Our third family vacation proved to be more successful than the Shenandoah trip. Virginia’s heat and lack of experience took it’s toll. We switched it up in 2012 and decided to do a paddling trip. Many of the National Parks are out west, or otherwise not drivable from Michigan and greatly limited our options. We settled on Voyageurs, but none of us have any regrets.
Voyageurs has been one of our favorite trips even to this day. It was also fun to see how we did in a boat. If you don’t know, Voyageurs National Park is located in Northern Minnesota, bordering Canada and the well known Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Boundary Waters is very popular and leads to a healthy number of outfitters servicing the vicinity.
Unfortunately, the outfitters generally only service Boundary Waters and Quetico (Canada), and not Voyageurs to the north. In fact, we very nearly scrapped this trip because we couldn’t find anyone that could accommodate our itinerary. At the last minute, my mom came through and found that Anderson’s Canoe Outfitters willing to provide us with boats and a shuttle. I think these guys should advertise the service on their site. Generally, Voyageurs is not tackled by the self-propelled.
Before our journey, we literally stayed across the street from the outfitters. That made it convenient in the morning. We were dropped off near the visitor’s center on Lake Kabetogama with two nice and light kevlar canoes.
The weather was perfect for paddling, just warm enough without being hot, clear skies. No reservations are required for the campsites, so we were playing it pretty loose for distance. We hoped to make it into the Namakan Lake area by the end of the day. Along the way we found a lovely little island to have lunch
It seems that the edge of Namakan was the perfect place to stop. In the afternoon we chose Wolf Pack Island East to camp at. It had a shallow, sandy beach and ample room for two tents. It also featured a picnic table, storage locker and plenty of shade trees. We were also relatively bug free that afternoon. We swam to our hearts content and ate our wonderful homemade backpacker’s pasta. This was our first attempt at the pasta in the field and turned out great.
That evening we went to bed a little on the early side because a fantastic rain storm was rolling through. We were sure to tie down the boats, else we may have ended up swimming the rest of the way. We all stayed dry and I, at least, fell asleep quickly to the sound of the rain. I woke up shortly after sunset and found the sky was a beautiful color.
Our second day got off to an interesting start. Both canoes swapped front and back paddlers. My sister Sara and I fared ok, though not the straightest course. My mom and brother though ended up doing very slow, large circles (three of them). It turns out that one couldn’t steer and the other was a weenie-dipper, you know, the kind that only puts the paddle 3 inches in the water. I think that lasted all of thirty minutes before we swapped positions again. It left me wishing the GPS was recording tracks in their boat instead.
We chose a route that included a portage for the experience. It was probably about a half mile. Specifically it was called Grassy Portage. In retrospect, this was because it went to Grassy Bay, not because the path was grassy. It turns out, this portage was Type II fun at it’s finest.
If you aren’t aware, Type I fun is fun to do and often fun to talk about later. Type II fun is NOT fun to do, but is fun to talk about later. Type III fun isn’t fun to do or talk about. I’d say this one fits squarely as Type II, since I love talking about it. The non-outdoors person probably would have called it the portage from hell.
Coming up on the portage we had a bit of trouble picking it out. It wasn’t super obvious from the water, but once we got close enough we were sure we were on the right path. The shore was a bit muddy, but that was somewhat expected. What we did not expect were the three down trees across the path. We worked our way past them with the canoes. The reality sank in. There were down trees the whole distance… dozens of them, and it wasn’t just muddy on the shore, it was muddy the whole way. This mud was nothing to mess with either. It’s not the kind you step in while walking to get the mail after a light rain. In this mud you sank past your high-top boots (more than 6 inches) and it sucked and pulled as hard as it could to rob your footwear. Once I had to stop and dig my boot out. I pulled multiple handfuls of mud out from around it in order to break the vacuum seal.
Oh, I almost forgot the best part of the story. We all know that mud is associated with water, right? It was standing on the path. You know what you get with standing water in Minnesota during the month of July? Mosquitoes. I’m pretty sure this was the local hangout for mosquitoes and we awoke them all. The descended upon us for a feast. It must have been more than 100 per cubic foot. We reached for the deet but were really sad with what we found. The bottle had either leaked or we had used it all that morning when the bugs were bad at camp. In order to save weight, we only brought a little, 1 oz, pump action bottle to share between 4 of us. We all avoid using it anyway, so figured that would be enough. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.
Once back in the boats we paddled furiously to outrun the swarms that followed. In retrospect, we were warned by Anderson’s that it probably wasn’t a good idea. Though we didn’t understand the extent. Later we found out it’s mostly used as a snow-mobile trail and often stays unmaintained until things freeze up.
After all that hard work we took a quick nap at the next campsite. It offered some more beautiful lake views
We paddled again in the afternoon and enjoyed the night at the Mukooda Lake site. There were many sites and generally rather full. A contrast to the sites we passed on the first day. It offered some good swimming.
Our last morning we paddled back to Crane Lake and ate at the Voyagaire. Anderson’s shuttled me back to the car and I drove back to get the others. Overall, great trip and would do it (all) again.