About the Site
Voyageurs National Park  




Large Lakes

Rainy Lake

Kettle Falls Hotel

Kettle Falls Area

Visitor Centers

Rock Garden


Other Animals






Located in the wild country of northern Minnesota, and perched along the United States/Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park is one of the few parks in the national park system which is primarily oriented to water. Although there are thick forests and interesting landforms, it is the lakes and waterways which make the park especially noteworthy. A full third of the park is accounted for by lakes, ponds, channels, and other waterways.


Voyageurs is different than some of the most famous parks in the National Park system in that it does not feature world-renowned features such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley. But the land here is lovely and noteworthy in its own way, and it preserves a type of wilderness that is not really present in other park other than nearby Isle Royale in Lake Superior. But experiencing the treasures of this park requires some extra effort.

One of the striking things about the Voyageurs National Park is its wilderness nature. There are few roads in the park (less than 6 miles total!), and for the most part the visitor who wants to experience the park is going to have to get out of the car and into a canoe, motorboat, or other watercraft. There are trails and old "tote" or logging roads in the interior of the park, particularly on the Kabetogama Peninsula, but the main mode of visitation is surely on one of the many lakes in the park. The view familiar to most visitors to the park is the shoreline of the lake, and to the fortunate ones the view is from a watercraft skimming across the surface of a lake.

Voyageurs National Park features some 30 lakes and 900 islands in its 218,054 acres. It's a fairly large park, about 55 miles long, and sits on the US/Canada Border, which runs through some of the major lakes in the park.

The park offers a number of amenities for visitors, including several visitor centers, an historic hotel, and concessionaires who rent canoes, kayaks, and other kinds of boats, or provide excursions and tours on the lakes in the park.

Many of the country's most famous national parks are extremely popular, but this popularity can unfortunately compromise the experience for the visitor, since it is the natural beauty and not the sight of other tourists that draws most to the park. While many people visit Voyageurs, it not one of the most heavily visited of the national parks. The tranquility of the wilderness experience can certainly be enjoyed in this lovely park, as it is possible to get away from other folks very easy.


The area which encompasses Voyageurs National Park contains some of the oldest exposed rocks on the planet. These rocks, polished smooth by the action of glaciers, comprise granite bluffs and are visible on the shores of many lakes. Much of the bedrock in the park was laid down some 2.7 billion years ago.

The lakes themselves lie in basins which were originally scooped out by glaciers in the most recent ice age, some 11,000 years ago. Marks and scratches made by these glaciers can be seen on many of the rocks in the park. These glaciers carried much of the topsoil south toward the Great Plains. Only a thin veneer of soil remains, often only inches or feet in depth.

The earliest evidence of human habitation in the park dates back approximately 4500 years. These humans were probably descendants of the people who crossed the Bering Straight from Asia into North America. In later times the area was inhabited by the Dakota, or Sioux, people, and later the Ojibway, an Algonquin-speaking people who had migrated west from the St. Lawrence area of the northeast.

Of course, the park commemorates the presence of famous fur trading voyageurs. For about 50 years, these French-Canadian adventurers traveled the waters of the northern wilderness gathering beaver pelts.

Most of the voyageurs came originally from farms along the St Lawrence River near Montreal. Typically very short--about 5 feet 6 inches in height--because of the limited space in a canoe, they were extremely strong, a necessary quality for the almost superhuman paddling and portaging activities which were a normal part of their existence. They lived much like the Indians of the area, and got on well with them.

In the interior, 12 of these intrepid men paddled 26' birch bark canoes carrying as much as 3 tons of cargo as many as 15-18 hours a day. When portaging, the voyageur might carry 2 or 3 packs at a time, weighing a total of 180-300 pounds! They typically ate a diet of salt pork, dried peas, or corn. In addition to their incredible hard work and endurance, the voyageurs were known for the singing they did as they paddled across the waterways in the north woods.

After the disappearance of the fur trade, described in more detail in the section on the beaver, a different set of activities dominated the area of the park. Timber harvests began in the 1880's, originally consisting of white and Norway or red pine, then spruce. In the early 20th century about 100 million board feet of lumber were harvested on the Kabetogama Peninsula. This industry diminished after 1920 and stopped for the most part after 1929. In 1893 gold was discovered on Little America Island in Rainy Lake, and this lead to the establishment of Rainy Lake City. However, the gold mining period was very short, and while only about $5000 of gold was ever mined many prospectors were drawn by its attraction. In the late 1890's, commercial fishing became dominant, with whitefish and sturgeon (the largest of the lakes' fish) being the primary catches. At that time, sturgeon up to 6 feet in length and weighing 250 pounds could be caught in the lakes.

The idea that the lakes country of northern Minnesota ought to be preserved as a national park dates back approximately 100 years. Within 20 years or so of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first, the Minnesota State Legislature requested that the area be designated as a park. In the 1930's famed aviator Charles Lindbergh flew over the area in an airplane and also suggested the possibility of a national park in the area. At this time the National Park Service conducted studies to determine the possibility of creating a national park in the Kabetogama/Rainy Lake area. However, it was not until 1975 that the US Congress finally established Voyageurs National Park.


Voyageurs is a park of lakes, containing at least 30 named lakes within the borders of the park, covering more than 80,000 acres. Four of the lakes--Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand--are fairly substantial in size.


There are some 900 islands in the lakes within the borders of the park. Most have rocky shores and are heavily forested.

In the early 20th century dams were built at the outlets of Rainy and Namakan Lakes to control the levels of the lakes' surfaces. The picture below shows the entrance to the Kettle Falls Dam from the Namakan Lake side. The barriers prevent boats from colliding with the dam.

The rocks exposed along shores of the lakes contain some of the oldest rock on the planet.

- Next Page for Voyageurs National Park -

  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com