Located near the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park (www.nps.gov/voya/index.htm) was named for the Canadian oarsmen who once navigated the nearby waterways with beaver pelts in tow, on their way to the remote northern trading posts. Largely undeveloped, this secluded national park has a wide variety of natural environments, from hardwood forests and marshes, to rocky outcroppings and pristine lakeshores. And although some of these natural features can be problematic for wheelchair-users and slow walkers, there are still many wheelchair-accessible ways to explore this Northern Minnesota national park.
Rainy Lake Cruise
Since 40% of the park is composed of water, a good way to see Voyageurs National Park is on a cruise. And the good news is, the Grand Tour, which departs from the dock near Rainy Lake Visitor Center is wheelchair-accessible.
Accessible parking is available at the visitor center, with ramp access up to the front door. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the ticket counter, ranger information desk, gift shop and interpretive exhibits. There’s also barrier-free access to the theater, where a film about the park is shown. Accessible restrooms are located at the far end of the building, and there’s level access to the back deck which is outfitted with several standard picnic tables.
Advance tickets are highly recommended for this popular tour, which operates from mid-June to late August. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/voya/planyourvisit/rainy-lake-area-programs-and-tours.htm. Tours can be booked at www.recreation.gov.
Take a Hike
Another way for wheelchair-users and slow walkers to enjoy Voyageurs National Park is to take a hike on one of several wheelchair-accessible trails. The Garden Trail, which is just a quarter-mile long, is the shortest accessible trail in the park. This hard-packed dirt trail is located between the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and the dock, so it’s a good post-cruise option. This pleasant trail, which is lined with native plants has a few undulations, but for the most part is fairly level. Best of all, there are several shady nooks along the route, which offer a welcome respite from the midday sun.
The longer Rainy Lake Recreation Trail begins across the street from the visitor center. Completed in 2016, this 1.7-mile paved multiuse trail parallels County Road 96, and connects to the bicycle trail at the intersection of Highway 11. From there it’s about a 10-mile hike to International Falls. That said, you can get a perfectly lovely view of Rainy Lake from the quarter-mile point, so give it a try even if you can’t do the whole length.
Another wheelchair-accessible Voyageurs National Park trail is located just south of the Ash River Visitor Center on Kabetogama Lake. There’s accessible parking in the small lot, with barrier-free access to the hard-packed dirt trail that leads out to the Kabetogama Lake Overlook. This undulating trail has plenty of level patches, and there are several benches to sit and rest along the way. It’s a beautiful northwoods jaunt along a fern-lined route, and it’s just a .3-mile round trip hike. And you just can’t beat the serene lake view at the overlook. As an added bonus the drive along County Road 129 out to the trailhead is pretty scenic too.
Trail to the Kabetogama Lake overlook in Voyageurs National Park