Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
America's Water-Based Parkland
White Sands National MonumentThis would have to be my favorite park to visit that allows dogs to explore with you. If you want to stay the night, pay $3 for the backcountry camping pass. You will have to haul everything in and out, but it's so worth it. The quiet nights and sunrise are unlike anything I've ever experienced elsewhere. 960 1280
Yellowstone National ParkThis is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It was more incredible than I could have ever imagined. Over the years, I've visited several times and the best time to visit (in my opinion) is late August or early September. The kids and crowds thin out by then and the weather is gorgeous. 960 1280
Great Sand Dunes National Park and PreserveI went during the off season so I had the park to myself. If you want to bring a dog along, the off season (read: not summer) is best since the sand is cool to the touch and safe for paws. The views are simply amazing and if you want to hike to the top, you're in for a great workout. 960 1280
Lava Beds National MonumentMy second favorite national monument is mostly unknown. I stumbled upon it driving and instantly fell in love. There are so many caves to explore and because it's self guided, you can go at your own pace. Bring a headlamp and a flashlight and go as far inside of a cave as you feel comfortable. Feel daring? Turn off all your lights. 960 1280
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Strap on your sea legs and hop aboard the nearest watercraft. Voyageurs National Park is water-based, and some of her finest treasures will only be unlocked by boat. Named after the rugged voyageurs, French-Canadian men who moved animal pelts and trade goods between Montreal and the Canadian Northwest, the park is a tangled network of islands and coves that beg to be explored. The uniqueness of this park is its topography: bogs, beaver ponds, swamps, islands, at least 30 small lakes and 4 large lakes all surround various occasional landmasses.
Keep an eye open for the array of wildlife present in the park's waters and lands. It isn't unusual to see osprey, eagles, great blue herons or even loons and kingfish flying overhead. Beavers lurk in many of the park's ponds and help create ideal habitats for a variety of aquatic plants. The lands of the park are home to the eastern timber wolves, the only region in the United States where these wild creatures live. The waters of Voyageurs are chock-full of fish, and the park boasts some of the best walleye fishing in the nation.
Newcomers to the world of watercraft who aren't quite ready to give up the title of "passenger" for "boat captain" can rest easy knowing that plenty of guided boat tours are available, including sunset and wildlife-watching cruises. If the security of a boat tour still isn't good enough, hiking trails do exist. Cruiser Lake Trail enters the backcountry of the Kabetogama Peninsula where hikers encounter boreal forests, wild berries, beaver dams and ridges leading to incredible vistas of Rainy Lake and Peary Lake.
Voyageurs National Park consists of a series of 30 lakes that lie in the midst of glacier-carved rock basins. The park is located in what is known as the Canadian Shield, composed of rock formations created by layers of sediments. Over the past few millions of years, glaciers moved through the area at least four times, carving out the landscape of basins that later became filled with lakes, ponds, streams and forests.
Voyageurs is mainly a water-based park, and exploration is best done by watercraft that are available for rent at the Ash River, Crane Lake, International Falls and Lake Kabetogama gateway communities. Personal watercraft are always welcome. The waters of the park are said to have the best walleye and bass populations in the nation, and the lakes are extremely popular for anglers. Hiking trails are available and are accessible from the main visitor centers of Ash River and Rainy Lake, though most are accessible by water.
Nearby airports are International Falls or Hibbing, MN, airports.
Where to Stay
If the best way to see Voyageurs National Park is by boat, it only makes sense that the best place to lodge while visiting the park is on a houseboat! At Ebel's Voyageur Houseboats guests can rent boats that sleep up to 12 people. These deluxe houseboats have fully stocked kitchens (pots and pans, dishes, glassware and silverware) and guests can opt to buy a food package, or bring their own vittles from home. Each boat also features a swimslide certain to entertain kids and adults alike. Guests captain their own houseboats, though a staff member will begin the trip with you, explaining driving procedures and answering questions.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
The town of International Falls boasts a number of educational opportunities for learning about the history of the Voyageurs area. The Koochiching County Historical Museum features exhibits on the Gold Rush era, logging and homesteading. At the Grand Mound Interpretive Center, visitors are treated to the telling of the history of the Laurel Indians, a middle woodland people who lived in the upper Great Lakes latitudes from 200 B.C. to 800 A.D. Another popular attraction is the Boise Cascade Corporation Mill, home to the largest and fastest papermaking machine in the world.