Let’s set the mood:
You’re on vacation at Rainy Lake with your family or loved ones, and the dinner table has just been cleared. The sun set an hour ago and the fire has kept everyone warm since the night chill set in. The stars twinkle and the moon seems to be hiding just on the edge of the horizon. Everyone sits back in their seats, drifting in and out of the inevitable sleep that is around the corner.
The story teller in the family continues to brag about the fish she caught in the lake earlier that afternoon and how just when she had it within reach and lifted her rod, the line snapped and the record-breaking fish sank back down into the green-blue water and twisted away, never to be seen again. She continues to talk about the murky water and points to the window before gasping and exclaiming, “It was just like that – green and blue water that swallowed up my fish!” Everyone races to the window and looks up to the skies, ablaze with colors and light. It’s the aurora borealis like you’ve never seen it before.
What Causes the Aurora Borealis?
Aurora borealis, or more commonly known as the Northern Lights, look like bright flowing ribbons in the sky. When electrically charged particles from the sun collide in the earth’s atmosphere, they create photons which display as ribbons of light across the night sky. While they can be seen year-round, the winter months bring prolonged darkness (especially farther north) and give everyone more time to catch a glimpse of their beauty at night.
What You Seek, You Might Find
Cooler winter months often bring silver-grey clouds, allowing for fewer chances to see the clear night sky. But with less light pollution from surrounding cities, your chances of spotting the Northern Lights on a clear night are increased. It’s all about timing.
How to Plan for the Northern Lights
Step 1: If the forecast calls for a clear night with little to no cloud coverage, you’re halfway there. September through March is prime time for Northern Lights viewing but weather doesn’t always allow it. So check the local weather app and proceed to step 2, if the sky is in the clear.
Step 2: Check any of the following apps for viewing predictions. Many factors beyond weather influence your chance at seeing the Northern Lights, including geomagnetic activity, location of the moon, and your exact location. To help you navigate your plan of action, there are apps that predict Northern Light activity and tell you when and where to go for your best chance at seeing the phenomenon. Here are a few popular apps available for iOS and Android:
Need help planning your trip up north? We can help you find accommodations and activities to fill your day with before you settle in and wait for the sky to set ablaze.
Up in these parts, deer opener is considered as sacred as any other holiday on the calendar. Offices clear out and school lockers sit empty as sons and daughters of every generation pack their gear and head out to fill their tags.
For many, the thrill of the hunt itself is as much a reward as the bounty harvested in the field. Whether sitting still as a statue in a treestand or walking tree rows in a well-choreographed stalk with a hunting party, these are where lifelong hunting memories start… and up here in the pristine wilderness of Northern Minnesota, memories are waiting to be made.
Koochiching County, situated on the Canadian border, is blessed with vast swaths of public land open for hunting and opportunities for big game hunters, as well as waterfowl and upland game. In fact, Koochiching County is one of the few places where you can find success hunting all three of Minnesota’s native grouse species. Sharp-tailed, ruffed, and spruce grouse all reside here, giving you the ultimate chance at success. Even in down years, hunters have found Kooch forests and fields buzzing with grouse activity.
The Minnesota wilderness surrounding Ranier and International Falls is a hunting ground like no other because it offers not just abundant wildlife, but a chance to encounter a serene and utterly breathtaking wilderness most Americans only glimpse on TV. It’s the stuff of poetry. Here, in the rich green forests of Koochiching County, you can commune with nature, fall into the rhythm of the natural world, and escape the distractions of modern life… if only for a moment.
While it’s rare to find an easy hunt, the challenge is usually only as demanding as you want it to be. If you want to bushwhack your way into the deep back country with a rifle slung over your shoulder to scout your trophy buck or search for the mature black bear worthy of a full mount, you’ll get your shot. If you’d rather climb into a treestand with your bow, hunker down, and enjoy a crisp, early winter sunrise while waiting for the right opening to present itself, you can do that, too.
Find the full list of Minnesota hunting season dates on the DNR website, then plan your trip north to create memories that will last a lifetime. You’ll go home with memories for sure, and likely a freezer’s worth of meat. And perhaps a trophy for your game room.
Voyageurs National Park, nestled just south of the Canadian border in the northern Minnesota wilderness, is renowned for its storybook-like old growth forests, seemingly endless miles of shoreline, and hundreds of islands dotting Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Namakan Lake… enough to give you the sense that when you’re there, you’re the only one there. It’s why nearly a quarter of a million of travelers set their compasses northwards each year to explore all the park has to offer.
Most of those visits, however, come in the warmer summer months for obvious reasons. Voyageurs provides world-class paddling opportunities, as well as unforgettable houseboat trips, fishing hot spots, and wildlife viewing you simply can’t find anywhere else. But once the sun begins to set earlier and earlier, the temps dip and fall crisps the air just enough to keep many would-be visitors away.
But for those who actually prefer to beat the heat of summer and embrace the changing seasons, Voyageurs rewards with rich colors, crystal clear waters, and a true sense of independence and freedom from the modern world as your chances of having to share the trail or the lookout drastically decline. Fall is the ideal time to visit if you’d prefer to skip the crowds. Simply pack a set of long underwear and your down puffer vest in case you need an extra layer or two and enjoy the park undisturbed, unrushed, and uninhibited.
Highlights of your fall visit will undoubtedly be the changing colors along the shorelines and hiking trails, along with perhaps more abundant wildlife no longer scared off by heavy foot traffic. The earlier sunsets also bode well for those seeking a glimpse of Northern Lights. Birds are migrating, deer are feeding, as are bear and moose in preparation for the coming winter freeze. Nature is of course why we come to Voyageurs, but there are a couple manmade wonders well worth your time, as well.
Kettle Falls & Kettle Falls Hotel
For generations, Kettle Falls provided a picturesque stopping point along a well-traveled route used by Native peoples, fur traders, prospectors, and paddlers. Around the time construction of the dams at Kettle Falls began in 1910, the Kettle Falls Hotel was also built. The stonecutters and masons who built the dams were early patrons of the hotel, followed by lumberjacks, commercial fishermen, trappers, and traders. When logging and commercial fishing declined, tourism became the major industry. Today, the historic red roofed hotel plays host to those seeking a tranquil escape, as it is only accessible by boat or by float (float plane, that is).
Ellsworth Rock Gardens
The Ellsworth Rock Gardens have been known as the “Showplace of Lake Kabetogama” since the 1940s. Over about a 20-year period, artist Jack Ellsworth relied on his skills as a carpenter and quite a bit of engineering creativity to build the complex. The Rock Garden features 62 terraced flower beds on the prominent outcrop, which Ellsworth filled with more than 13,000 lilies and other flower varieties. He also added more than 200 unique sculptures to complete his masterpiece.
If nothing else, coming to Voyageurs National Park in the fall is a perfect time to make final plans for your winter excursion to the wild north and all the park has to offer under a blanket of fresh white snow.