Starting the Trip
Some of the park’s roughly 250,000 annual visitors hike on trails that typically offer minimal mileage but maximum scenery. Others watch wildlife, bald eagle and loon sightings are common, and if you’re lucky, you’ll glimpse black bear, moose or a timber wolf, one of the Lower 48’s few. But the real draw at Voyageurs is fishing, anglers in the know come for the park’s renowned walleye, northern pike and smallmouth bass. However they enjoy this rugged waterpark, most overnight visitors use a cushy houseboat as a base.
This style seemed good for our mixed group. Konnie and Mukhiya met in Nepal, where both lived without electricity or running water. Then there are James and Jodi, whose standard response to talk of state parks and hikes was that she "doesn’t like Outdoors. " Clint and I fall in between. We’re no strangers to tent camping and lake bathing, but things start to get ugly after a few days without a real bed and fresh-ground coffee. We hoped the houseboat, an oasis of comfort in this primitive park, would satisfy all.
Day One started with a "brief" one-and-a-half-hour course on the boat. The rocking alone seemed like a lot to get used to, but then there was navigation, generator operation, hot tub maintenance, important information. We traded nervous glances until Jodi said, "It’s got to be hard to mess up or else they wouldn’t let us do it. " Good point.
It was also a relief that the couple hundred years between the voyageurs and us saw the development of two-way radios, nautical charts and an elaborate buoy system. Bob made us drive, so we’d be prepared to handle the boat without him. Wake-up call: This is not just tooling around the lake. About 500 islands and countless submerged reefs are scattered about the park’s 30-plus lakes, created by the push and pull of four rounds of glaciers. This makes for really beautiful terrain that is, for the first-timer, really hard to navigate. We stayed in the channel, marked by well-spaced buoys, to avoid getting lost or stumbling upon water that’s suddenly just a foot deep.
Thanks to Bob and to Jodi’s newfound boat-driving ability, the day ended safely at our perfect houseboat campsite. The guys found us after a successful outing. Mukhiya, who fishes obsessively since picking up the sport a few years ago, caught his biggest fish ever. He beamed as he cooked his catch over the campfire. Fat loons warbled right offshore. We sat on our boat’s porch and talked over beers into the evening-. (We didn’t even notice the rocking anymore.) It felt like we were alone in the park. "This is the best vacation ever, " James said as the moon rose and the stars shone.