This US National Park Is The Perfect Destination For Water Adventures

With its shimmering lakes, verdant forests, and star-studded skies, the Voyageurs National Park would be a dream destination for any outdoor lover. But for those partial to adventures of the aquatic variety, this place is in another league. Incredibly, almost 40% of the park is made up of water — from streams and rivers to the four large lakes, and much of this can be explored by canoe, kayak, or boat.

Before we get to that, though, it's worth diving briefly into the history of this breathtaking landscape. Located in northern Minnesota, on the Canadian border, these lands were first inhabited by Native American Indians almost 10,000 years ago. Since then, the park has been utilized by people living close to nature — initially adopting a nomadic lifestyle through foraging and fishing and, later, cultivating the native wild rice.

Today, this national park continues to attract those who feel an affinity with the natural world, though, surprisingly, it remains slightly under the radar. In 2022, only 221,434 people visited — which may sound like a lot until you compare that to the 6 million or so who visited Paris in summer 2023 alone. So, this vast wilderness is also a perfect place to enjoy the serenity of nature. But now, back to those watery adventures.

The best ways to see this water wonderland

Spanning some 218,000 acres, the Voyageurs National Park is covered by around 84,000 acres of water. Topping the H2O hitlist are the four major lakes — Kabetogama, Namakan, Rainy, and Sand Point — also home to many islands. Then there's the two dozen or so smaller interior lakes. Surrounding it all are lush forests, where southern boreal meets northern hardwood, but the water is the true star of the show.

As many waterways are interconnected, there is no better way to discover this unique landscape than by boat. A good way to start is by joining one of the guided cruises that depart from the park's three visitor centers, Ash River, Kabetogama Lake, and Rainy Lake, though booking beforehand is recommended. As well as providing a helpful introduction to the park, the tours offer a chance to discover the area's rich fauna and flora. The park is home to a wide range of animals, from beavers and bobcats to grey wolves and even the occasional moose or bear — making it a natural haven for wildlife,

For the more adventurous, however, there's nothing quite like setting off on your own boat voyage in the manner of "Swallows and Amazons." Whether you go for a canoe, a kayak, or a full-on houseboat, there are plenty of places to rent a vessel, but again, it's best to book in advance. Also, read the park's official boat safety information beforehand.

Other things to do in this natural paradise

Aside from boating, water lovers can also indulge their passion in many other ways. For instance, the clear, calm waters of the lakes are an idyllic temperature for a refreshing dip in the summer — though they freeze in the winter and often well into springtime. Other water-based activities include everything from birdwatching and otter-spotting to paddleboarding or simply strolling along the shoreline. Many people also come here for fishing.

When it comes to a place to stay, water babies really will be in their element. Firstly, there are the numerous campsites, many of which offer idyllic views over the lakes. Alternatively, perhaps renting a houseboat on the water appeals? For something a little bit different, the one hotel in the park, the historic Kettle Falls, built in 1913, can only be accessed by boat.

Beyond the water, the park offers idyllic hiking trails to suit all levels. There are a few surprises in store, too — including the Ellsworth Rock Gardens with their unusual abstract sculptures, the opportunity for cross-country skiing in the wintertime, and, if you're fortunate, you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights. So, there's plenty more to enjoy at this pristine paradise, one of the national parks that are free to visit all year round, but it might be hard to beat the adventures on the water.