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Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Randy and I set out from St. Louis on Friday, September 10th heading to Minnesota for a six day paddling trip. We ended up driving straight through to the outfitters stopping only for food. That gave us an extra day to see the area before jumping off into the wilds. We camped two nights at Voyageurs Adventures Outfitting. Wade and Nicole Watson are the proprietors and they are outgoing, friendly and knowledgeable about the area. Wade does guided fishing trips, rents Current Design kayaks, has a resort with cabins as well as some new campsites, and leads guided kayak trips. They offered sightseeing tips for our days excursion and directed us to various restaurants. We finalized our trip plans and got as much advice as we could about camp sites and things to see. If anyone ventures into the Voyageurs National Park I recommend them wholeheartedly.

Saturday we used to check out the Visitors Centers, Camp Wooden Frog State Park, local resorts and hiking trails. We opted not to paddle out to the Ash River Falls as we figured the next six days would be enough seat time in the kayaks. Besides, there has to be a reason to return. And there are plenty of them. This area could be visited many times and you wouldnt see the same things twice.

Sunday we embarked from Kabetogama Visitor Center ramp. Wade came down with us and helped with loading and launching and then took my truck back to his resort. We set out into a moderate breeze from the SE which was abeam for our crossing. Our first stop was to be the Ellsworth Rock Gardens. This is an interesting area that was constructed by a Chicago contractor over a period of about 20 years. He relaxed by setting up the stones in various configurations and planting flowers. It was too late in the year for flowers but the myriad stone configurations provided photo opportunities. We met up with a group of 4 kayakers as we were leaving and traded information for about 30 minutes. Our next stop was to be Gold Portage. This was a change in plans as we originally were going to stop before the portage and start our second day making that trek. Randy thought it would be better to get it out of the way on the first day especially after Wade told us of some new campsites on the other side. This is where we had our first difficulty with navigation. The scale of the charts is very misleading and there are islands that do not get marked as they must be too small. We did some backtracking and even asked directions and finally found the bay that led to the portage. The portage is a story in and of itself. We made it and found a campsite on the other side in Black Bay. It was a beautiful night spent campfire and star gazing. Sightings today consisted of otters, loons and eagles.

Monday we headed west and north on Black Bay towards Rainy Lake. Things got interesting quickly as the moderate breeze had changed direction and intensity. It wasnt long before we were surfing along in 2 to 3 following seas. I dont know how hard the wind was blowing but when we stopped at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center to replenish our water supply the attendant said that they were getting ready to issue gale warnings. We had planned to stop on Little American Island to view an old gold mine but tabled that idea as it would have meant crossing the narrow mouth of Black Bay with the wind and seas abeam. Once we turned east we were in the lee of the Kabetogama Peninsula and the paddling was much easier. We went by Bushy Head Island and saw the entrance to another old gold mine. More eagle sightings today, at least 8. The best one was a full spread view of a tree top landing at about 150 yards. There was just no way to get to the cameras fast enough. We also got a good look at some of the cabins that will eventually be torn down as the leases expire. The rest of this day was restful and we made camp at an established camp site. The one we selected during our planning was occupied, which is a possibility due to not being able to reserve campsites, but there was another one close by. It is also allowed to set up camp just about anywhere but more care must be taken with the campsite. Hanging of food is a must if not at an established site where bear lockers are standard equipment. There were no navigation difficulties today as we were getting accustomed to the scale of things. The wind today blew in some sprinkles during the night.

Tuesday we broke camp in a shower. Breakfast was dry but packing up was not. So far we have been consistent. We arise around 6 am, breakfast, clean up the area, pack the gear down to the boats and stow it all away and are on the water by 9 am. That pattern stayed about the same every day except two. Once out on the water and into the open space we had some more light following seas. We were close to shore for a good way but eventually broke out into some big open water and also turned south putting the seas abeam. We were lucky here because a large service boat had gone by and we could still see it in the distance. It was lined up on a day marker on shore. This was a good thing because we had not planned for any difficulty on this crossing beforehand which could have been a mistake. I dont think that our dead reckoning would have put us anywhere near that marker. Once past the marker the water calmed down and we relaxed some. Camp was going to be earlier today because of the distance and we were both looking forward to that. We provided a photo op for a houseboat full of people. Right in mid stroke my Branches paddle broke in two, Randy pulled along side and handed over my spare and stowed the damaged one. This must have looked like a practiced move to observers but we had never rehearsed. We got a scare from some forestry officials who looked us over hard but we escaped without having to show registration. We had planned to use a campsite right at the end of this channel but it became occupied just before we arrived. We ended up making our own at a temporary site that at least had a fire ring. This was our coolest night to date. The daily temps have been in the low 70s and nights in the 50s. Tonight required more clothes for the campfire TV.

Wednesday proved to be our most difficult day. During the night the wind picked up and turned our flat calm bay into a frothy brew. We both, at different times, were out in the dark moving boats up out of the surf. We awoke to strong winds from due east, our direction of travel for the day. We were quiet during the packing and launched into the surf trying to stay dry. At first it didnt seem to bad, maneuvering is easier with a head wind. Unfortunately, progress is slow. We managed about 4 miles in 3 plus hours before calling it quits. We had 12 miles to go to Kettle Falls Hotel and 8 of that was all due east. When it was time to pull in there was a nice sand beach right there. We unloaded the bare essentials, set up a tarp; I gathered firewood and Randy built a fire pit with heat reflector. Adding to the wind the rain started making things even more miserable. We intended to sit out the weather until about 3 PM hoping by then it would break. Instead we spent the night.

Thursday dawned still windy, however from a different direction. We breakfasted late and made slow work of breaking camp knowing that we didnt have much distance to traverse. We were amazed that nothing in camp had been disturbed during the night. We did not follow prescribed procedure and hang food. We even left two apples out on an old log. These were still there in the morning. Clothing was hung out on all available trees while everything else was packed. Our launch was around noon and, while it was into a head wind, it wasnt long before we were again surfing the following seas. Using a combination of charts and a GPS we almost made a perfect trip to Kettle Falls Hotel. Well, one minor miscalculation isnt all that bad. We lunched that day with a mink and a pair of squirrels on a Surveyors Island. One squirrel was hard at work laying in stores for the winter by gnawing pine cones off a tree. There were probably 40 lying about on the ground and our presence did not disturb its labors. Kettle Falls Hotel is very interesting and best told while viewing pictures. We had a very good dinner of walleye washed down with what seemed like the best beer in my recent memory. Due to our delay yesterday we almost were turned away but at the last minute a room became available. The folks that manage the hotel were very friendly and accommodating. I dont know which felt better the shower or the bed. We enjoyed a libation and called home to let everyone know that we were still among the living and turned in early.

Friday we had a hearty breakfast done in the finest Kettle Falls tradition. It was necessary as we now had to make up for the distance not traveled on Wednesday. The winds were to be calm and from our back all day. A stop at an old Mica Mine did not uncover any pieces large enough to bring back. There were lots more boats in this stretch. We saw several other groups of kayakers also. We lunched at the Ash River Visitor Center with a diminutive guest. A beggar chipmunk joined us so we shared crackers and laughed at the antics. There is a good story about a tube of peanut butter if I ever meet up with any readers. That is provided I can relate the happenings without falling over laughing. I had a very brief talk with some fellow boat builders we had seen pulling out before leaving. We had put in this morning at 8:30 AM planning to make our scheduled take out. The days total was 22 miles and we were off the water at 4:00 PM.

Wade had moved my truck down to the visitors center that day. He spotted us sometime before lunch out on the lake while leading a fishing trip and hailed us with the information. We loaded up, changed clothes and headed for points south. With one over night stop and a visit to Rutabaga in Madison we were back in St. Louis Saturday the 18th. Sunday was a day of rest.

Our total trip distance was 82.5 miles for a complete circumnavigation of the Kabetogama Peninsula. We spent 6 days on this trip. We had planned on 12 to 16 mile days but weather forced some changes. We were tired at the end but quite pleased with the trip.


We stayed with Voyageurs Adventures Outfitting before setting out. They took care of the vehicle while we were gone and provided information about the area we would traverse.


Randy was in a QCC 700 and I was in a Pygmy Coho.


Permits are required for camping but there is no charge.


I-39 north out of Rockford, IL to Duluth then take I-35 and US 53. The local streets are Gamma Rd. and Gappa Rd. Do a MapQuest search for Kabetogama, MN.


Randy researched this trip after a talk by Wade Watson at CanoeCopia. He got charts of the area to plot our route

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location