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Voyageurs National Park/USA

Introducing Voyageurs National Park

In the 17th century French Canadian fur traders, or voyageurs, began exploring the Great Lakes and northern rivers by canoe. Voyageurs National Park (www.nps.gov/voya) covers part of their customary waterway, which became the border between the USA and Canada.

It’s all about water up here. Most of the park is accessible only by hiking or motorboat (the waters are mostly too wide and too rough for canoeing, though kayaks are becoming popular). A few access roads lead to campgrounds and lodges on or near Lake Superior, but these are mostly used by people putting in their own boats.

The visitors centers are car-accessible and good places to begin your visit. Twelve miles east of International Falls on Hwy 11 is Rainy Lakevisitors center (218-286-5258; 9am-5pm Jun-Sep, closed Mon & Tue Oct-May), the main park office. Ranger-guided walks and boat tours are available here. Seasonal visitors centers are at Ash River (218-374-3221; 9am-5pm Jun-Sep) and Kabetogama Lake (218-875-2111; 9am-5pm Jun-Sep). These areas have outfitters, rentals and services, plus some smaller bays for canoeing.

A big ta-do up here is houseboating. Outfitters such as Ebel’s (888-883-2357; www.ebels.com; 10326 Ash River Trail, Orr) and Voyagaire Houseboats (800-882-6287; www.voyagaire.com; 7576 Gold Coast Rd, Crane Lake) can set you up. Rentals range from $250 to $530 per day, depending on boat size. Novice boaters are welcome and receive ­instruction on how to operate the vessels.

For sleeping, your choices are pretty much camping or resorts. The ­12-room, shared‑bathroom Kettle Falls Hotel (218-240-1724; www.kettlefallshotel.com; r incl breakfast from $50-70; May–mid-Oct) is an exception, located in the park’s midst and accessible only by boat; make arrangements with the owners for pick-up (per person round-trip $45). Nelson’s Resort (800-433-0743; www.nelsonsresort.com; 7632 Nelson Rd; cabins from $175) at Crane Lake is a winner for hiking, fishing and relaxing under blue skies.

Granted, this is a remote and wild area, but those seeking wildlife, canoeing and forest camping in all their glory are best off in the Boundary Waters.