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.
What few leaves are left in the northern tree canopy continue to splinter and tumble to the ground in early November. Fewer and fewer footsteps crush the vibrant colors and the ground starts to freeze, night after night. The pine and evergreen trees seem to stand a little taller and prouder, as their time to shine is around the corner. It’s cooler up here, but no less busy for the wildlife and sky.
With summer months being, by far, the busiest time of the year for travelers, backpackers, and sightseers in this neck of the woods, critters large and small continue to feverishly prepare for the coldest months ahead. For the sturdier stock of visitors, it may be colder, but there’s an abundance of activities to do and nature to see in one of the darkest months of the year. It just might take a little more preparation to be sure you’ve packed the right gear to stay safe and mapped out the trail appropriately for the season.
The Waiting Game
In the early morning, frost and thin ice coat the ground and forest. It glistens and sparkles before thawing in the mid-day sun. But it foreshadows what’s to come: a season of snow and ice. As the month goes on, travel becomes a little more dangerous and a little trickier.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR), ice needs to be at least 4” thick to travel across by foot. With some remote islands accessible only by boat, it’s all about the waiting game. Too far to travel by foot? You’ll need to wait even longer. MN DNR states very clearly that traveling by snowmobile or ATV on ice should only ever happen when the ice is at least 5” thick.
For the fishing fanatics, ice fishing is one of the best ways to pass the time when the days are short and evenings long. Don’t have gear? No problem. Various resorts offer fishing rod and ice house rentals, or can refer you to a guide. Once you’re on the lake, your present company and the sound of the wind and ice keep you company until the big one bites. Drop a line for walleye, crappie and northern pike, and sit back and enjoy the quiet and solitude on Rainy Lake.
Ever been on a popular ski trail and felt a little overwhelmed with the fast pace and the busyness of it all? You’re not alone. If you need a vacation from your vacation, try Voyageur National Park and take on the fresh powder by hitting the trail.
Snowshoeing isn’t just a past-time for many who live here; it’s a means to get from point A to point B when the snow is thick and the ice roads aren’t open yet. But for many, it’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of the engine-roaring roads. They strap in and head out in search of the familiar sound of the trees breathing deeply, the tracks from wildlife that remind you that you’re not alone, and the clean air that you’ll only get in the forest. You can borrow snowshoes at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.
Are you sold yet? Before you pack up the car and head to Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, it’s important to check the trail conditions. If you’re in the clear, make sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, a map, a compass, a flashlight with backup batteries, and a satellite phone (if you’re going off the trail this could come in handy in any emergency). The sun sets earlier and earlier, so each day becomes a little shorter than the one before. Don’t get caught in the dark with no way to see the path in front of you.
The Other Kind of Trail
Not all trails are meant to be traveled by foot. After a long day of snowshoeing, your legs might need some rest. With a complex trail system, you can travel practically anywhere by snowmobile within Voyageurs National Park in the winter. Head back to your favorite fishing spot or explore new areas of the park.
Worried about trail marking and conditions? Don’t be. There are clear markers for the trails in this region and they are well maintained. To check conditions in the park before you hit the trail, visit the National Park Service page for the most up-to-date report.
Similar to when you make plans to snowshoe, pack the essentials and be prepared for the frigid temps at night after the sun goes down. If you’re an early riser, head out on the trail and find a place to park, turn off the engine and look up to the skies to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. Less city light means more starlight which makes for near perfect conditions to look upward and revel in the beauty of the northern sky.
Now that we have you dreaming and longing for the solitude of the north, let us help you plan your next visit. Whether you’re in need of a writer’s retreat or an outdoor adventure, this place will give you exactly what you are looking for, you just need to ask.
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.