Voyageurs National Park Hiking: 10 Best Family Trails

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If you and your family find yourself in northern Minnesota, consider visiting Voyageurs National Park in International Falls, Minnesota, near the Canadian border. It’s a different kind of waterpark experience for the kids — with 218,054 acres of land and water, more than a third of it contributes to Minnesota’s nickname: Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

Though the park is a natural wetland (aka a boater’s paradise), you can still find miles of unfurled trails among Voyageurs’ four large and 26 interior lakes. 

Voyageurs National Park Sign by the waterPin

It’s one of the least-visited national parks, so it’s possible to find a fairly empty trail. Let’s face it, if you’ve been to more-crowded national parks like Smoky Mountain National Park (which welcomed over 14 million visitors in 2021), less crowding can seem like a downright relief in this water-based park. 

We kept families in mind in our assessment, focusing on easy and moderate trails in our kid-friendly review of the best of the best in Voyageurs National Park hiking.

Scenes from Voyageurs National Park - wildflowers on the banks of a lake inside the park, MinnesotaPin
one of many beautiful bodies of water inside Voyageurs National Park

10 Best Trails in Voyageurs National Park for Families

As one of the least-visited national parks, you’ll see a southern boreal and northern boreal forests, and on hikes, you’ll see the following natural formations: 

  • Rock ridges
  • Cliffs
  • Wetlands
  • Streams
  • Lakes
  • Forested areas

Kids will be likely be more excited to see: 

  • Black bears
  • Moose
  • Beaver
  • Gray wolf
  • Songbirds and woodpeckers
  • Eagles
  • Osprey
  • Vultures
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Shorebirds
  • Waterfowl
  • Reptiles, like snapping turtles
hand next to a moose print in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
We saw a moose footprint during one of our Voyageurs hikes!

Voyageurs, which commemorates a historical fur trade route used to open the “Great Northwest,” has three visitor centers: Kabetogama Lake, Ash River and Rainy Lake, which offers boat tours, and ranger-led programs which may also include ranger-led hikes.

Rainy Lake is the only visitor center open year-round. These are great jumping-off points to find a hike that’s right for your family.

Kabetagoma Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
MPSharwood, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Blind Ash Bay Trail 

Length: 3 miles

Difficulty: Moderately challenging

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead at the upper parking lot by Ash River Visitor Center. Access is also available from the Kabetogama Lake Overlook trail. 

You and your family can access the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a popular birding, hiking and walking trail, year-round. The beautiful hike through a boreal forest offers views of spectacular scenery and wild berries in the right season — wild blueberries and raspberries — yum!

The Blind Ash Bay Trail starts uphill and wends through the forest to a spot that overlooks  Kabetogama Lake in a lollipop shape. If your kids enjoy rock climbing, it’s an ideal hike. It might take more time to walk through the beautiful scenery, especially if they stop every few minutes to scramble across a rock or from picking berries.

2. Oberholtzer Trail

Length: 1.6 miles round trip (a half mile round trip for the accessible part)

Difficulty: Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

The Oberholtzer Trail gives your family a taste of deciduous and conifer forests (including spruce, pine and aspen), as well as marshy lake views. The trail hugs a marshland extending west from Black Bay. 

Scenes from Voyageurs National Park: overlooking a lake on a forested hikePin

You’ll encounter a set of steep wooden steps and rugged terrain, complete with exposed rocks and roots. Note that the trail breaks off into several offshoots, but you can skip the first loop if you prefer.

NPS map of the Oberholtzer Trail in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Beaver Pond Overlook Trail 

Length: 0.4 miles

Difficulty:Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead at the parking lot near the Ash River Visitor Center.

This quick in-and-out trail offers a short hike uphill, through aspen and forested areas to rocky views above one of several active beaver ponds in the park. 

Beaver Pond Overlook Trail, Voygeurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
View from Beaver Pond Overlook Trail (Yinan Chen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Your kids will  never forget their first view of a beaver. These large rodents, with their thick fur, webbed feet, flat tails and large teeth and carefully crafted homes, typically stay out of view under their beaver dams, but you may still catch a view of them floating on top of the water.

Don’t forget your binoculars to search for birds and other large wildlife, particularly in the early morning or evening.

beaver in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
Beaver in Voyageurs National Park: NPS Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail

Length: 0.4 miles

Difficulty: Easy, handicap accessible

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead at the parking lot near the Ash River Visitor Center.

The highly accessible Kabetogama Lake Overlook Trail winds through a pine forest to a  stunning view of Kabetogama Lake, framed by trees.

Listen for a loon or watch for a bald eagle swooping the sky as you lounge on the bench at the peak of the trail. If you hike at sunset, you may glimpse a beautiful view of the red and orange sun reflecting off the water.

NPS sign for Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Sullivan Bay Trail

Length: 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead near the Ash River Visitor Center.

Your family will be hiking along an old forest road through a coniferous and deciduous forest. You’ll end up with a gorgeous view of Sullivan Bay. Consider grabbing some hotdogs and marshmallows before you go, because you can enjoy dinner at a picnic table using a fire ring.

You’ll see exposed volcanic rock, so if you have a kid who’s a rock enthusiast, you can “wow” them with the news that they can see rock that’s two billion years old. In fact, you can take a great photo of your kids on a nice, flat rock that looks out over the bay.

Scenes from Voyageurs National Park - wildflowers on the banks of a lake inside the park, MinnesotaPin

6. Echo Bay Trail

Length: 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead near the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. 

The Echo Bay Trail circular trail shows the transition between deciduous and boreal forests, with wetlands and dense forest.

Watch for birds like woodpeckers on this trail and keep an eye out for beavers. Note that some people report even better views on the other side of this trail from a boat, canoe or kayak. 

NPS map of Echo Bay Trail, Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Forest Overlook Trail

Length: 0.4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead from the Ash River Visitor Center.

Yippee! Here’s a short trail for kids with even shorter attention spans.

Despite the fact that it’s easy, you can still glimpse what the area looks like at different elevations. Take a picnic lunch and dine at the picnic tables and grills by the parking area.

8. Rainy Lake Recreation Trail

Length:  5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

How to Get There: You can access the trailhead at Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

The Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, a paved trail, rolls past the park road, the woods and rocky outcroppings. Consider taking your bikes on this trail as well, especially if you have older kids who need to squash some energy. 

The trail runs its way through forest, lake and marshland areas, but note that it’s longer than some of the trails on our list. It’s not a great trail if you’re looking for a 10- or 15-minute walk. 

Scenes from Voyageurs National Park: water rippling onto a shore in the parkPin

9. Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail

Length: 1.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

How to Get There: You can only access the trailhead via boat. Hop in a kayak or motorboat but study the waterways thoroughly before you go.

Okay, so this one requires some water access, but in a park as saturated by water as this one, how can we resist? 

We can’t, especially because once you reach the trailhead, you get instant access to beavers — the beaver pond is only a short walk from the trailhead.

But the caveat (and this goes for the rest of Voyageurs): Watch for bugs during the summer. Load up with bug spray and bring long pants as well.

NPS map of the Black Bay hiking/ski area in Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Mukooda Trail

Length : 2.8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

How to Get There: Launch your watercraft from the Crane Lake area and travel 6 miles. 

We also couldn’t resist reviewing this trail, especially when you see deciduous and coniferous forests and rocky ridges carved by glaciers from thousands of years ago. 

The narrow trail separates Sand Point Lake and the straight-from-a-glacier Mukooda Lake. You’ll see signs of wildlife as you wander through this unique and remote part of the park. 

You’ll even see an area frequented by Minnesota Prohibition (1920-1933) era gangsters. Maybe you can encourage your kids to keep an eye out for dirty cash through this rugged, sinful outpost.

Voyageurs National Park Hiking: beautiful overlook onto water from within a forestPin

Other Voyageurs Highlights

When you’re at Voyageurs, your kids may not want to be dragged along on a trail. Admit it, you’re already hearing, “My feet huuuuurt!” and from your 10-year-old: “I wanna ride in the stroller like the baby!” 

Let’s look at a few other options, including Kettle Falls and Ellsworth Rock Gardens.

Kettle Falls

Don’t miss this falls, flanked by the Kettle Falls Hotel’s vibrant red roof, which a guy named Robert Williams bought in 1918 for $1,000 and four barrels of whiskey. Trappers, lumberjacks, fishermen, traders and others originally patronized the hotel.

Back in the day, it was a “Hay Fever Victims Sanctuary,” where sufferers supposedly found relief from advertisements that claimed “not a sneeze on the border.” 

How to Get There

You can find the falls and the hotel on the eastern edge of the Kabetogama Peninsula, at 9899 Mead Wood Rd, Orr, Minnesota.

Historic Kettle Falls Hotel, Voyageurs National Park, MinnesotaPin
National Park Sevice, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ellsworth Rock Gardens

Check out the “Showplace of Lake Kabetogama,” the showpiece of Jack Ellsworth, the garden’s creator and a self-taught artist, on the north shore of Kabetogama Lake.

It features a: 

  • Complex, terraced garden 
  • Prominent rock outcrop
  • 62 terraced flower beds 
  • 3,000 lilies and other flower varieties
  • 200 abstract rock sculptures 
  • Stone gateways
  • Stairways
  • Stepping stones
  • Simple bridges
  • Grass paths 
  • Rock tablets
map of Ellsworth Rock Gardens Voyageurs National ParkPin
U.S. National Park Service, restoration/cleanup by Matt Holly, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Which Voyageurs National Park Trail Works Best for Families?

“Voyageurs” means “traveler” in French (it hails from the fur traders) so you must take a hike while you’re there.

Voyageurs isn’t one of the most impressive national parks from the road, so you have to get out of the car to really experience the beautiful views and appreciate the entire park, which offers miles of trails. 

Scenes from Voyageurs National Park: a lake on a sunny day with blue skies and puffy cloudsPin

Any of the Voyageurs national park trails we’ve outlined offer great options for kids and families. Depending on your kids’ ages and abilities, we’ve listed options for every level. 

You can also get creative, such as cross-country skiing your way through the park, hiking at night to look for the Northern lights and the aurora borealis, going crazy with a houseboat map or taking your speedboat to other boat access ramps.

Voyageurs National Park Hiking: showing a watery inlet amongst green forestPin

Pin this Voyageurs National Park hiking information for later! And if your family finds an awesome easy hike thanks to this article, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

Top 10 Family-Friendly Voyageurs National Park Hikes grid showing 9 different scenes from Voyageurs NP in MinnesotaPin
happy trails! melissaPin
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About Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is a writer, editor and the owner of the website College Money Tips. She loves to strap on her hiking boots and strike out on a trail. Her favorite trail (so far!) is the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. Her love of travel has led her to explore the following national parks with her family: Rocky Mountain, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Voyageurs, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Crater Lake, Badlands, Arches, Grand Teton. (She's not done yet!)

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