right, Return. The waters of Rainy flows from east to west so, when you return upstream to Kettle Falls, pass between the red and green bouys with red to your right and green to your left. When you head west, or downstream, you do just the opposite.
Popular fishing area
The Voyageur doesn't exactly rip up the lake to get to Kettle Falls, as this is a very large boat and casts a pretty good sized wake, and Rainy is shared with plenty of smaller boats, mostly fishermen looking to pull in a trophy walleye or smallmouth. Rainy Lake, by-the-way, was named the #11 bass lake in the United States by BassMasters Magazine in the spring of 2012. There are also some trophy northern pike and crappie to be caught. Rainy is managed with a slot limit to protect large breeding size walleye and the result is large age classes of walleye, some are in the keeper range allowing for a great meal of fresh walleye, but many large fish are released back into the lake to sustain the healthy sportfish population. A popular way to visit Rainy Lake and Voyageurs National Park is with a houseboat, and you will encounter a few, but it is a very large lake and there is plenty of room to tie up in a fairly private area.
Portable Vacation Home?
After passing through Brule Narrows and rounding Soldier Point, we will head south and east to Kempton Channel, the passage between Big Island and the Kabetogama Peninsula. Brule Narrows is about halfway in our voyage on the Voyageur. On this end of Rainy, you will find several really nice hiking trails to the interior lakes on the Kabetogama Peninsula, a vast tract of wilderness surrounded by the main lakes of Voyageurs National Park. Check out the photo gallery below.
Click to enlarge and rotateClick thumbnail to view full-size
After passing through Kempton Channel and continuning east past Browns Bay and Anderson Bay, we are about to enter the American Channel, the final stretch before docking at Kettle Falls, a little further east is the channel that leads up to the Squirrel Falls dam and it is called the Canadian Channel, because, of course, it is in Canada! The photo shows the view directly south as we enter the channel.
Kettle Falls Dam
The Voyageur will pull up just below the dam and adjacent to the pathway that leads to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, where we will take a break. The hotel serves great food, which is more difficult than usual for a restaurant, because of the remote location.
Heading for the Hotel!
It is a fairly short walk to the hotel. Kettle Falls Hotel was constructed in 1910 by timber baron Ed Rose, and purchased by Bob and Lil Williams in 1918 for one thousand dollars cash and four barrels of whiskey. The Williams family operated the hotel for 70 years, spanning three generations. Chuck Williams continues to hold a family connection to the area working as the dam tender to control water levels. The hotel is now a concessionaire operation owned by Voyageurs National Park. The building has been restored and made structurally sound and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Check out the video below to get an idea of what it's like to visit this unique spot. The original hotel sagged on the saloon end as the timber foundations rotted, resulting in a tremendous heave in the floor that has been preserved as part of the character of the place. A pool table is mounted on a platform fitted to the heave in order to keep it level. At one end, you need to bend down to see your shot, at the other, you could be looking right down the cue at eye level. A fun feature of the saloon is the authentic working nickelodean.
Saloon in the Kettle Falls Hotel
The Main entrance to the hotel will give you access to the lobby and the dining room, you have to pass through the lobby to reach the saloon, and the entire front of the hotel features a screen porch where you can enjoy lunch, or just relax in the fresh air. All of the public area is filled with photos and memorabelia from the past 100 years or so and the hotel rooms are furnished with many antiques. Modern lodging is also available at villas tucked away nearby so the historic character of the original hotel can be preserved while still offering the kind of amentities we have grown accustomed to.
Here, a group of Young Asmbassadors for Voyageurs National Park take a break outside the hotel, after lunch we will join them for the rare opportunity to be escorted through the safety fencing surrounding the dam and be able to look into either Namakan or Rainy and get a brief demonstration of how the machinery is used to place or remove large timbers from the raceway as a means of controlling the outflow.
Young Ambassadors from the metro area are joined by Ambassadors from the VNP region and spend time volunteering on projects in national parks or recreation areas.
More Photos from Kettle Falls - Click to enlarge and rotateClick thumbnail to view full-size
Portage service is offered at Kettle Falls so you can boat from Rainy Lake through Namakan and access the other large lakes in Voyageurs National Park. The portage service can handle some pretty big boats, so bring your own boat if you wish.
That's a quick glimpse of the trip to Kettle Falls, it is a great spot to visit, and you might even consider staying a few days. The concessionaire does provide transportation for guests, and you can call them for information on availability, cost and scheduling. The number is 218 240 1724 and you can call any time from May 1 to November 1. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org