Travel Tips: Voyageurs National Park and Kabetogama Lake
A Water-Based National Park in Minnesota's North Woods -- The Land of Lakes
After finishing our canoe-camping trip in the Boundary Waters, my husband and I decided to make our way down the North Shore of Lake Superior and then inland, ending up in Voyageurs National Park. But we really knew nothing about the Park or what we'd do once we got there. That part of our trip to northern Minnesota was completely unplanned.
So here's what we found, learned, and did when we arrived at Voyageurs National Park (VNP). We saw only a small portion of the Park in the few days we had left of our vacation, but now we know what to expect and what to do when we go back. And I'm sure we will.
A Visitor Poll
You can add a comment below the poll if you'd like, to tell us what you did there and what you thought of the park.
Have You Been to Voyageurs National Park?
Voyageurs Naitonal Park Facts
*The park encompasses 218,054 acres.
*Of that area, 84,000 acres are water.
*There are 4 major lakes and 26 interior lakes in VNP.
*There are 655 miles of shoreline in the park.
*There are more than 500 islands in VNP.
*The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is east of and adjacent to the park.
Things To Do In Voyageurs National Park
Vacationing the simple, relaxing, outdoors way
- Boating by canoe, kayak, motorboat, sailboat, or houseboat
- Hiking in and around the park
- Taking National Park tours and guided canoe trips
- Attending Ranger talks and special speaker series
- Visiting historical sites, like Little American Gold Mine Island
- Visiting (or staying at) Kettle Falls Hotel and dam
- Cross-country skiing
- Camping and enjoying a nice lakeside campfire
- Relaxing, reading, thinking, sleeping ... and all that good R&R stuff
Voyageurs National Park Map & Guide
Be prepared before you go and get the most out of your visit.
This map is printed on waterproof, tear-resistant, material, which is what you'll need if you do any paddling in this water-based park.
The map includes park information for all seasons, hiking trails, campgrounds, portages, snowshoe and snowmobile trails, access points, roads, and park services. You'll also find information on boating, fishing, kayaking, power boating, and more.
Recommended Companion and Trip-Planning Guide
This guidebook is written by a veteran paddler, with an overview of what to expect and how to prepare for boating in the Boundary Waters, including Voyageurs National Park, detailed maps with access points and routes, and each waterway's character, difficulty, and the best times to paddle.
The book also contains lists of local paddling organizations and information resources, recommended trips for experienced paddlers and novices alike, historical information and wildlife.
Where To Go When You Get To Voyageurs National Park
Head to a Visitor Center
Voyageurs National Park isn't like most of the other National Parks I've been to, where you drive up to a main entrance gate, pay or show your annual National Park pass, get some information from a ranger, and proceed to a parking area and some sort of main building before moving on to explore. Voyageurs National Park, on the other hand, is more spread out and doesn't "funnel" you to any particular point. There's no entrance gate to this Park and no concentrated visitor area.
When Steve and I got to the general area of the park, we first went to Woodenfrog State Forest Campground on Kabetogama Lake, which we'd read about online, and secured ourselves a site. We put up our tent but then didn't really know what should come next. So we drove back down the road a short way and ended up at a boat ramp, where we perused brochures available at the information board. We learned there were several Park visitor centers and figured we should go directly to the nearest one to find out what was up and where and how and what to do.
So we walked into the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, and I said to the smiling ranger who immediately stepped from behind the desk to greet us, "Hi, we're clueless." And that was all I needed to say. The ranger was very helpful in explaining the park, showing us the map and giving us suggestions and more brochures. After that visit, we didn't feel lost at all.
So that's how I recommend you begin your visit to Voyageurs.
And there are three visitor centers and one Ranger Station you can choose from:
- Rainy Lake Visitor Center, open year-round (218-286-5258)
- Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, open seasonally (218-875-2111)
- Ash River Visitor Center, open seasonally (218-374-3221)
- Crane Lake Ranger Station (218-993-2481)
The Lakes Of Voyageurs National Park
There are four major lakes in Voyageurs National Park -- Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Crane Lake, with Kabetogama Peninsula in the middle of it all, accessible only by water despite what the name (peninsula) implies.
Within Kabetogama Peninsula are many interior lakes, which you can get to by first taking a boat to the peninsula and then hiking one of the trails. At that point, you can use a rental Park Service canoe or rowboat to explore and camp.
Reservations for the interior lake boats can be made up to a week in advance by calling (218)286-5258 or (218)875-2111.
From mid-June to mid-August, there is a regularly scheduled Park shuttle to the Locator Lake trailhead on Kabetogama Peninsula, where you then hike 2 miles to the interior lake.
Rainy, Kabetogama and Crane Lakes have a number of resorts on their shores, with cabin rentals, camping and sometimes lodge rooms available. Within the Park, there's summer lodging at the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, managed by a private concessionaire.
For more information on the various lakes, here are some good websites:
Pronounced "Kab-e-TO-gama" (the TO is like "toe)
This is the lake my husband and I visited on our recent trip, where we spent our first night at Woodenfrog State Forest campground. The next morning, we rented a canoe from Arrowhead Lodge (see below) and paddled out to an island campsite.
After setting up our tent on Grassy Island South, which we'd have all to ourselves for the night, we paddled the rest of the way across the lake -- another 2.5 miles -- to Ellsworth Rock Gardens (below) for a picnic lunch.
On our paddle across Kabetogama, we passed a number of large rock islands covered with cormorants and white pelicans, and numerous loons paddling and diving nearby.
There are more than 200 islands of varying sizes on Kabetogama Lake.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens on Kabetogama Lake
A Destination in Voyageurs National Park
On our map of Kabetogama Lake, Steve and I saw "Ellsworth Rock Gardens" on the far shore and, not knowing what we'd find there, decided to paddle the three miles across and check it out. What a lovely place we found, and we enjoyed a picnic and a walk around the area.
From 1944 to 1965, a man named Jack Ellsworth created terraces on the 60-foot granite outcrop on what was then his vacation property. The terraces contained 32 varieties of flowers, including 13,000 lilies. The gardens, now being refurbished by the Park Service, are filled with stone and concrete sculptures.
I remember reading on the interpretive sign that Mr. Ellsworth said he made the gardens because he "just needed something to do." The sign mentioned 15,000 hours of work, and it's evident when you see all of the huge rocks and countless smaller stones Mr. Ellsworth had to move.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens is a beautifully groomed area, with a covered picnic pavilion and a large, grass lawn. While we were there, we were visited by a bold deer who's obviously used to getting handouts (though feeding wildlife is supposed to be prohibited). Still, it was lovely to get a long, close-up view of the beautiful animal (which we didn't feed).
The Ellsworth Rock Gardens are accessible only by water. You can take a water taxi if you'd like or one of the naturalist-guided boat tours that depart from the Kabetogama Lake visitor center throughout the summer.
Arrowhead Lodge on Kabetogama Lake
The perfect place to stay
Arrowhead Lodge is located right next to the boat ramp at Woodenfrog State Forest Campground, which is how we ended up wandering over there. We'd seen on the campground board that there were showers available at the lodge ($3 per person if you're not staying at the lodge, or $4 if you need a towel), and we were also interested in renting a canoe from them for an overnight trip (for which they charged us just $20). The lodge was so nice and the owners so friendly, we decided to stay there for a night after returning from our canoe-camping outing.
Built in the 1920s and early 30s and open year-round, Arrowhead Lodge is a beautiful, relaxing, family-owned and friendly place to spend some time, whether you rent a 1 to 4-bedroom cottage, stay in one of their cozy, upstairs rooms in the lodge, or use an RV space. You can sit and read or just relax by the lake, by the fireplace, on the lawn, a deck or dock, or at the rustic bar in the lodge. You can rent a motorboat, a canoe, a kayak or pontoon and do some fishing or just sightseeing and wildlife-watching on the water. Or maybe even take a guided tour with Captain Larry, who'll teach you about the history of the area, points of interest, lake lore and more, with tours being as long or as short as you'd like.
And there are activities for the kids as well, and they can earn their "Arrowhead Lodge Jr. Camper Badge" in the process. They can learn to read a compass, read a map, how to canoe and kayak and other wilderness "survival" activities with instructor and Eagle Scout, Dave McRoberts, who has a degree in Outdoor Education and has developed and instructed high angle ropes courses.
And you can eat your meals at the lodge, too, if you choose, with 1-, 2- and 3-meal plans available. Dinners include homemade soups, salad, a main course and a dessert. They'll pack a lunch for you, if you'd like, so you can spend the full day on the lake, or you can prepare your own meals on site, with refrigerators, gas stoves and bar-b-ques, microwaves, coffeemakers and toasters at your disposal.
Arrowhead Lodge can accommodate large groups for retreats, family reunions, business meetings and fishing groups, with a large work area great for quilters and scrapbookers. There's also a nice screened-in porch, so you can enjoy the fresh, summer lakeside air in the evening without the mosquitoes.
Like to read but forgot to bring a book? No worries, there are lots of them in the lodge for you to borrow, both fiction and non-fiction and a regional collection as well. There are loads of games you can borrow and play, a pool table and videos to watch on the large screen TV in the lodge.
For more information about Arrowhead Lodge, visit their website at ArrowheadLodgeResort.com
Voyageurs National Park Rules and Permits
You can pick up a Voyageurs National Park guide at any of the visitor centers with the following information and much more. You can also get a Camping, Houseboating, and Day Use Map which shows where the different types of campsites and day use sites are located throughout the park.
**There is no fee to enter Voyageurs National Park.**
- You can collect up to one gallon of berries for personal use, but otherwise can't collect anything from the park, including plants, animals, rocks, artifacts, historic objects, flowers or pine cones.
- You can collect dead wood that is no longer standing but not live trees or even dead trees that are still standing.
- No firearms are permitted. Also, no air spring powdered guns, archery equipment or fireworks. And hunting is not allowed in the park.
- Pets are allowed, but NOT on park trails or in the backcountry. Otherwise, they're allowed in developed areas, at campsites and picnic areas and on boats, but they do have to be leashed.
- Don't feed the wildlife.
- Bear-proof your food and other "smelly" items (ie. toothpaste, deoderant) in the bear lockers provided at campsites or by hanging properly.
- Check visitor centers and boat ramp bulletin boards for area that may be closed. (While we were there, some areas were closed due to eagle nesting.)
- Private float planes are allowed on the four major lakes--Rainy, Sand Point, Kabetogama, and Namakan--but are otherwise prohibited on all other waters within the park.
- You must have a Minnesota fishing license to fish in the park. These can be obtained at area businesses and at visitor centers. If you want to cross the border and fish on the Canadian side, you can call (807)274-3655 for regulations. The U.S. number is (218)283-0769.
- Visitors must not bring in firewood from unapproved vendors or from out of state. You can get firewood from an approved DNR vendor or collected according to the rules of Voyageurs National Park. For more information on firewood in Minnesota, go to DNR.state.MN.US.
- On interior lakes, only artificial fish bait is permitted. No privately-owed watercraft or float plane landings are allowed. There are canoes you can rent for $10 per day from the Park Service. Ask about reservations at one of the visitor centers.
CAMPING, HOUSEBOATING, and DAY USE:
- All campsites within the park are accessible only by water, so you need a boat. Car camping is available at private campgrounds and at Woodenfrog and Ash River state forest campgrounds.
- All park campsites are free, except for group sites, which are $35 per night.
- A free permit is required for all overnight stays in the park, but they aren't required for day use. You can get a permit at the park visitor centers and all park boat ramps.
- Fill out one permit per party--either an individual or a group--and display your copy on your tent, food locker, or houseboat, in case a ranger visits your site.
- Place the carbon copy of your completed permit in the appropriate box before you head out on the water.
- A permit is not a reservation for a campsite. Sites are on a first-come/first-served basis, EXCEPT for the Voyageurs Narrows handicapped accessible site and group sites, which require a reservation.
- Between May 15th and September 15th, overnight stays are limited to 14 days at a specific site and 30 days in a calendar year.
- Campsites shouldn't be left unattended overnight.
- Tent campers can't stay overnight at a houseboat site, or vice versa.
- You must use the tent pads provided at the campsites. Small sites have two pads, while larger tent sites have three or more.
- Group size limits at campsites are: 9 people at small sites, 18 people at large tent sites, 2 houseboats at the houseboat sites, and 30 people at group tent sites.
- Established campsites all have firegrates, bear-proof lockers, pit toilets and picnic tables.
- No camping is permitted at day use areas.
For group campsite reservations, call 877-444-6777 or go to Recreation.gov. To reserve the accessible site at Voyageurs Narrows, call 218-875-2111.
For information on the State Forest campgrounds, call 218-365-7229 or visit DNR.State.MN.US/state_forests.
A Guide For Canoeing And Kayaking - in Voyageurs National Park & the Boundary Waters
Want to do some paddling, for a day, a week or more? This guide can help you pick a route that suits your needs and the type of trip you're looking for, whether it be for fishing and relaxing in one place or more of a journey.
Other Things We Did on Our Trip to Northern Minnesota
Visit these pages for more information...
"While paddling close to shore in the Boundary Waters one evening, looking for wildlife as the setting sun created artwork on the surface of the still lake, my...."
"Each year on the first full weekend of August, National Park Service staff and hundreds of volunteers re-create a fun and very authentic Voyageur Rendezvous...."
"As my husband and I were driving along quiet Highway 169 on our way from the North Shore of Lake Superior to the town of Ely, Minnesota, we passed a sign that read...."
© 2009 Deb Kingsbury