When nightfall descends upon Voyageurs National Park – one of America’s best national parks for stargazing – an entirely new world comes alive. Nestled in Minnesota‘s far north, this treasured national park transforms into an awe-inspiring celestial theater under the dark skies. Far from the light pollution of urban sprawl, Voyageurs National Park is a sanctuary for stargazers, offering some of the clearest, most pristine skies in the country.
Picture yourself amidst the untouched wilderness of towering pines and crystal-clear waters, looking up at a sky embroidered with countless twinkling stars. Observe the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, its starry band casting a gentle glow over the landscape. If you’re fortunate and visit at the right time of the , you might even witness the ethereal dance of the Northern Lights, their shimmering colors painting the night sky in hues of green, purple, and red.
At Voyageurs, the nocturnal symphony of stars, galaxies, and possibly the aurora borealis, makes every night a unique celestial spectacle, ready to take your breath away. Embrace the quiet, connect with the cosmos, and let the majesty of the night skies in Voyageurs National Park remind you of our place in this vast, beautiful universe; here’s how to plan your own Voyageurs National Park stargazing trip this year or in the future.
In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
How to Get to Voyageurs National Park
The first thing you need to solve when planning your Voyageurs Stargazing trip is how to get there.
The easiest way is by car. Voyageurs National Park sits in Northern Minnesota, bordering Canada. It has three visitor centers: Rainy Lake, Kabetogama, and Ash River; all are accessible by car.
You can also fly and then rent a car. The closest major airport to Voyageurs National Park is Falls International Airport (INL) in International Falls. From there, you can rent a car to drive to the park. Alternatively, you can fly into Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) and then drive approximately 4 to 5 hours north to reach the park.
Your car will only take you so far, tough. As you may know, Voyageurs is water everywhere. The park comprises 500-plus islands, 655 miles of shoreline, and more than 218,000 acres of land and water. So, to fully enjoy the park, you have to leave the car behind and jump on a boat.
Where to Go Stargazing in Voyageurs National Park
If I’m being honest, any lakeshore or dock in the park with no nearby lights is a great place to view the stars. But, for the sake of simplicity, I’ve narrowed down the best places where you can go stargazing in Voyageurs National Park.
Voyageurs Forest Overlook
Voyageurs Forest Overlook is a 0.5-mile loop trail through the forest. It is located along the Kabetogama Peninsula and offers a panoramic view of the night sky. The overlook is famous for its remoteness and peaceful surroundings. If you don’t feel like doing the hike, the parking area offers great night sky views as well.
Kettle Falls Dam
First of all, don’t arrive expecting to see waterfalls here. Kettle Falls Dam is located on the western edge of the park and was built between 1910 and 1914. The area has a great heritage, having been part of the historical route of the fur traders. At night, it provides a wide-open view of the night sky.
Beaver Pond Overlook
Located near the Ash River Visitor Center, the Beaver Pond Overlook sits under some of the darkest skies in the park. The hike has some steep parts, but there is a handrail, and the view of the pond from up high is just breathtaking! Also, you’ll leave with a perspective of the impacts that beavers can have on even small streams and the effort it takes to maintain a dammed reservoir for the beavers.
Meadowood Road Day Use Area
Meadowood Road Day Use Area is located along the Ash River and provides a great setting for stargazing. Set on to explore the 13.4 miles of hiking trails to find a suitable spot for your stargazing sessions. There are no major light sources around, so it won’t be hard to find a good sport with clear views of the night sky.
Rainy Lake Visitor Center
The upper parking lot of Rainy Lake Visitor Center is a fantastic spot to see the stars. Although the visitor center itself may have some light, the surrounding area near Rainy Lake offers excellent stargazing opportunities. You can explore the lakeshore or find a secluded spot for an unobstructed view of the night sky.
Where to Stay Near Voyageurs National Park
Sorting out where to stay during your Voyageurs Stargazing trip requires a bit more planning than other parks. Since Voyageurs is a water-based National Park, there’s not that much “land” where you’ll find hotels and campgrounds.
Hotels near Voyageurs National Park
The only in-park available in the park is at Kettle Falls Hotel. It sits on the far eastern side of the Kabetogama Peninsula, approximately 15 miles from the nearest road, and is only accessible by water.
Instead of mentioning the hotels where you can stay, my best advice is that you take a look at the nearby towns, see the accommodation they offer, and book according to your needs.
- International Falls: This city is often considered the gateway to Voyageurs National Park and is located just outside its boundaries. International Falls offers a range of hotels and motels – AmericInn, Days Inn, and Super 8 are popular options. It’s the best option for those looking for easy access to the park.
- Orr: Located about 30 miles west of Voyageurs National Park, Orr is another popular option for accommodation. The town offers a few hotels and resorts, such as the Vermilion River Inn and the Aronson Boat Works Resort.
- Ash River: Situated on the eastern edge of Voyageurs National Park, Ash River is another convenient location to consider. The area has several lodges and resorts that cater to outdoor lovers, such as Ash-Ka-Nam Resort and Ash Trail Lodge. The best news is that from here you can easily access the park’s eastern entrance.
- Kabetogama: This small community lies just outside the park’s southern boundary and offers lodging options suitable for various budgets. Kabetogama Lake has several resorts and cabins, like the Voyageurs Sunrise Resort and Pine Tree Cove Resort.
Camping in Voyageurs National Park
Camping in Voyageurs is more complex than in other national parks. So, please, go to their website and read carefully all the information about permits, season availability, prices, etc. In this section, I’ll briefly detail the type of camping allowed in Voyageurs.
Here’s some essential information you need to know:
- All campsite types (except primitive) require a watercraft
- All camping types require a reservation/permit
- The park does not rent watercraft of any kind on the large lakes. If you do not have a watercraft, there are local businesses that offer water taxi services and a variety of boat rentals.
Here are the types of camping you can do at Voyageurs National Park:
- Frontcountry Camping: The park’s front-country campsites are located on the shores and islands of the park’s large lakes – Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane. They require traveling by watercraft from any mainland boat launch.
- Backcountry Camping: The park’s backcountry campsites are located on the interior lakes of the Kabetogama Peninsula. They require travel by water from any mainland boat launch to access the trailheads that lead to them.
- Primitive Camping: There are two primitive hike-in campsites located remotely along the Kab-Ash hiking trail, which extends between the gateway communities of Kabetogama and Ash River. These campsites are the park’s first to be accessible on the mainland of the park, meaning that they do not require a boat to access.
What to See & Do During the Day in Voyageurs National Park
Sure, your trip is all about the night sky. But there’s so much more to do than just stargazing in Voyageurs – at least when the sun is out! Below you’ll find the best activities to fill your itinerary.
- Explore the Waterways: As I said above, in Voyageurs there’s water everywhere. So it’s no surprise that one of the main highlights of the national park is its vast network of lakes, rivers, and interconnected waterways. Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Crane Lake are some of the most popular spots. Rent a boater kayak and spend the day paddling through picturesque bays, narrow channels, and gorgeous lakes.
- Take a Guided Boat Tour: If you prefer a guided experience, consider taking a boat tour. The park offers various guided tours that allow you to learn about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife from the park rangers. These tours often take you to scenic spots and provide unique perspectives of the park.
- Hiking and Nature Walks: Voyageurs National Park has several hiking trails and nature walks that allow you to explore the park’s terrestrial landscapes (yes, there are some). The Blind Ash Bay Trail, Locator Lake Trail, and Kab-Ash Trail are popular options. These trails offer opportunities to spot wildlife, enjoy beautiful vistas, and immerse yourself in the park’s serene atmosphere.
- Wildlife Viewing: Voyageurs National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, ospreys, loons, beavers, otters, and maybe even moose.
- Fishing: The park’s lakes are teeming with fish, making it a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Cast your line and try your luck at catching species like walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and crappie. Remember to familiarize yourself with the park’s fishing regulations and obtain the necessary permits.
- Picnicking and Relaxing: With its beautiful landscapes, Voyageurs National Park provides an ideal setting for a picnic. Bring along some food, find a scenic spot, and enjoy a relaxing meal surrounded by nature. Many picnic areas are available throughout the park, offering facilities such as tables, grills, and restrooms.
- Ranger Programs and Interpretive Centers: Check the park’s schedule for ranger-led programs, presentations, and activities. These educational opportunities can enhance your understanding of the park’s ecosystems, history, and conservation efforts. Additionally, visit the park’s interpretive centers, such as the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center and the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, to learn more about the park and its resources.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Voyageurs National Park
Just in case you still have a few more questions about your Voyageurs Stargazing trip, here’s a FAQ section to clear all your doubts.
When is the best time to go stargazing in Voyageurs?
The best time to go stargazing in Voyageurs National Park is during the late spring, summer, and early fall months when the weather is generally clear and the nights are darker. To be more specific, the period between May and September is ideal to plan your Voyageurs national park stargazing adventure, as the nights are longer and the weather is usually warmer and more predictable.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Voyageurs? When?
Of course! You can see the Milky Way while stargazing in Voyageurs National Park. The park’s remote location and low light pollution make it a perfect place for observing the Milky Way. The best time to see the Milky Way in Voyageurs National Park is during the late spring, summer, and early fall months, typically from May to September.
Can you see the northern lights in Voyageurs?
You bet you can! Thanks to its latitude, Voyageurs is one of the few American parks where you can enjoy the Northern Lights.
Is Voyageurs National Park open at night?
Yes, Voyageurs is open 24 hours a day year-round. Make sure you check out the park’s visitor center’s opening hours, as they change depending on the season.
Are there guided night tours in Voyageurs?
Yes, Voyagers offers fantastic ranger-led night tours during the summer months for anyone interested in the night sky.
Is there a dark sky festival in Voyageurs?
Yes, Voyageurs organizes an annual Star Party. In fact, 2023 will be the third edition! The star party will take place on August 10-12, 2023.
Have any other questions about planning your own Voyageurs National Park stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments below!