Now this is more like it!
We’d been disappointed with the last few parks we visited and wondered if we were simply burnt out on this adventure. It’s August 25th and we had been on the road for almost five months now and drove close to 10,000 miles. Maybe we’d reached our limit?
Not a chance. It took a couple of days to get here from western North Dakota but we found northern Minnesota to be much more to our liking!
Getting to this place mentally wasn’t without a hitch though. Last night we crossed the state border from North Dakota into Minnesota and found a relatively new Walmart not far from the highway to get some sleep. That worked out fine and we were encouraged by the changing countryside as we continued our drive northeast all morning. Lots of green. Pastures, trees, hills, even mountains. All covered in green! We were feeling better by the mile.
There is not too much up this way though. We arranged a campground here a few days ago but I was apprehensive about it. I’d asked the owner about level sites, full hookups, wide roads and places large enough to turn this rig around. She assured me that she had what we needed. I still felt uneasy but there really was not much to choose from so we gave it a shot. This was one of those things that reminded me to trust my instincts. When we arrived, we could not even figure out where the entrance to the campground was. We just parked the rig on the road along the driveway and I went to talk with the owner. She showed me the site she had reserved for us. Not level, no sewer hookup and the water would require 75’ of hose. Really? This did not seem reasonable nor anything even close to what we had discussed on the phone. Oh, did I mention that it would require disconnecting the Jeep and backing about 100’ down a dirt driveway barely wide enough for a car? Or, that the tree branches were not cleared high enough up the trees to avoid scratching the heck out of the RV?
Well, I wanted to say forget it but we had not found any other campgrounds anywhere near this place. I asked if she might have any other sites available. She had what she considered one other site, in between that dirt driveway and the road, on a steep pitch and with no electric! That was enough for me. She would not even consider lowering her $40/night fee to accommodate for the fact that the sites were not level and did not have full hookups. So, I said we would have to go elsewhere (having no clue where that would be).
She was so sweet about it. She said she would start calling around to see if she could find us another place. Within just a few minutes, she was driving us in her golf cart to a friend’s place just down a dirt driveway to the last place on the road. They had one spot large enough for us with a great view of the lake. What a relief. And what a great find!
Welcome to Arrowhead Resort and RV Park. A great spot, right on Lake Kabetogama. The owners, Larry and Betsy, run their resort (cabins, lodge rooms and small RV park), and Larry is also an outfitter offering guided tours of the park! What a great deal.
Voyageurs National Park begins when you step off the shore. The park is the lake and the more than 500 islands within it. We signed up for a two-hour tour (remember Gilligan?) later that day. It was a bright sunny afternoon with temps in the mid-60s and light winds, a perfect lake day. Larry got his pontoon boat ready and off we went, just the three of us. It felt sooo good to be back on the water, guess we were really missing our home at the lake in NH more than we realized!
We learned that this place is 218,054 acres, 40 percent water consisting of four major lakes (Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point) and dozens of many smaller ones, 655 miles of shoreline and more than 500 islands. All campsites in the park can only be reached by boat. Importantly, this entire place is untouched by development since being established as a national park on April 8, 1975. In fact, the relatively few private homes that had been developed on the park’s islands prior to that date have gradually been purchased and razed in an effort to return the area to its natural state.
Voyageurs National Park took its name from the famed 18th-century canoe-paddling French Canadian adventurers who traveled the areas lakes and rivers to transport trade goods westward and furs eastward between Montreal and the huge inland forests of Canada. Part of this trade route actually became part of the US-Canada boundary and 56 miles of the route pass through this park.
Larry brought us past the Chief Wooded Frog Islands and the outlet that feeds from Kabetogama Lake into Black Bay on Rainy Lake (the water flows north here), then past the trail head for Locator Lake Trail where he had shuttled a couple of backpackers earlier that day. While here, we saw beavers, mink, eagles and hawks while floating around on the lake. Our next stop was at Ellsworth Rock Gardens on the north shore of the lake. The Ellsworth’s used to spend their summers here and Jack, over a 22 year period, built 62 terraced flower beds on a prominent rock outcropping which he filled with more than 13,000 lilies and over 200 abstract rock sculptures. He did this all on his own, no power tools or heavy equipment involved. Amazing. This spot once enjoyed spectacular views of the lake that are now blocked because the trees have since gotten tall enough to obscure the view. Perhaps, one day, the National Park Service will change its policy so that the view can be returned to what it once was. After Siobhan and I wandered around this spot for about half an hour, we rejoined Larry for the boat ride back to his Arrowhead Resort. On this evening the water was quite calm, however, Larry assured us that the conditions do change rapidly and the waves can reach up to four feet at times.
Really good thing we got out on the lake as quickly as we did, too. Rain was forecast here for the next two days. And it poured!
We wanted to get out of the RV on Saturday so we drove the Jeep over to International Falls, MN to check out the town. Another lucky call for us as this just happened to be the day of the Bass Championship and Classic Car Show and it was not raining here (about 30 minutes away from the campground). Check out these rides! And we got to try cheese curds for the first time too (maybe and F&L)!
We relaxed on Sunday as it rained most of the day. We were introduced to the MN Air Force – mosquitos the size of small birds. Thousands of them swarming around outside created an audible sound like a weed trimmer buzzing. Not a big deal to the folks that live here but pretty startling to those of us who had not experienced this previously.
Even the rain could not dampen our experiences here. This was a great visit to a wonderful place.