How to See Voyageurs National Park Without a Houseboat

We assure you it's possible!

Heads up: Camping permits for Voyageurs National Park just opened. You can now book select dates through September 30, 2023, and starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, December 1, availability will be released through October 15, 2023.

Think you need to rent a houseboat to experience a park 40 percent covered in water? Think again. Minnevangelist co-founder Andrew Parks put together a handy Voyageurs-without-the-ride guide for Explore Minnesota and it’s packed with useful tips from park staff.

One of the big differences between Voyageurs and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) — its similar-in-spirit cousin that also hugs the Canadian border — is that you reserve campsites rather than claim them on a first-come, first-served basis. Or, as Rainy Lake ranger Erik Ditzler puts it, “You might paddle past five occupied campsites in the Boundary Waters before you find one. Here, you know which one you’re getting … [and] they’re all pretty spectacular.”

Ditzler’s campsite recommendations for less experienced paddlers include Stone’s Point, Tango Channel, and 1890s gold rush site Lyle Mine Island. For something more challenging, the Chain of Lakes trail is like a compact BWCAW experience with its backcountry campsites and strenuous self-guided paddle across the peninsula.

Andrew’s full story digs into ranger-led boat trips (the 2.5-hour Grand Tour, which stops at Little American Island and the Harry Oveson Fish Camp, offers a good overview), the best trails for foraging (Voyageurs is one of the only national parks that lets visitors pick up to one gallon of wild rice, blueberries, raspberries, and/or chokecherries), and advice for spotting the elusive Northern Lights in this certified Dark Sky preserve.

TL;DR: Winter boasts 13 to 14 hours of darkness, exponentially increasing your aurora odds. “I remember one night where they went off like crazy,” says Jesse Gates, the education specialist for Voyageurs Conservancy and leader of the park’s night-sky programming. “The colors were deep hues of yellow, orange, green, purple and red. From that point on, I was hooked.”