This water-based park protects both the natural and cultural history of this part of North America, within Minnesota’s only national park. It’s remarkable water resources make it a draw for kayakers, boaters and fishermen, containing four major lakes within the boundaries of the park, three of them straddling the Canadian-American border. Hiking, camping, and breathtaking view of the Northern Lights, there is something here for everyone.
The namesakes of the park, the French voyageurs, or travelers, began making their way through this area 250 years ago, seeking furs, gold, and glory, but Native American have inhabited the region spanning at least 10,000 years, since the ancient glacial lake that covered the area began to recede. Various Native cultures have called this area home, leaving behind them the clues to their ancient lives.
The 218,000 acres of the park protects water and land habitats for a diverse range of plant and animal species, as well as the cultural heritage to be found here. Established as a national park in 1975, Voyageurs attracts almost 3 million visitors every year.
The voyageurs, from whom the park gets its name, are believed to have followed the arrival of French explorers in the 1680s on the hunt for furs to trade. They encountered and traded with the many indigenous peoples of the areas as they went, attempting to establish fur trading on commercial scales.
The local inhabitants of the region at the time the Europeans arrived were primarily the Cree, Monsoni, and Assiniboin tribes. They eventually abandoned the area, and the Ojibwe people became the main residents of the border lakes area. The Ojibwe played a major role in the fur trade, supplying the furs, as well as food, canoes, and guides, their intimate knowledge of the natural resources of the area invaluable to the traders.
These days, the lands of the park are home to a wide range of animal species, including over 240 species of bird, including song birds and majestic eagles. Beavers, wolves, black bears, and moose, not to forget the smaller foxes, otters and hares, are just some of the 50 mammals that thrive in the habitats of the park. And, of course, the lakes are full with a rich diversity of life, with bass, pike and trout in the lakes throughout the park.
Located in the heart of the North American continent, the landscape of Voyageurs National Park is part of the Canadian Shield, an area of Precambrian rock laid down over 2 billion years ago. This area once looked so very different to how it does today, featuring many volcanoes erupting beneath an ocean that is no longer there.
There were once mountains here too, with massive magma chambers beneath. But the smoothed-down appearance of the rocks gives a hint at the force at work here, that of ancient glacial movement. In relatively recent history, geologically-speaking anyway, immense continental glaciers covered these lands, scouring down mountains as they advanced and retreated, again and again.
The legacy of the glacial movements are the valleys and lakes carved out by their extreme forces. Rainy Lake, on the Canadian-U.S. border, also contains the remains of an ancient caldera, formed as the ground collapsed over an ancient magma chamber.