Rainy Lake and Rainy River offer a host of activities for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year, from fishing and boating to snowmobiling and skiing. The following are some basic – and more obscure – facts about Rainy Lake and the surrounding area.
Rainy Lake is home to Minnesota’s only National Park, Voyageurs, which was established in 1975.
Rainy Lake is a remnant of Lake Agassiz, which was formed as the glaciers retreated north during the last ice age 50,000 to 10,000 years ago.
If International Falls sounds familiar it’s most likely because of a national weather reports referring to the city as “The Icebox of the Nation.”
Impress your friends with these lesser-known facts:
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While fishing, boating and other water activities are often the main attraction on Rainy Lake, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the area by bike. A 12-mile paved trail runs adjacent to Highway 11 from International Falls to the Voyageurs National Park Visitors Center and offers diversions such as ice cream stops, wildlife viewing and even a dip in the lake!
The trail is located just east of the Convention and Visitors Bureau office (301 2nd Avenue), roughly where highway 53 meets highway 11/71 in downtown International Falls. You can park there to begin your eastward journey. This area of the trail features river views on your left, which overlook the community of Fort Frances, Ontario. Note the paper mill at the falls, as well as the wood chips and logs that are piled along the highway before being sent to the mill. Make a stop at the Voyageurs National Park Headquarters (360 Highway 11), where you can enjoy the river views.
Approximately 3 miles west of International Falls is the community of Ranier, marked by a 25-foot statue affectionately known as “Big Vic.” Plan to take time for a detour here. Ranier is a charming village with restaurants, a bar and brewery, as well as an ice cream shop. Chances are good you will see a train, as the Canadian National Railway border crossing in Ranier sees the most railroad cars of any crossing between the U.S. and Canada. This is also where the Rainy Lake flows into the Rainy River, which you can see from the Spruce Street dock. From here, you can either head back to the highway, or bike along County Road 20, which wends through a residential area and past City Beach, where you can cool off with a swim or enjoy a picnic.
Here the bike trail merges with highway 11 for a few miles, while the landscape begins to change. You’ll see some of the only farmland – watch for cranes, geese and deer – as well as an unobstructed view of Rainy Lake at the Jackfish Bay Wayside Park. The trail then turns left at County Road 103 to become enveloped in the wooded landscape.
This part of the trail crosses Tilson Bay, where you can see wild rice growing in the wetlands on the right and Rainy Lake to the left. Stop here to rest on the dock or get in some cross training with a trek on the hiking trail.
Here the trail is on the shoulder of Highway 11, which challenges bikers with a long, gradual uphill climb before again turning to the left and into the woods. Gradual hills make for a fun, not-too-hard ride, while grouse are known to peak out from the underbrush. At the end of the trail, cross Highway 11 to the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, a wide, paved path that welcomes runners, walkers and bicyclists. Leading to the entrance of Rainy Lake Visitor Center the 1.75-miles include benches for taking a breather while taking in the views of Rainy Lake.
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.