From the water, it looked perfect. It was private, the inlet’s lone clearing carved into the northern Minnesota pines.
Plus, the site faced east, so if weather cooperated, morning would escort a brilliant sunrise reflected across the water. All we had to do was guide the 54-foot houseboat, our home for the week, into that strip of sand. The guys already had sped off who-knows-where to fish some of Voyageurs National Park’s 83,000 glacially carved liquid acres. That left the three of us ladies, thankfully under the guidance of our hired guide, Bob, to pull this off for the first time.
Jodi floored it, steering straight for shore. Top speed is only 8 mph, but it felt fast. From the front porch, Konnie and I monitored the looming land and yelled through the screen door into the kitchen/navigation center that she’s doing great! Right on target! The boat lurched against the bank. We cheered as Jodi popped it into neutral, more like a pro than the first-time boat driver she was. We hurled tie ropes to Bob onshore, then started to secure the boat for the night.
But the beauty of this place stopped us. Again. "It looks like a movie set, " Konnie marveled as the three of us stared out at the park’s characteristic landscape: water, sky and island upon rocky island teeming with slim pine trees. After barely a day, we’d learned two key lessons about houseboating here. One: The view does not get old. Two: It’s harder than we expected.
But who were we to complain about difficulties? We were on a rented $400,000 boat with a hot tub, four bedrooms and a square footage that’s a medium-sized bathroom away from equaling that of my home.
The voyageurs, the brave and rowdy French-Canadian canoemen for whom the park is named, never had it so good. They paddled handmade, birch-bark boats loaded with pelts when they used these same waters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as North American fur traders.
The most direct route through this chain of lakes was their water highway. That route is now the border between Minnesota and Canada, which doubles as the park’s border for 55 miles. (For perspective, picture floating in the middle of a lake but requiring a different fishing license for either side of your boat.)
It’s all about water here. More than a third of Voyageurs’ 218,000 acres- are liquid, and the bulk of its land is Kabetogama Peninsula, accessible only by boat. People who want to experience the area as voyageurs did visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, southeast of the park. Those who want essentially the same thing but with a motor come here.