Sunday, November 4, 2018

Why Heading To A National Park During The "Off Season" Is Perfect

We just returned from a quick weekend getaway to Voyageur's National Park in northern Minnesota. It was raining, a bit chilly at 42 degrees, snow is not uncommon this time of year, although we were lucky enough to not have any while we were there, and all of the charter boats heading across the lake have been pulled in for the season. Only one of the three visitors centers was open. The trails were a bit slippery due to wet leaves from all of the rain.

It sounds incredibly unappealing. But I assure you, it was one of our best visits to a National Park yet.

We didn't once have to deal with the crowds that we faced in Yellowstone. We didn't have to deal with parking issues as we did in the Smoky Mountains. It was us and us alone. There was an overwhelming rush of amazement as we stood on the edge of a cliff overlooking a lake, realizing there was no one else around. There was also the rush of fear when I realized we could be eaten by a bear or wolf and no one would know for quite awhile.

We could hear every bird that chirped, the rustling of the trees in the wind, the deer hooves as they walked near us. When we stood along the lake shore, we could hear the ripples of the water as it came ashore. The silence around us was deafening, yet surreal. If there had been anyone else in this portion of the Park, we wouldn't have had this experience.

Speaking of deer, let's talk about the Snow White-like woodland creatures. Chipmunks ran up to us in search of food (they were smart too--heading right for the kids each time), squirrels ran in and out of our feet, chattering at us as we talked the trails, deer paid no attention to us as we walked next to them. I wouldn't have been surprised if a butterfly came and landed on us in that moment. As we hiked along a trail at dusk, with only our flashlights leading the way, the fear rushed in when my husband and I simultaneously thought, "if the cute, furry little creatures are this friendly and have no issues coming up to us, how are the bears and wolves (that call the Park home) like?"

Despite our thorough direction from a Park Ranger about what the Park had to offer after dark, we chose to leave after our last hike at dusk. There was no chance of Northern Lights, as it was not a clear night that late fall night and a few of us (that means all five of us), were growing a bit uneasy at being the only people around.

Missing the Northern Lights was the only disappointing part of our trip (and not even a reason we came to the Park). Even that didn't matter at the end of the day. Our perfect day was exhilarating and humbling as we looked out over perfectly still waters, realizing how big and small the world is all at the same time. I could chose to focus on all of the things we didn't get to do at the Park because it was the off season: go to the other islands, hear a wolf howl (on the kid's bucket lists), dip our toes in the water, camping, star gazing, a stop in all of the visitors centers.....but our trip to Voyageurs was so much better than all of this.

Imagine being the only human being for miles and miles. No electricity, limited cell phone service, the nearest town/city being an hour away. I can't tell you the empowering feeling one gets while being one with nature. I'm fully aware not everyone gets the opportunity to be the only humans in a National Park, but going during the off season is the best place to start for a truly unique travel experience.

 Every time we hiked a new trail (that often required us to drive to a new parking area), we were greeted with an empty lot besides our car. It became the running joke of our trip to Voyageurs.

I can assure everyone, had we visited Voyageurs National Park in it's busy season, our experience would have been completely different. As soon as we left, I began looking at other National Parks we should visit during the off season thanks to our unique experience.