National Park Number: 22 of 59
We arrived at Voyageurs National Park with little idea of what to expect: we hadn’t heard a lot about this park and most of our preparation was in outfitting ourselves with a boat (an inflatable canoe we got a killer deal on in Billings, MT on our way east from Yellowstone.) We made our first stop at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center to get the lay of the land and learn a little history of the park.
The area that makes up Voyageurs once served as a water highway for a trade route that connected Northern Canada with the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic to the East. These interconnected lakes were also a hotspot for fur trappers, booming with beavers whose pelts were known as “soft gold.”
That’s recent history, but Voyageurs is also home to some of the most ancient history visible on the planet. The park lies on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, a huge dome of volcanic bedrock formed during the birth of North America. These rocks are half the age of the Earth, some of the oldest rocks in the world,
The park is also home to one of the southernmost parts of the northern boreal forest, and while we were there, autumn colors were just beginning to creep into the leaves. We got a taste of forest on a bike ride around the visitor center area, then hopped onto an NPS boat for a ranger-led tour of Rainy Lake.
Our first stop on the tour was at Little American Island, where prospectors briefly ran a gold mine in the 1890s. A small civilization sprung up to support the operation, and though the mine proved unproductive, many new residents stayed and their descendants still form the core of the population in the area.
Back on the boat, we cruised around the lake spotting beaver lodges along the shoreline and bald eagle nests in the treetops, learning about how eagles were once so prevalent they were considered vermin and shot on sight. The use of DDT and its effect on reproduction brought the birds near extinction, but in more recent years, the park has been able to support renewed population growth and the eagles are thriving. In 1975, there were six mating pairs in the park that produced one fledgling; in 2015, there were 42 mating pairs that produced 39 fledglings.
When we got back from our ranger tour, we took our own little kayak out on the water for its maiden paddle. Because its inflatable, its tough to get the boat tracking without a current, and having all four of us in one boat means paddling takes some serious muscles. But we had a blast navigating around the bay, exploring the reeds of wild rice and watching eagles from the water.
The next day, we set off for Kabetogama Lake for a more extended paddle. We spent the day paddling around the tiny islands, stopping to sun ourselves, dry off and have a picnic on some of the rocks. We found a bald eagle nest with two brown fledglings hanging around and watched the birds swoop and dive.
After we returned from our jaunt in the kayak, we packed up and watched the sun set from the dock. We couldn't move fast here, or pack in activities; all we wanted to do was sit and watch the waves, and that's mostly what we did. It was peaceful, restorative, and exactly what we needed as we're starting to slow down our trip after a jam-packed summer. We loved every minute.