The Most Comfortable Way to Explore: Family Houseboating on Rainy Lake
While sleeping under the stars or in a leaky tent may appeal to some, others prefer their nature experiences to include more creature comforts. Think full-size refrigerator vs. a half-dozen coolers full of melting ice, a bathroom with shower vs. open-air ranger pot, or a queen-size mattress vs. a musty sleeping bag. For these Rainy Lake visitors, houseboat vacations provide the opportunity to explore the area’s natural beauty without forgoing the comforts of home. With kitchens and bedrooms, open-air porches – even bathrooms and showers! – houseboats allow entire families to explore the lake and its endless miles of shoreline together.
There are two options for houseboating on Rainy Lake: Rainy Lake Houseboats and Northernaire Houseboats, both of which boast a full fleet of vessels in varying sizes that come with a host of amenities like screen porches and grills, and add-ons like slides and top-deck hot tubs. Like your own home, houseboats are accessible and comfortable for all ages. Kids love jumping off the back of the boat into the sparkling water, while grandparents enjoy drinking a cup of coffee in the morning while gazing at the expansive scenery.
A houseboat vacation offers something for everyone. Whether you spend the day fishing, swimming, playing on the beach, or hiking the trails, your boat is the home base everyone returns to for family meals, games and long-lasting memories. There are about 50 designated houseboat camping sites* located throughout Voyageurs National Park on Rainy Lake, and most include fire pits, bear lockers, and picnic tables, along with unparalleled immersion into the Boreal wilderness. Make a campfire to roast s’mores, then hop into cozy beds. Challenge family members to card games on the picnic table, then dash inside your houseboat in case of a rain shower. Spend the day in the sunshine knowing a cold beverage awaits in the refrigerator.
Whether your family vacation time falls in the spring-time or late-summer, choosing to take a houseboat trip is a sure way to ensure fun --- and comfort – for everyone.
*Permit reservations are required for houseboats within Voyageurs National Park May 1 – October 31 and can be obtained at recreation.gov. You can also find step-by-step instructions on how to make houseboat reservations online, or call 1-877-444-6777.
Not only a destination for four-season fun, Rainy Lake is also a great place for the entire family to enjoy. Here are our top family-friendly recommendations:
Voyageurs National Park
The only national park in Minnesota, Voyageurs is more than 40 percent water, which means you’ll want to bring your own boat, rent one, or take a boat tour to fully experience the park’s rocky shores, sand beaches, abundant wildlife and verdant landscape. Reconnect the entire family with nature by hiking the park’s miles of well-marked trails or spend a night (or two) at one of the many well-appointed campgrounds. The park visitor center also offers opportunities for learning, discovering and interacting. Beginning in June and running throughout the summer, it provides programs and excursions, including a boat tour to Kettle Falls, where you can place one foot in the United States and the other in Canada.
One of the park’s most popular and immersive features is the chance to glimpse the life of the fur traders who explored the area more than 250 years ago. The park’s visitor center features wildlife and historical displays, as well as a movie about the Voyageurs. Visitors can also go on a canoe trip that traces the intrepid explorers’ footsteps, complete with paddling in time to traditional songs. Make sure your camera is photo-ready when you get to the visitor center; the giant moose inside is a selfie waiting to happen.
Plan Your Rainy Lake Vacation
Smokey Bear Park
Another can’t-miss photo opp is the 26-foot tall statue of Smokey Bear and his two cubs, located adjacent to the International Falls City Square, at the corner of 3rd Street and 6th Avenue. The statue has been a community focal point since its arrival in 1954. Seasonally, he’s decked out with gigantic accessories such as hats and mittens in the winter and fishing vest and landing net in summer (To learn more about Smokey’s history, visit smokeybear.com). From International Falls, you can ride the Rainy Lake Bike Trail, which runs 12 miles from International Falls to Voyageurs National Park.
Ranier and City Beach
Smokey isn’t the only famous statue in the area. As you travel east from International Falls on Highway 11, the entrance to the community of Ranier is marked by Big Vic, a 25-foot tall Voyageur created by colorful local resident, Vic Davis, in protest to the creation of the national park in 1980. After posing with the imposing figure, head into Ranier to explore the port town’s parks, shops and restaurants. Grab an ice-cream cone at Tara’s Warf, then stroll to the end of the dock, where you can see the Canadian shores of Fort Frances. Don’t miss the easily-accessible Ranier beach, where you can play in the sand and perfect your cannon ball jump off the dock.
Another can’t-miss beach is located just outside Ranier. City Beach boasts a large sandy shore, roped off swim area, lifeguard, volleyball and basketball courts and more. The pavilion is perfect for picnics and can be reserved for larger groups and events.