By: Maria Hileman
“The beauty of the national park unfolds as you drive over frozen waters only accessible in the winter months.”
Driving the ice roads at Voyageurs National Park is a one-of-a-kind experience. Unlike many other national parks, Voyageurs has no entrance fee and the ice roads can be accessed 24/7 from mid-January through mid-March. Since Voyageurs is a certified Dark Sky Park, make your trip extra memorable by exploring the frozen roads at night to see the spectacular Milky Way and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights.
Start your trip at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, just a short 15-minute drive from Ranier and International Falls, Minnesota. Winter enthusiasts can borrow snowshoes and cross-country skis for the entire family for free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday. The 8-mile ice road can be accessed from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center boat launch.
If you travel 1 mile north along the ice road, you’ll reach the Black Bay Ski Trail parking lot, from where you can hit up 7 miles of groomed ski trails, exploring through evergreens, pines, tamaracks, birches and spruce trees. Snowshoeing will take you places in the snow that you can’t get to otherwise. From the parking lot, you can snowshoe .75 mile out to a beaver pond.
When venturing back out on the ice road, make sure to look for the old gold mine shaft on Bushyhead Island. Watch for wildlife such as moose, wolves, deer, owls and foxes while driving around Dryweed Island. More than 110 miles of staked and groomed snowmobile trails are available for cruising throughout the park, and lots of fishing enthusiasts head to this region for great ice fishing.
Once you’ve finished the 8-mile loop, you can go explore the second ice road from the boat launch at Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, about a 35-minute drive away. This 9.3-mile stretch of ice road travels between Kabetogama and the Ash River Visitor Center.
You’ll see a skating rink right on Kabetogama Lake, and at Sphunge Island a groomed sledding hill, with a small hill for younger children and a larger hill for older children and adults, awaits. Visitors can also enjoy a fire ring at Sphunge Island.
And don’t worry — the ice must be a minimum of 12 inches thick before the park will allow travel across the temporary roadways. To check on ice conditions in preparation for your travels, call the Voyageurs National Park Headquarters at 218-283-6600.
Check out where to Shop, Stay and Explore when visiting the Ice Roads.
Read more of our stories in Issue 21 of Lake and Company.