Today was a day for exploration.
With such great progress yesterday, we only had a short drive left to the park – just about 30 minutes till we were at Voyageurs National Park. (On the way, we even saw a few moose in a field along the road!)
This park forms much of the border between Minnesota and Canada, and is dedicated to the French-Canadian “voyageurs” who traveled these waters, trading furs and other goods from the Canadian Northwest. (It is not, much to Ally’s dismay, about Moana and her type of “voyagers.”)
What’s pretty incredible about this park is that nearly 30% of it is water — and more than 80% of is only accessible by boat. They have no “drive to” campsites in the park. If you want to camp, you have to rent a boat (power, canoe, kayak) and make your way to any one of the more than 130 campsites out along the waterways.
Because of the weird park setup, we decided to just visit each of the three Visitor’s Centers and explore those areas. First up, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center for a North Canoe Voyage. “This is a ranger-led excursion on board a 26-foot birch canoe where we explored the life a voyageur, learned a voyageur paddle salute, and paddled for about an hour.”
Holy. Moly. This was wild.
The immersive experience began with “Pierre” and “Louise” coming out – in full character, complete with Hudson’s Bay Company flag – to recruit new members for their next voyageur mission. We were all assigned personas, with Ally being Florus and Patrick becoming François.
We went outside, got more “voyageur” instruction, and then we suited up.
All decked out, we hit the water. The ten-person boat took us around Rainy Lake – well, we took ourselves around Rainy Lake. (Unlike a kayak, or even a normal canoe, there was no opportunity to switch the sides of our paddling so it became an intense one-sided workout.) During our time on the water, we learned a “voyageur salute” — a synchronized banging of the paddles and choreographed chant — that made us look absolutely bonkers to the other, uninitiated folks out on the water who had no clue we were part of a guided tour. Hahaha! After about an hour out on the water, we headed back to land. [Fun Side Discovery: Other adventurers on our boat were from Branford, CT!]
After that adventure, we drove to Woodenfrog Campground – a state park that is just outside the National Park – to secure ourselves a spot. We were extremely lucky to have our pick of the litter and, of course, selected only the best, waterfront site!
With camp set up, we turned our attention to hydration and hunger. We decided to pair chicken patty sandwiches with pickles and margaritas. Mmhmm!
We then set out to the check out the other two Visitor’s Centers, and took a few “hikes” along the way. One was to an overlook that ultimately didn’t exist – or, at least, didn’t have any views.
Then, we drove another half-mile and discovered a path to a beaver pond. The previous trek into the woods resulted in hordes of mosquitos, so we took care to bathe ourselves in bug spray before heading back in.
The short hike was nice and revealed more of a beaver lake than a beaver pond – it was quite large!
Back at the truck, Ally finally dislodged her road kill from days before (the bird) and proceeded to play with it for a bit.
Finally, we arrived at the Ash River Visitor’s Center – the only “rustic” visitor’s center in the park (an old fishing lodge that was repurposed back in the 1960s when the park was created).
It was here we were able to find a “normal” park welcome sign – on the water, of course.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a relaxing evening on the lake. Uke in the hammock, burgers on the grill, and a fire under the stars.
We fell asleep to the sound of the lake lapping the shoreline – as well as clear sounds of coyotes off in the distance (hopefully). Tomorrow, we’ll make our way to Iowa.
Littlefork, MN to Kabetogama, MN (via Rainy Lake, Kabetogama, and Ash River Visitor’s Centers) – 110 miles (2.5 hours)
-Ally and Patrick