We loved being on the water in Voyageurs National Park and had a great time exploring the area. Take a look at our highlight video for some ideas of what to do in the park.
We put in our canoe on Kabetogama Lake from Ash River around 5pm, not an ideal time to begin a back-country journey, but the sun doesn’t set in northern Minnesota in early August until around 9pm, so we still had about four hours of daylight…enough to find a campsite.
We followed the bouys along the main channel to Namakan Lake and relished that our late start allowed us to catch the beginning of a beautiful sunset. Of the few designated campsites we came across, all were either occupied by motorboats or closed due to nesting of eagles. In Voyageurs, you’re allowed to camp outside of established campsites, and after another half hour of paddling, we found a nice spot situated on Kubel Island. It was clear that others had camped in the area before, as someone had set up a makeshift fire ring. We got to work immediately on pitching the tent and getting dinner ready before the sun set entirely. By this time, we had settled nicely into a camp routine. Usually I would set up the tent while Ben would fire up the stove and begin cooking. I’d join him just in time to do a little chopping, but my main duty was to compliment him on his fine culinary skills as I shoveled food into my mouth. After dinner we would heat up water for tea and dishwashing, and I’d tackle the pots and plates while Ben kept got ready for bed, or cracked jokes to keep me company, or on this night, he set up the tripod to take pictures of the Milky Way, which was shining brighter than we’d seen it on the entire trip.
Next morning, we awoke to a headwind, which meant a slow-going paddle to our day-trip destination: the historic Kettle Falls Hotel. We’d heard from Jerry at The Fisherman, that the hotel bar floor had warped so drastically over time that it seemed like you’d had one-too-many even before you had a chance to place your order with the bartender. Plus, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places for its contribution to regional history, so we had to check it out.
By the time we arrived, we had worked up a healthy thirst and appetite. The bar was just as described, charmingly off kilter, but we opted to take our drinks out on the porch, where we treated ourselves to fried cheese curds and cauliflower and a bowl of the creamy wild rice soup, all of which we highly recommend.
On our short walk to the Kettle Falls dam, we came across a hotel employee who asked us if we remembered the old Hamm’s beer commercials. Sure, we said (“…from the land of sky blue waters…”), but why? He wouldn’t tell us exactly, but cryptically said that when we got to the dam, we’d recognize something from the commercial. Maybe it was the killer mosquitoes that had just hatched, or the fact that we had a long paddle ahead and were ready to get back on the water, but neither of us knew what the heck we were supposed to see, and after a few pictures, we left. So, if you know something about the Hamm’s commercial and can clue us in, please leave a comment!
That night we camped in an unofficial spot on Strawberry Island. The mosquitoes were so thick that we donned long sleeves, pants, and headnets for protection. It was the first time on the trip that Ben admitted the mosquitoes were particularly annoying (his tolerance was much higher than mine), and we hid out in the tent to eat dinner.
On our paddle back to Ash River the next morning, we saw two river otters playing in the lake and saw a handful of bald eagles, one of which carried a fish in its talons.
We enjoyed our time in Voyageurs and would like to come back when the weather is a little cooler (fewer mosquitoes) — maybe in September, when we hear the northern lights are more frequently seen. Also, we’d start our days a little earlier so that we could grab the campsites we want. What takes us four hours to paddle is only a 20-minute ride by motorboat, so those campsites get snatched up super fast. We heard from a park service employee that Voyageurs is working on designating certain campsites as open for canoes only. We think that’s a great idea, and could spur an increase in canoeists on the lakes. Here’s a little taste of what it’s like to be a human-powered boat in Voyageurs…
We decided to take a little different approach when meeting families in Glacier National Park. Instead of the classic pose in front of a landmark, we decided to search for some action. Another out of the ordinary bit to our Glacier adventure was the caravan we drove up with!
Later that day we hiked down from Gunsight trailhead to a little waterfall. We ran into the Buck family hiking passed. They were really excited to watch Eric jump in.
Heres a shot of the Bucks hiking passed the falls
There are many ways to explore Voyageurs National Park, but all of them require getting out and enjoying the more than 30 lakes that make up the park landscape. First thing to decide is what kind of boat you’re going to use. We love canoeing, so for us it was an easy choice. Plus the park is named after the French-Canadian canoemen of the 18th and 19th centuries, who moved fur and other goods between Canada and what is now the United States via the very lakes inside the park.
As it turns out, the majority of visitors opt for motorized boats, and you can rent houseboats, pontoons, and fishing boats from outfitters and resorts at each of the park’s gateway communities. Renting a canoe was another matter altogether. We made a dozen calls to outfitters in International Falls and Kabetogama, two towns near the park, and nobody rented canoes. We ultimately had to drive 55 miles to Ely, Minnesota to find a canoe outfitter. Ely is the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and is a fun destination in its own right. We’ll tell you more about Ely in another post.
Once you’ve figured out your boat situation, you need to know where to put in. Voyageurs has three visitor centers and four entry points that are a good distance from one another, so it pays to do some homework on where exactly you’d like to visit before you arrive.
We spoke to a ranger on the phone, checked in with friends, and got some advice from fellow travelers along the way. Ultimately, we decided to put in at the Ash River Visitor Center and explore Namaken Lake.
Before you can get on the water, you’ve got to check in with a ranger at a visitor center for a backcountry permit. This is also a great time to get a navigational map of the area. The standard issue park map is great for getting the lay of the land, but you’ll need a more detailed map with accurate
distances. You can buy them at visitor centers or outfitters.
Just as we’ve mentioned in the past, we recommend checking out the park video at the ranger station, only this time, we think you should watch the 19- minute video on the voyageurs rather than the standard park intro video. It was produced by the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in (what seems to be) the 1970s, but is FANTASTIC! The re-enactment of the life of a voyageur was incredibly interesting and gave us an appreciation for how hard these colorful men worked. Voyageurs would typically paddle 16 hours and endure backbreaking portages and flesh-eating mosquitoes. They smoked and drank like the devil but sang like angels. Definitely make time for this movie!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great resource for those who live in the Akron and Cleveland metropolitan areas but is also a find for anyone who enjoys historic towns, beautiful waterfalls, unique sandstone ledges, and great hiking and biking. Take a look at some of our favorite things to do in the park.
See more pictures of Cuyahoga Valley National Park on our Flickr page.
On Day 2 of our exploration of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, we took the advice of one of the rangers at the Boston Store Visitor Center and headed for the Ledges Trail. The trail starts on a wide path through a gorgeous forest. We caught sight of a doe and her fawn along the route, but they scooted away before we had a chance to snap a picture. About 15 minutes into the hike, the forested landscape gave way to a stunning series of sandstone cliffs covered in moss and ferns. The area is absolutely gorgeous, and the stone stairs throughout were carved by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
We heard that there are petroglyphs in the area, but couldn’t find any. We did come across Laura and James, though, just as they were exiting the Ice Box Cave, a cool (literally and figuratively) area to explore with a flashlight (which we didn’t have. Make sure to bring one!). Here’s what these Ohio natives had to say about Cuyahoga Valley National Park…
We took Laura and James’ advice and went to the Overlook, which was pretty but didn’t provide much of a scenic view given the cloudy day.
The best views were to come, as we headed toward Brandywine Falls, the second highest falls in Ohio, and the biggest we’d seen on the trip so far. The boardwalk trail gives you great views of the falls, which are 67 feet tall. While we were taking in the sights, we met another nice couple enjoying the day.
A word on lodging…
There’s no camping in the park, although likely you can find private campgrounds nearby. We opted for a motel in a nearby town. For accommodations inside the park, you can stay at The Inn at Brandywine Falls. It is situated near the falls and was built in 1848. We wanted to treat ourselves to a night at the historic inn, but it was booked during our entire stay. Next time we’ll plan accordingly! Also to note: when you research the park, you may come across information about the Stanford Hostel. It sounds great: historic farmhouse converted to a hostel…but it’s closed! And we didn’t get the sense that it was re-opening. Make sure that you call ahead regarding lodging before you arrive.
If you live outside the Midwest, you may not have heard about Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a beautiful area 33,000 acres along 22 miles of the Cuyahoga river, between Cleveland and Akron. The land was designated a national park in 2000 and has quickly become one of the most visited parks, with 2.5 million visitors in 2007.
It’s easy to see why Cuyahoga draws so many people. With more than 125 miles of hiking, skiing, bicycling, and horseback-riding trails, as well as cultural attractions like the Blossom Music Center and Porthouse Theatre, there’s plenty to see and do.
The park protects the historic Ohio & Erie Canal route through the Cuyahoga River valley, which you can explore along the Towpath Trail. In the 1800s, mules would tow canal boats filled with goods and passengers; today the Towpath Trail is used primarily by cyclists and joggers. The trail is open 24 hours a day, has a gentle grade, and is hard-packed for bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs. And, from April through October you can bike one way along the path and return on the Cuyahoga Scenic Valley Railroad with your bike for only $2. A pretty great deal!
For more information on the Ohio & Erie Canalway, check out www.ohioanderiecanalway.com. Also, the Boston Store Visitor Center provides an interactive exhibit on life on the Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1800s as well as models of canal boats and canal boat building.
We spent a full day exploring the Towpath by bike. Our plan was to visit the Canal Visitor Center and watch the introductory park video, bike down to Indigo Lake, have lunch in the town of Peninsula, explore the Beaver Marsh at dusk (we were told that was the best time to see those busy creatures at work), catch the train back to our car and then drive back down to Howe Meadow for a free concert. It was an ambitious itinerary, but we were inspired. After watching the park video (which we recommend doing on arrival), we drove down to the Brecksville Station, dropped off the car and hopped on our bikes. We should have known from our frequent stops to snap a photo of the locks along the canal, the must-have cup of Key Lime Pie ice cream at the Trail Mix store, visit to the Boston Store Visitor Center, and our relaxing lunch at the Loose Moose that we were hopelessly behind schedule. Even though we cycled so fast that were bugs plastered to our skin, we still missed the last train of the evening.
Since we were near Howe Meadow, we stopped by the concert to enjoy a few songs from the Irish band before plopping back in the saddle for an 11 mile ride back to the car. Before hitting the trail, we caught sight of one of the park’s great blue herons, one of over 100 bird species that nest in the valley.
We lucked out when we stopped for gas at The Fisherman. What could have been a brief visit inside the store to pay the bill and use the restroom turned into one of our favorite moments of our trip to Voyageurs National Park.
Jerry and his wife have owned The Fisherman, a fishing outfitter, for a good number of years and are avid canoeists, skiers, and foodies. They are also funny, kind, and generous with their favorite recipes! We nearly bought them out of their uncultured wild rice stock, and picked up lots of other goodies, like maple pecan pancake mix and nine-grain cereal (delicious!). We pumped Jerry for information about Voyageurs and the surrounding area, and he had great tips to share. Take a listen.
Another treat for you is Jerry’s wife’s incredible recipe for wild rice. We made it the next night for dinner — stuffed it in red peppers and cooked it in the dutch oven. Outrageously good!
Prepare rice as package directs. Add soy sauce, whipping cream, celery, and onions. That’s it. And it’s divine!
Jerry also gave us a little lesson on how he used to harvest wild rice as a kid. He said that the best wild rice is uncultured and long grained. Listen in…
Acadia National Park is an incredible destination for so many different reasons…the rocky beaches and lighthouses, great biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter, beautiful mountain vistas, fresh seafood, and unique wildlife. Our time there was even more special because it was our last park on the ocean, a place we’d grown attached to over the past 8 weeks. We made sure to take advantage of our stay on the water. Take a look at our summary video for some highlights.
For more photos of Acadia, check out our Flickr page.