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.