Location: International Falls, Minnesota
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Voyageurs National Park has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. For most of this time, the Paleo-Indian culture dominated moving into the area following the last glacial period. The Archaic Period (8,000 B.C.-100A.D.) saw nomadic Indians moving with the animals and ripening grains. The Woodland Period (100A.D.-900A.D.) saw increased use of the area and widespread harvesting of wild rice along the shores. European exploration began around 1688 when French explorer, Jacques de Noyon wintered along the Rainy River. However, it was the demand for beaver and other pelts that opened up the area to the Europeans. As competition to the east depleted the beaver, the traders and voyageurs expanded their range into the northwest territories. The Cree, Monsoni, and Assiniboine tribes were the first contacts in the region, however, by 1780, these tribes had abandoned the area leaving the Ojbwe to dominate. They filled key roles in providing food, furs, and canoes to the voyageurs who came each year to transport the furs back east to market. The voyageurs were essentially the “truck drivers” of the day providing transport for trade goods coming west and furs going east. The fur trade continued into the mid-1800s when a new commodity began to dominate, white pine. As the vast stands of white pine were cut out in Michigan, Wisconsin, and central Minnesota by the late 1880s and 1890s, the emphasis shifted to timber harvesting. The International Logging Company operated large sawmills at International Falls and the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company at Hoist Bay until 1937 and 1929, respectively. There was even a short lived gold rush that began in the summer of 1893 when a gold bearing quartz vein was discovered in Rainy Lake. The gold rush lasted for only 5 years with gold mines on a number of islands in the lake where the quartz vein was close to the surface. However, the low yielding quartz was soon abandoned. Fishing was also an industry in 1890s up until the early 1900s when seven fishing companies harvested lake sturgeon. By the 1930s the large commercial fishing businesses were gone, however, as many as 48 smaller family operations continued to operate harvesting white fish and walleye primarily to supply the many resorts in the area. When the park was established in 1975 there were still over 60 resorts around the park and 12 within the park. The park consists of 218,200 acres of which over 40% is water. The park encompasses all or part of four major lakes: Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake, as well as, numerous small lakes, ponds, rivers, and marshes. Activities include camping, fishing, boating, and hiking in the summer or snowmobiling and cross country skiing in the winter. The best way to see the park is by boat and the NPS offers boat tours out of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center just outside International Falls and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. There is a third Visitor Center at Ash River located in the historic Meadwood Lodge.
1) Voyageurs National Park is a huge natural area surrounding 4 major lakes along the border with Canada. It would be impossible to see all of the park in a single day, but you can get a great introduction to the park by taking one of the boat tours offered. We took the Life on the Lake Tour which is a 2.5 hour tour on Rainy Lake that stops at the Harry Overson Fish Camp and cruises by historic gold mine sites on the lake. We were treated with a view of a couple of bald eagles along the trip.
2) Following the boat tour we joined a nature walk with a ranger around their planted garden of typical plants and trees used by the Indians. It was very interesting, however, I would have enjoyed more information about the food and medicinal plants in the garden since the walk focused more on the trees and the building of shelters and canoes.
3) We also drove over to the Ash River Visitor Center to take advantage of some short walks to an active beaver pond, a nice overlook of Rainy Lake, and a forested walk through their forest restoration efforts.