It might be the fishing, the pristine lakes, the wildlife or the solitude of having an island all to himself that keeps Don Voigt coming back to Voyageurs National Park.
Voigt, from St. Cloud, Minn., has brought his kids to the vast expanse of interconnected lakes and rivers along Minnesota's border with Canada annually for the past 12 years. Now his children are grown and bring their own kids. "I love it up there," says Voigt, a retired nurse who now works in real estate. "You feel like you're the only person around."
Water covers 40% of the 218,000-acre park, which encompasses four major lakes and many smaller ones. Visitors leave their autos behind and travel by fishing boat, canoe, kayak, houseboat or snowmobile, says Jody Tableporter, executive director of the Voyageurs National Park Association, a non-profit that helps operate the park with the National Park Service.
Unlike the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, boats with motors are allowed within Voyageurs, making it more accessible for those who aren't ready to undertake a rugged excursion. Along with campsites, there are some lodges and restaurants within the park.
"I think you can have as much of a wilderness experience as you like," Tableporter says.
Named for the French-Canadian fur traders who crisscrossed the terrain in birch bark canoes, Voyageurs was established as a national park in 1975. The unique landscape was created by earthquakes and receding glaciers, which left behind tree-lined lakes dotted with islands and shorelines of exposed rock.
Greg Berg of St. Cloud visited Voyageurs frequently as a youth and now returns every other year or so. Last year, he and his wife brought their two children, ages 5 and 8, for a week of fishing, boating and relaxing.
The fishing for walleyes, smallmouth bass and crappies is usually good, Berg says. It's also not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a deer, an eagle or even a bear, he says.
About the park
Size: 218,200 acres
Visitors: 177,184 in 2011
History: Voyageurs is a collection of interconnected waterways along Minnesota's border with Canada. It's named for the French-Canadian fur traders who traveled through the inland lakes and rivers in birch bark canoes.
When visiting: 3131 Highway 53, International Falls, Minn. Visitor information: 218-286-5258.
Of note: Voyageurs is a water-based park, so you'll need to leave your car behind and travel by boat, kayak, canoe or snowmobile.