Voyageurs National Park
Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, dancing in the night sky
Hike, kayak or ski across this stunning park
Located in the heart of North America, Voyageurs National Park looks as beautiful today as it did when French trappers arrived in Minnesota back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the thick, verdant forest, canoe along the intricate water routes and admire the starry night skies.
As you explore the lakes and rivers of Voyageurs National Park (about 440 kilometers north of Minneapolis), it is easy to imagine the voyageurs of the past dipping their canoe paddles into the clear, dark water. Replicate this experience by renting a canoe or kayak from one of the outfitters found in and around the park. Voyageurs also features numerous hiking trails — which can be traversed by ski or snowshoe in the winter — and campgrounds.
This lush, water-based park is dotted with traces of American history. “Little American Island” is a small part of the park that bears the remnants of the feverish “gold rush” of the late 1800s. The 1893 discovery of a gold-bearing quartz vein in this location led to rapid development and growth, and it became the focal point of a busy community complete with general store, bank, saloons and restaurants. Unfortunately, the frenzied excitement collapsed almost as quickly as it rose, and by 1901, the tiny town had shuttered its windows. All that remains are overgrown fragments of a mining shaft and scattered pieces of equipment.
For another glimpse of man's mark on the vast wilderness here, make a point to stop at Ellsworth Rock Gardens while boating through the waterways. These terraced gardens are the work of Jack Ellsworth, a carpenter from Chicago, who wanted to use the natural landscape of rock, water and wood as art. Meandering paths lead up through stacked stone walls bearing flowers, mossy rock sculptures, and raised plant beds. Plan for company - this quirky and delightful hidden gem is one of the most popular daytime sights in the park.
If you can stay in the park after sunset, you may be able to take advantage of one of Voyageurs National Park’s most incredible displays - the Aurora Borealis, famously referred to as the Northern Lights. These naturally occurring bands of color will sporadically appear at night - at times barely emerging as pale streaks while at others glowing with such intensity that they fill the entire sky. Their audiences most often see them in white or pale green, but they have also been known to appear in shimmering yellow, purple, red and blue hues. The park’s location and lack of artificial lights make for ideal viewing conditions; visitors won’t want to miss this spectacle.