A Day Canoe Trip in Voyageurs National Park

Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park has been one of those places I’ve always thought about going, but could never figure out a good reason to.  For one thing, you really need a boat to see it (at least during the summer months), and for another, it isn’t exactly on the way to most other places I could go.  So it always was on the back of my mind, thinking someday, maybe, perhaps, we’d go.



And we did.


Canoeing on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Canoeing on Kabetogama Lake

A couple weeks ago, a couple members of my group had a weekend off while between scholarly pursuits, so they decided to check out Voyageurs, specifically canoeing Kabetogama Lake to Ellsworth Rock Gardens.  They kindly provided me with some pictures and a description of their trek, so I’ll let them have the rest of the post!


Coves on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Coves on Kabetogama Lake

Saturday, we started paddling about 8:30a.m. in overcast weather. Knowing that this excursion was completely spur of the moment, the lady at Northern Lights [the resort where we rented the canoe – about $20 for the day] gave us some large garbage bags to use as rain coats if we needed them. Thankfully we never did.


A point on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

A point on Kabetogama Lake

The wind was strong out on the lake and the water was very choppy. To shelter ourselves from this, we were planning to leave the point at the end of RT. 332 (Bay Club Dr.) and then head northwest past State Point and come up behind Echo Island, a fair distance away, and then follow a chain of islands across the lake; but since we needed to keep the bow of the canoe into the choppy water/wind coming out of the south, we found ourselves being blown east of Echo Island. We tried for Picnic Island but were still having trouble with the large waves, and the need to keep the bow into them. We didn’t want to get broadside to the waves because that would put us at risk of tipping.  (We put together a map, so the red line is what we did, and the blue (out) and white (return) are what we should have done – the green X marks our starting point and the yellow X marks Ellsworth Rock Gardens.)


Map of our paddle around Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Map of our paddle around Kabetogama Lake

We finally paddled out of the wind behind Ram Island where we stopped to shift our gear. It was nice to get out of the waves and wind. We stayed that way behind Sheep Island and then went between the islands at Yewbush Islands. That put us in position to cross another open section to Cutover Island, which wasn’t quite as bad as the open water earlier. We rounded Cutover Island and could see the dock for Ellsworth Rock Gardens in the distance. Probably wouldn’t have recognized it at that distance, but there was a big white cruiser docked at it. The sun decided to come out as we rounded Cutover Island which really set off the beauty of the area. That cruiser left before we got there and we had the place to ourselves the entire time we were there. A family pulled up in a smallish motorboat just as we were leaving.


Ellsworth Rock Garden, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Ellsworth Rock Garden

The rock garden was interesting. Nothing natural about it. Ellsworth spent his retirement building these rock sculptures that often defy gravity. They will look better when the flowers either grow or are planted. It’s obvious where they will be when things get warmer. It reminded us of Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone the way it was built into the side of a hill.


A sculpture at Ellsworth Rock Garden, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

A sculpture at Ellsworth Rock Garden

The canoe trip to this point took us 2 hours. It would have been a lot shorter if the waves/wind had been calmer. We ate our first lunch at the Rock Garden, and then took off in the canoe along the north shore of Cutover Island. It was so nice. So beautiful. We were saying how this was like the Adirondacks in many ways, and contemplated how a group like ours might be able to do this kind of a trip some time in the future.


Islands on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota


All too soon we rounded the north end of Cutover Island and were back out on the open water. As we paddled for the Grassy Island group and kept losing ground, it became obvious that this would be better sailing than canoeing. I got the idea that we would make better headway if we tacked like a sail boat. Well that worked great and we made it over to a large island north of Zollner Island, well north of the Grassy Island group. The chief thing that stood out about this unnamed island is that there was a building on it. That was pretty unusual. We rounded the north side of this island and used the wind block to come down the west side of the Grassy Islands past Bald Eagle Island. We had our second lunch on Wood Duck Island, a nice break (except for the ticks) before we hit open water again. This lasted until we got behind (west side of) Bittersweet Island.


Islands and peninsulas on Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Islands and peninsulas

As we stayed in the shelter of Wooden Frog Peninsula, it began to darken and all the motor boats seemed to be heading for the boat ramp at Wooden Frog State Park. We headed back for Northern Lights, but three things happened that made the end of our paddle more exciting than expected. First, the wind kicked up a lot, continually driving us away from the “shelter” of the shoreline. Second, I lost count of the number of coves we were supposed to pass (I didn’t dare try to pull out a map in the choppy water). Third, with limited visibility as the storm struck, we mistook Echo Island for another peninsula—we would have had to cross around the north side of it, when it would have been easier to paddle around the west side which would put us right across the cove from where Northern Lights is located. As we came up behind Echo Island it began to sprinkle. The wind was fierce and we dried off before we got wet. Going across open water from Echo Island (where we crossed between the main island and the little triangle island on the east) was difficult, but we knew we were in sight of Northern Lights, at last.


Flower at Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Flower at Ellsworth Rock Gardens

The guys at Northern Lights watched us come and one of them called the lady who rented the canoes. Apparently she had them watching for us. Nice trip and we had barely gotten out of there when it began to pour!


The next day biking along Rainy Lake, Voyagers National Park, Minnesota

The next day biking along Rainy Lake, Voyagers National Park

Fees: None to enter Voyagers National Park; canoe rental fees vary.

Facilities: Restrooms at Elisworth Rock Garden


Duck formation at Ellsworth Rock Garden, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Duck formation at Ellsworth

Road ★★★☆☆

Signs ★★☆☆☆

Scenery ★★★★☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Ellsworth Rock Gardens


Getting to Kabetogama Lake

From Duluth, MN, take US-53 N 138 miles northward into Voyagers National Park.  Turn right onto Gamma Road / Salmi Road for 2.4 miles, then turn left (near the Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center) to stay on Gamma Road and drive an additional 2.4 miles.  Turn right onto Cline Road for a mile.  Then take a slight left onto Bay Club Drive with the Northern Lights Outfitters on left.  (Note: If you have your own vessel, public boat ramps are available near the visitor center.)


Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest


Fishermen on Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Fishermen on Rainy Lake

This Week’s Featured Product!

Looking for even more canoe routes in Voyageurs National Park?  This book covers more than 50 routes, from waterfalls to towering cliffs, and from fishing and camping spots to areas of quiet solitude.



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