March 01, 2022

Voyageurs National Park - and More Minnesota Adventures

This post is another installment in the series documenting our trip to the states of Minnesota and Michigan in the summer of 2015.  Our daughter, Kyra, was 16 and out of school on summer vacation, so she joined us on our two week whirlwind tour of the M&M states.

It wasn’t until I escaped from the work force almost six years ago that I made documenting our travels a priority.  Yes, I always took tons of photos and kept all of my planning documents, but with working, running a household, raising kids and supporting their extracurricular activities, taking the time to write about our adventures was never high on my list.  Over the past few years, I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y catching up.  Putting pen to paper after the fact stirs a couple of different emotions – chagrin (because I’m just so darned far behind) and pure pleasure (because reliving our adventures always generates a rush of delightful memories).

During this “M&M” trip, while still camped at our home base at Lake Bemidji State Park in Minnesota, Alan, Kyra and I took a day trip to Voyageurs National Park.  The Park consists of more than 218,000 acres of water and islands, and gorgeous views abound.  The best way to see Voyageurs is from the water, so we had booked a two hour boat tour out of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center in International Falls, Minnesota.  Rainy Lake marks the border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.  The lake is about 50 miles long with an average width of five miles.  It contains more than 500 islands.  Knowing there are more than 11,000 lakes in the state of Minnesota, I guess a large number of islands shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That's our tour boat - Voyageur - waiting to take us on our adventure!

For anyone who loves being on the water – and that includes this boating family – the tour provides excellent access to the Park.  FYI, the current price of the tour is $25 for adults and $15 for children.  Reservations are made through (link HERE).

Rainy Lake islands under the clouds

There is a long history of mining in Minnesota, and the Voyageurs boat tour includes a stop at Little American Island.  Gold was discovered on Rainy Lake in July of 1893; Little American Island was the only mine that actively produced ore.  Upon disembarking at the island, visitors can take a short walk (less than ¼ mile round trip) to see mine shafts, tailing piles and machinery that was abandoned long ago.

Despite touring under partly cloudy skies, we all enjoyed the excursion and the scenery. It certainly would have been fun to explore at leisure in our own power boat or kayaks, but the tour allowed us to sit back, relax and just absorb the eye candy offered up by Mother Nature for our viewing pleasure.  If we ever find ourselves back at Voyageurs National Park, I’d take that boat tour again in a heartbeat.

Following our visit to Voyageurs, we packed ourselves up and moved on to Bear Head Lake State Park.  I do want to include a shoutout to my family here.  I’m a fan of author William Kent Krueger who writes the Cork O’Connor series about a sheriff in northern Minnesota.  Because the series is set in the small town of Aurora, both Alan and Kyra indulged my urge to drive through the town.  It was a small thing, really – just like our stop in Northfield, Minnesota, days earlier to stand in front of the bank where the Jesse James/Cole Younger gang met its demise.  But those very opportunities to visit far-flung destinations that hold a personal meaning for us are what make travel so intriguing and memorable.

Our (very picky) preference is for wooded campsites that allow a view of what’s around and, in general, Minnesota seemed to be a bit brushier that the area of the northeast in which we live.  So, while our campsite at Bear Head Lake State Park was a good one, we did feel hemmed in and just a bit claustrophobic.  Additionally, we found the loop to be a little tight for maneuvering, and Alan actually helped a neighboring camper get his travel trailer out of his campsite.  (Alan was watching from our dinette window as the guy was digging himself in deeper and deeper with each back and forth move.  Finally, Alan couldn’t bear to watch any longer and walked over to, successfully, help him on his way.)  Although we did enjoy our stay at Bear Head Lake, I’d look for another camping option for any future trips to that area of Minnesota. 

Our campsite at Bear Head Lake State Park

The main reason we had chosen that State Park campground was its proximity to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota (link HERE).  The Center’s focus is on research and education, and we spent quite a bit of time at both the informative exhibits and the huge windows that looked out upon the wolf habitat.  Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources estimates there are approximately 2,700 wolves currently living in the state - well above the estimate of approximately 350 wolves in the 1960's.  A wolf pack's territory averages approximately 50 to 60 square miles in Minnesota, but that can be impacted by both the availability of prey and competition from other packs.  That's a lot of ground to cover!

It was our good fortune to visit the International Wolf Center on a day that included a presentation by a representative from the National Eagle Center which is about five hours away in Wabasha, Minnesota (link HERE).  Double the knowledge and experience for the price of a single admission!  As outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy spotting eagles on the lakes and rivers near our home, this really was a welcome bonus.

One beautiful blue-sky day, we rented a standup paddle board for Kyra at the State Park’s boat rental station.  Ms. I Never Met a Sport I Didn’t Like had been wanting to give paddle boarding a go, and this was the perfect opportunity.  While Alan and I explored the lake in our kayaks, Kyra enjoyed learning a new outdoor skill.  Bear Head Lake is absolutely gorgeous, and we all agreed that the outing was tons of fun.

Alan and Kyra taking a break from paddling

We finished up our visit to Ely with supper at the local Dairy Queen.  There’s nothing like seeing a Dairy Queen filled to the brim with local families, friends and travelers on a warm summer night.  It’s small town life at its best, and a huge serving of contentment accompanied our meal.  Certainly, I’ve celebrated momentous occasions and experienced great joys over the years, but there’s something about the simple, everyday pleasures of life that make me extraordinarily happy.

With our whirlwind visit to Minnesota winding down, we turned our attention to navigating around Lake Superior to our next destination – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Along the way, we couldn’t resist a stop at Betty’s Pies – a charming little restaurant in Two Harbors, Minnesota, with a reputation for selling the best pies around.  Who are we to argue?!

A fresh and tasty berry crumble pie - that Betty sure know how to make 'em!

Interested in visiting Voyageurs National Park?  Check out the National Park Service (NPS) website where you’ll find lots of information for planning your visit (link HERE).  In addition to water-based activities, there are two other Visitor Centers in addition to Rainy Lake, and plenty of hiking trails around the Park.  Voyageurs received less than 300,000 visitors in 2021, making it one of the least visited National Parks in the system.  Compare that figure to Yellowstone’s 4 million+ visitors or Great Smoky Mountains’ 14 million+ and you’ll realize that Voyageurs is an excellent choice for those who revel in both time spent in the great outdoors and their solitude.



  1. Hi Mary! Thanks for sharing another great adventure with us. When you make it out to the Pacific Northwest in the future, the San Juan islands would be worth a visit. The auto ferries take you through some breath taking vistas on the water. Thanks again! Russ

    1. Hi, Russ! We're familiar with the San Juan Islands, but haven't yet toured them - great suggestion to move up on the ol' bucket list. And we do love the ferries! I have a childhood friend who lives on Whidbey Island and one of my best memories EVER is the day of her wedding. The ceremony was on the mainland in Mukilteo; the reception was on Whidbey. Alan and I carpooled over to the mainland earlier in the day and the entire bridal party ended up as walk-ons on the ferry ride back. It was an absolutely gorgeous sunny summer day and we had SUCH a good time. I've loved those ferries ever since!

  2. Hi Mary, I think my comments must be disappearing into your junk mail. :-( Anyway, I just wanted to send another quick comment to tell you how much we would LOVE to visit Voyageurs National Park. You make it look so appealing! Unfortunately, we won't be going quite that far into Minnesota this summer. Well, it will just give us a reason to return. As you know, my list grows ever longer!

    And I agree with Russ. Since you love being on the water, you would adore the San Juan Islands. We spent eight summers hosting the interpretive programs on Lopez Island and explored all of the islands extensively. Definitely move it up on your bucket list! :-))

    1. Laurel, every once in a while, I run into the same problem with my comments disappearing on blogs that use Google's Blogger platform. I have no idea why that happens. I'm conscientious about watching for comments, and I did check my spam and trash folders and found nothing from you. So I'm pretty sure your prior comments are orbiting in cyberspace somewhere. Thanks for taking the time to try again!

      I really have to laugh about the whole bucket list concept because it seems like almost every single day I either read about or hear about another magical destination. It seems that our bucket list and our travel calendar will be full forever - and that's just fine with me!


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