Visitors: 238,313 in 2015.
Square miles: 340.
The basics: Voyageurs National Park, on Minnesota’s border with Canada, got its name from the French Canadian explorers whose historic trade route passes through the park. Four main lakes — Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point — make up 40 percent of the park, dotted with hundreds of islands. The wild and rugged Kabetogama Peninsula makes up most of the park’s land mass; it is studded with small lakes.
Details on visiting: Most visitors explore Voyageurs by kayak, canoe, motorboat or houseboat. Outfitters, guide services and houseboat companies help visitors explore. It is important to get a sense of the areas you would like to see in the park before you choose a company. I used Ebel’s Houseboats because its location on the Ash River allowed me to explore Kabetogama one day, Namakan the next. For contact information for all the lodging, boat rental and outfit options, go to the local accommodation and commercial services pages of the park newspaper, which you can download at nps.gov/voya.
The Rainy Lake Visitor Center, 11 miles east of International Falls, is open year-round. To the southeast, the Kabetogama Lake and Ash River visitor centers are open from late May to late September. The Rainy and Kabetogama locations offer ranger-led boat tours, including a canoe trip to see a beaver dam (Rainy) and cruises to sites such as the historic Kettle Falls Hotel (Kabetogama) and Little American Island, home to a mini gold rush (Rainy). Experiences paddling 26-foot voyageur-type canoes are offered at both. Fees are charged.
Park entry is free. There is a fee for camping, and specific campsites must be reserved; prices begin at $16 per night for a small campsite with no tent pad (recreation.gov; 1-877-444-6777). Beginning May 1, 2017, all houseboats staying overnight in the park will be required to have a reservation through recreation.gov for $10 per night. The park has many designated houseboat landing sites with fire rings; they will still be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
More information: nps.gov/voya; 1-218-283-6600. Another excellent resource is Voyageurs National Park Association. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1965, promoted the park’s creation and continues to protect and enhance the park through trail clearing, wetland restoration and other projects (voyageurs.org; 612-333-5424)