Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A (Very Full) Day at Voyageurs National Park

This (long) day couldn't have been anymore spectacular even if we had tried! We knew it was a gamble going to northern Minnesota at the end of October. It could be extremely cold, there could be snow, we risked not being able to have any time outdoors. Park Rapids was great for a very centralized location for our northern Minnesota adventure. We did one day at Itasca State Park and the next day, we did a day trip (about 2 1/2 hours away from Park Rapids) up to Voyageurs National Park (at the Canadian boarder).

The week before our trip, I paid attention to the weather predictions and decided that we HAD to go to Voyageurs. I noted that this was a great time of year for Northern Lights viewing and had hoped to add that into our trip, but that portion didn't work out due to cloudy skies. I couldn't stand the fact that we would be so close to a National Park and not take the time to visit, so it was pretty much a must. It was number three on our to do list for our getaway and wound up being our favorite thing about the road trip.

Due to rain in the morning, we left Park Rapids mid-morning so that we arrived at the Park early in the afternoon after the rain had stopped and before the next round moved in. Our drive to International Falls, MN was an easy, two lane highway drive, but lacked easy stopping spots for breaks (mostly for the kids). We did make a gas station stop in Big Falls, MN. The wonderful cashier working told us to stop at the Falls just down the street. We had a great walk around to stretch our legs and do a bit of rock climbing--something the minis love. 

We couldn't figure out why the water was brown. Not a dirty brown, the water was unexpectedly clear, but the water itself was just brown. Gross and weird.

The first thing we did when we arrived in International Falls (where the Park is located) was look at Canada. The minis have yet to visit another country and this is the closest that they've come. We'll be changing that soon enough, but they got a simple thrill of looking across a lake into Canada. From there we drove to Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

This is the only visitor center open this time of year in the National Park. We loved learning about the Park here and speaking with the park ranger, getting some good tips for our day trip, activities and things to do after dark, and more. I always recommend chatting with park rangers at any Park you visit. They're a plethora of knowledge and can give insider tips to make the most of your visit.

While this visitor center was great, all of the good hiking trails (and the ones we wanted) were near Ash River Visitor Center...another 45 minute drive from Rainy Lake. Had Ash River Visitor Center been opened, we probably would have skipped Rainy Lake altogether. However, at the recommendation of the park ranger, we did do one (partial) trail near Rainy Lake.

The amount of time it takes for a simple picture....

This trail began near the parking lot of Rainy Lake Visitor Center. As soon as we hit the trail we were instantly awed by the forest's beauty and the terrain of the trail (of all of the trails we did at the Park actually) was exactly how one would think of walking through a forest. We also took note of the friendly woodland creatures who followed us along the trail(s).

Elizabeth helped both boys (numerous times throughout our day) zip their coats.

I was not expecting to see as many wetlands as we did.

After this 3 mile trail, we drove out of (and around) the Park to the Ash River Visitor Center, where numerous hiking trails began. Unlike a lot of National Parks, there is no road that goes directly through the National Park, so we had to go out and around. It was an easy drive, but we were instantly aware that we were the ONLY visitors in this section of the park. At Rainy Lake we heard private (or at least I think they were private since all of the Park's charter boats and tours had been pulled in for the season) boats on the lake. When we got to Ash River there was no one. Our vehicle was the only one for miles and miles. 

Another zipping stop.

This spot instantly became our favorite. Ash River Visitor Center sat atop a cliff and had amazing views. We climbed down the cliff to the lakeshore and we were speechless. The waters in this moment were perfectly still, as were the trees and wildlife. The only sound you could hear were the five of us breathing or talking. I will be shocked if we ever have an experience like this again. No matter where we are, there's always other people around. At (almost) 35 years old, I completely understand what it means to be one with nature. Simply spectacular.

Incredibly clear water

The minis loved walking around this bend and then doing a steep cliff climb to the top.

Perfect forest trails that we were lucky enough to hike. 

Seriously, the ONLY CAR in the Park! It took us several miles driving on the highway before we saw another vehicle. In all of my life, I have never been the only human being out in nature. There's always been someone near enough to hear calls for help, a cell phone signal, etc. It was the five of us, deer, so many critters, wolves, bears, and moose. 

Our last hike of the day/night required the use of flashlights and headlamps to see the trail. Even then we had to carefully watch our steps on the rocky and bumpy terrain. Halfway through this trail is when the uneasy feelings set in for Hubs and myself. We didn't stay long after this. The minis had hoped to hear a wolf howl at the moon, but just hearing scampering of feet all around us made us not stay to hear one!

I honestly wouldn't mind coming back up to Voyageurs National Park sometime in the summer months so we can hike Kettle Falls and explore the lakes. I would also come up here this time of year again in a heartbeat to attempt to see the Northern Lights. No matter when we return, I doubt we will have an experience like we did on this trip. I will forever look back on this day of exploring with such unique fondness.

Thinking about checking out Voyageurs National Park? Here are a few important tips for your visit:

  • Decide on the time of year you'd like to visit. The NPS website gives some great info on things to do
  • Wear supportive and comfortable hiking shoes. If you plan to go during the summer months and plan on checking out some of the water activities, I highly recommend packing both a water shoe (such as Keens) and a good hiking boot for the trails
  • This park had some of my favorite hiking trails we've ever done. Check them out with the appropriate gear: supportive hiking back pack, changes of clothes, First Aid kit, plenty of water, flashlight, compass, and protein bars for a snack
  • Plan on quite a bit of driving, especially if you plan on heading to all of the Visitor Centers (where most trails begin). There's no direct route through the Park, which means you must go out and around
  • Bring a boat to explore on your own, or plan on visiting in the on-season to enjoy one of the park's tours of water and islands