Voyageurs- the National Park of Waterways!

Missy and I had agreed to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 7:30 am to grab a quick breakfast and check-out so we could meet our guide in Cranes Lake first thing in the morning.  We were both so excited about our private guided tour that we were ready to go and on the road well before our meet-up time.

We had reserved a seat on a National Park Service (NPS) boat tour through Voyageur National Park several months ago, but due to historic flooding in the area recently, the NPS tours had all been canceled.  With over 500 islands and 655 miles of shoreline in this water-based park in Minnesota, Missy was determined that we would see it by watercraft, so she found us a guide for a boat tour.  She contacted Emily at Voyageurs Guide Service and gave her a general idea of what we were looking for.  Emily hit it out of the park!  For the next four plus hours, she guided us through about 80 miles of waterways, skirting the border with Canada, and showed us all the major lakes (Sand Point, Namakan, Kabetogama, and Rainy) as well as a few short hikes and historical sites. Throw in several eagle sightings, crystal clear water, and a relatively warm day and it turned out to be an extraordinary adventure! 

Emily, Missy, and me at a later stop during the day.

I’ll show our journey through the park via photos and captions.

Emily was kind enough to trace our boat path in pen on my Voyageur National Park map.  If you zoom in on the partial map photo, you can see where our journey started at Voyageurs Guide Service dock in Crane Lake at the bottom right.
Emily and her husband run Voyageurs Guide Service out of Cranes Lake, MN. They had just gotten all the repairs and cleaning done after the recent historic flooding in the area.
Our first stop was at Mukooda Lake, where we docked the boat and did a little hike.
Remnants of the Filben Cabin on the Mukooda Trail.  “Once called the St. Paul Club, the cabin was a popular hideout among Minnesota’s Prohibition (1920-33) era gangsters.  One Minnesota mobster that found privacy, and opportunity on these lakes was Thomas Filben.  Filben laundered all sorts of dirty cash through his slot empire and became a prominent banker to the underworld.”  -NPS website
Tasty blueberry snacks along the Mukooda Trail.  I have no idea what kind of mushrooms those are, so I only ate blueberries that weren’t touching them!
One side of the Namakan Narrows.  There are ancient pictographs on the light colored section of rocks.
Close-up of the ancient pictographs.  I enhanced the contrast in the photo to make the pictographs darker for easier viewing.
Emily securing the boat at Hoist Bay.  Having grown up in Louisiana and spent a significant amount of my formative years in its waterways, I’ve been around folks who are excellent boat handlers.  With that as my baseline, I can tell you that Captain Emily (yes, she has a Captain’s license!), can read the winds and water, dock and handle her boat as well as anyone I’ve ever ridden with in the bayou state.  Perhaps the fact that her house is only accessible by boat (and snowmobile in the winter) helps explain how she is so skilled and comfortable in this environment.  Such a bada$$!
Hoist Bay on Namakan Lake is a registered historic site for its long history in logging and recreation.  This site was once home to the Virginia and Rainy Lake Logging Camp #75, where logs that had been floated down river and winched across lakes in giant booms by amphibious boats called gators, would be hoisted out of the water and placed on empty train cars for transportation.  Camp #75 operated from 1913-25, but all that’s left of the operation now are a few pilings in the water where the railway once stood.  The camp saw new life as a resort between 1939-73 when Ted and Fern Monson built 14 buildings, including four cabins, as a lakeside getaway for vacationers.  The site is only accessible by boat. -NPS website
Back in the days before refrigerators, iceboxes ruled supreme!  With all these lakes freezing in the winter, enough to run snowmobiles now all the lakes, the Monson’s built this icehouse with an elaborate pulley system for cutting huge blocks of ice out of the frozen lake, then hoisting them up into the icehouse for storage over the summer. Half of the building was also used for fish-cleaning.
At the beginning of the year, I purchased a National Parks passport and have been getting stamps for each National Park unit at its visitors center.  The most unique way to get a stamp yet was by pulling up to the Voyageur National Park Ash River Visitor Center by boat!  Emily and Missy were good sports and allowed time for the visitor center stop on our tour for me.  I’m so bummed that I didn’t get a pic of the visitor center sign at the dock, so here’s a selfie of me and Missy riding in the boat 🙂
That rush of water in the lower right corner is water flowing from the Kettle Falls Dam. That’s Canada to the right and the U.S. to the left. Kettle Falls was a main artery of travel in this border region for Native peoples, voyageurs, prospectors, and adventurers for centuries.  The eight-foot drop between Namakan and Rainy Lakes created an important fishing area for Native peoples to spear sturgeon and a pinch-point for water transport, which eventually forced all travelers to portage or bypass.  This all changed once the falls were dammed in the 1910s. – NPS website
Standing on the platform at Kettle Falls, I am actually on the Kabetogama Peninsula of the U.S., looking south to Canada!
The Kettle Falls Hotel was built around the same time as the dam, circa 1910.  It catered to stonecutters and masons who built the dam, then later to lumberjacks, commercial fishermen, trappers, and traders, and is rumored to have provided a bit of scandalous “hospitality” in addition to its food and lodging in the early years.  It is now run as a hotel by the NPS, and is only accessible by boat. -NPS website

Voyageurs National Park exceeded all my expectations! I’ve always been drawn to water, but something about this place touched my soul. Being guided through the park by a seasoned professional, and experiencing it with two women who love the water as much as I do, made this an adventure I’ll never forget!  I really wish I wasn’t so sensitive to the cold, because I’d truly love to see this place in the fall when the leaves are changing colors and, dare I say it, when it’s completely frozen and becomes a winter wonderland!  We all know that ain’t gonna happen, but I’m sure it would be a sight to see 😉

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