In my 18 years living full-time in Minnesota, and four years living part-time (while in college in Michigan), I never did make it to the one national park located in Minnesota. In fairness, it is about as far from the Twin Cities as possible. The only thing I really remember about this area is that it is famous for always having the coldest winter temperature in the continental US.
We had initially planned to camp, but there was weather forecasted. Yep, just “weather”, but that was enough for us. Plan B it was! We rented a cabin at a resort on Kabatogama Lake, about a 5 minute drive from the national park. It also had a beach, paddle boat and a water trampoline, so the boys were happy (until the “weather” happened, then I was happy we had walls and a roof!)
This National Park was a far cry from the last one we visited in terms of crowds. We went from one of the most visited National Parks (Yellowstone) to one of the least. The Kabetogama had 3 parking spots in front of the building, and we managed to get one of them!
Despite, or maybe because of, the lack in popularity and crowds, we had a really good time at this park! So much of a park is what you make of it, and I feel kind of bad about some of our least favorite National Parks, because I feel like we just didn’t really get to see and explore them enough to appreciate them. In the case of Voyageurs we felt like we really did see the park.
First of all, the visitor center has beads to make bracelets and necklaces and whatever else the boys could think of, and they had a blast doing that!
Voyageurs was named after the French-Canadians who traveled by canoe in the late 1700’s through the northwoods to transport beaver pelts between the Canadian interior and Montreal. The pelts were in high demand by Europeans, who had virtually wiped out all of the beavers in Europe, so had to look to the new world to meet their demands.
The visitor center offers a fun ranger program where the rangers (or should I say the “Voyageurs”) took visitors for a Voyageurs paddle, singing songs and keeping everyone on pace as they did back in the day of the Voyageurs (though they didn’t make the visitors portage the canoe and carry 2×90 lb bags on their backs while they did it!)
Poor N was too little for the canoe trip so he and I went back to the visitor center, where he dressed up like a Voyageur, and waited for the canoe to return from dropping off beaver pelts in Grand Portage (or just paddling around the cove).
After the Voyageur program, we headed to the Ash River visitor center, about 1/2 hour away, where we hiked part of the Blind Ash Bay trail. This was another place where the contrast from the busy parks of the West was really apparent. Despite this being a recommended hike, highlighted on the map of hiking trails provided by the park, it was deserted! At times, we barely knew we were on the trail, and felt alone in the boreal forest.
We didn’t do the whole 2.5 mile loop, but got a great taste of the woods, along with occasional views of the lake.
At the end of the hike is a short 1/4 mile or so walk to an overlook, which is more heavily traveled. When we got to this part of the trail, the boys decided to race back to the parking lot. As they came running down the trail, a boy around 12 years old was walking towards them. He took one look at them all running towards him and took off sprinting in the other direction. I’m sure he thought there was a bear or something chasing them!
On our last day at the park, we took a day-long guided boat ride to Kettle Falls Hotel and Dam (another dam tour!). It was pretty cool! We had a ranger on the boat with us (must have been the identical twin of the “Voyageur” on the prior day’s program 😉 ), and he talked us through the history of the park and the wildlife we may see.
Speaking of wildlife, we were lucky to have an “eagle-eye” sitting in front of us on the boat, and she was awesome at spotting bald eagles! We saw babies in nests (did you know bald eagle nests can be the size of a queen bed!?), and grown eagles sitting in trees. It was awesome! We probably saw more than a half dozen of them.
Once the boat arrived at Kettle Falls (an island reached only by boat, where there is a hotel and restaurant), we stopped for their lunch special – cream of wild rice soup and the “shore lunch” featuring walleye – a totally Northern MN meal! (for us adults anyway – the boys had a hamburger and fries 🙄 )
Before heading back on the tour boat, we went to see the dam that was created on the lake in the early 1900’s (and hence, the reason the hotel was built – to house the workers for the dam). Now the dam was nothing spectacular, but I do want to note a few interesting things about the picture below (besides the cute kid in the picture 😉 )
So – not a great picture of the dam (trust me – you aren’t missing anything), but special thing #1 – the trees you see behind A are actually in Canada! We were actually right on the Canadian border while on the tour boat (and according to my GPS – occasionally over the border – shh, don’t tell Canada!)
And Special thing #2 in the picture above is that the black rocks behind him are actually some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet. Over TWO BILLION years old. What!?! WOW, right!? Who knew that rock was sitting up in MN all this time? not me!
The rocks came from lava from volcanoes under an ocean that no longer exists. The bedrock was exposed about 200 million years ago (just yesterday in geological terms) when the glaciers expanded and retreated multiple times, scouring the lake basins.
This rock was created over 2 billion years BEFORE the dinosaurs. Before any living thing existed on the planet. It has been there for half of the Earth’s existence. It is very cool stuff.
Okay, enough of my excitement about the old rocks. After we visited the dam, we rode the boat back to the visitor center, spotting a few more eagles on the way, and the boys completed a Junior Ranger book and were sworn in by the ranger on the boat.
I think we definitely made the most of our time at Voyageurs National Park!