A Backpack-In Experience at Voyageurs National Park

The feeling of drifting across the dark waters of Voyageurs National Park is just short of unbelievable.

You pass a number of small, pine-covered islands, while birds soar overhead as you make your way deeper into the wilderness that makes up the border between the United States and Canada.

When we docked in the Lost Bay, a deer stopped drinking to see what was causing the waves. It didn’t seem to mind us at all and strode off into the woods shortly after.

At this point, we began realizing how far in the wild we were.

Here’s part two of planning your trip to Voyageurs National Park.

Know Your Route

I knew I wanted to camp. It was just finding out how.

What I came up with was a short, four-day backpacking route in the backcountry. I booked two campsites over the long weekend, with canoes, through recreation.gov. One site was on Ek Lake, and the other was off Cruiser Lake.

Reservations are required to camp within the park. Canoes are locked up near the campsites. There was a cost with the canoe rentals too. Personal watercrafts aren’t allowed in the backcountry to help prevent invasive species.

Looking at our itinerary, this is basically what our trip was made up of:

We were to get dropped off at the Lost Bay – a fairly ominous name for a drop-off point – and then hike to our first site. After staying our two nights, we hiked to the second site, about 3 miles away, and out again on the last day.

Map of Voyageurs National Park
Click to enlarge images.

All in all, it’s not bad as long as you’re prepared.

The day of our trip, however, I realized I failed to do a very important part of planning the trip to Voyageurs: book a water taxi. And to note, it’s not easy to book them last minute.

But, when I did manage to get a water taxi, it was a seamless transition into the park. The taxi ran about $160 total, in and out of the park.

Having a well-thought out plan helps, tremendously. In the months leading up to the day of departure, I thought about what I wanted to do, and how I was going to achieve that goal.

You could say I was just in the research phase of planning, but really, I couldn’t focus on anything else but the trip. Talking to proud Minnesotans about their experiences in the Boundary Waters area, you hear stories of adventure and deep wilderness.

It’s contagious. The stories are enough for anybody who likes the outdoors to move Voyageurs to the top of their list.

What to Bring

In late May, it’s not uncommon for cold weather to hit – and that includes snow. I tend to watch the weather more and more the closer I get to leaving for a trip, but to travel on the safe side, I recommend bringing a few core items.

The biggest items to pack:

  • Camp stove and fuel
  • Rain gear
  • Warm jacket

Rain gear can make a big difference. I swear, I checked the weather. Rain wasn’t mixed in. But, by the time we arrived at our campsite the first time, my boots, socks and the bottoms of my pants were soaked.

Hiking along with cold water running between your toes isn’t comfortable, not when the temperature seems to be dropping quickly. But, it’s not as bad as trying to start a fire with damp birch.

One of the most important items I wish I had during my stay was a camp stove.

Since the rain blanketed the area, I knew buying firewood was our best bet. The problem was hiking it in.

The trails are rated as being strenuous. That goes double when wet. Some campsites are more remote than others, and because of that, trail maintenance might not happen as frequently.

Carrying a large bundle of damp firewood with your already full pack can prove challenging, and a little frustrating.

Into the Park

We entered the park at the Ash River entrance. It’s about five hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul.

If you’re not familiar with the area, try leaving early and check the closing times for the visitor center. When I went, it closed at 5 p.m. We arrived late and were denied access to the park because of it.

Behind the Meadow Lodge at the Ash River entrance is a pier where the water taxi picks you up. If you can, have your gear ready to go and waiting on the dock.

Agnes Lake, Voyageurs National Park
Click to enlarge images.

A Backpack-in Experience

“Imagine walking through a forest mixed with golden colored tamarack or under a canopy of aspens and maples displaying an array of red, gold, and yellow leaves,” the park’s 2016 newspaper, The Rendezvous, reads. “Imagine seeing a fox scurrying by while hearing the call of a loon or the howl of a wolf. This is Voyageurs National Park.”

I remember the taxi driver handing me my pack while keeping his balance in the rocking boat. I set it down on the dock and minutes later he was a speck on the horizon.

Turning my back on the way in, I looked up at moss-covered stone, a dense forest and a new landscape.

The trails were very narrow with slippery, sometimes loose rocks protruding from the ground. Branches stretched over the path and the grass grew tall in many spots. Over boggy areas, the trails rose above the ground, turning into wooden boardwalks.

I can remember the dark waters on the overcast days, the rugged hiking trails, and a variety of other features native to the park. But, one of the most memorable pieces I took away from backpacking in Voyageurs National Park was how quiet it was, being miles away from cars, towns, cities, and even other people.

When you finally get into the park, it’s easier to realize how vastly remote it is.

When You Go

Voyageurs National Park can be the backcountry adventure you want it to be but in order to get there, remember to spend enough time planning your trip.

Part of that is figuring out where you want to go, what you want to do, and most of all, how to make that happen. Visit part one of planning your trip here.

Once you’re all set planning and booking your trip, it comes down to enjoying the wilderness for what it is.

After that, you have to plan your return trip, of course.

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