Think back to some of your most fond Christmas memories. Can you recall what you got for presents? It’s tough. But if asked to recall who you spent Christmas with and the fun activities you did together, well that’s usually a little easier. The best Christmas memories might include familiar flavors like that honey glazed ham your mom makes every year and familiar sounds like that song your brother sings around the soft light of the Christmas tree. Some of the best Christmas memories come from unplugging, disconnecting, and recharging. In the border waters, that’s the easy part.
Today, families are looking for more meaningful ways to connect beyond the harsh, cold electronic screens that occupy most of our precious time. Christmas is a great time to press pause, lift your head up from your phone, and take in the splendor of the beauty that surrounds you and the presence of the people you hold closest to your heart.
Now, we might be biased, but we think one of the best places to spend Christmas is up north. Can we let you in on a little secret? We’ve figured out a recipe to slow down time. Or at least our perception of it. And we’re sharing that recipe with you.
Step 1: Plan your trip and holiday meals. If food is an important part of your family’s tradition, plan to pack and bring along the ingredients you need to make those heirloom dishes. Check with your resort or lodge prior to booking to be sure they have the right equipment to prepare and cook your meals, too. Preparation will take the headache and stress out of cooking when you are there. If you’re planning to cook up your fresh catch of fish from your ice fishing venture, plan a backup meal in case the big one gets away.
Step 2: Make a list of activities for everyone in your party. If moving past gifts and onto more meaningful experiences is on your agenda, here are a few activities to include:
Step 3: Unplug. Turn off your phone and enjoy your surroundings and present company. Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give is your undivided attention. Plus, that is how memories are made. It’s the holiday season and it’s a time to reflect, honor, and cherish the gifts you’ve been given.
Fresh powder means something exciting up north: it’s sled time. As the first snowflakes touch the ground and start to accumulate, snowmobile covers are lifted, and fuel or gear runs eat up entire afternoons. After you’ve tuned up your sled, checked for fuel, and cleared away the dust, you’ll be anxious to hit the trails. When it’s time to dig out your snow pants, puffy winter coat, and thermal undergarments, we’ve got some tips to keep you safe, informed, and excited about hitting the trails.
Excited to get out and ride? With so many trails to choose from, the hardest part of your trip might be choosing which trail to ride first. Here is a map to help you plan your route.
Remember to have fun and be safe!
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.