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A Dog-Friendly Guide to Voyageurs National Park

Like most national parks, Voyageurs National Park can’t really be classified as dog-friendly. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit with your pup. Arriving by car, there is plenty to keep you busy for an afternoon. And if you have a boat, you can plan an overnight adventure with your dog.

About Voyageurs National Park

Located in northern Minnesota, along the border with Canada, Voyageurs National Park is described on its nps.gov site as “a maze of interconnected water highways.” In fact, 40% of the parks 240,000 acres are made up of the waters of Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand Point Lakes.

As a result, for most of the year, the primary mode of transportation is via watercraft. Those without a boat of some sort are limited to the exploration of the small portions of the park around the three visitors centers (Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Ash River).

If you don’t have a boat (or the desire to rent one), you might consider visiting in the winter months. During the coldest months of the year, the park freezes, allowing snowmobilers to explore across the frozen lakes. There is also an opportunity for motorists to explore deeper into the park, as the Rainy Lake ice road opens to cars and trucks weighing less than 7,000 pounds. This road runs for 7 miles from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center to the mouth of Cranberry bay.

Personally, I prefer the milder summer temperatures, so we ventured up to Voyageurs National Park in late June.

View from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center picnic area.

Dogs at Voyageurs National Park

Unfortunately for visitors with pets, much of this national park is off-limits to dogs. But there are still some great areas available to explore with your pup.

Dogs are allowed in Front Country campsites (just not in the backcountry campsites). They are also allowed on the 1.7-mile Recreation Trail from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center to Hwy 11. And finally, they are allowed in the immediate visitor center areas and parking lots.

Some standard regulations apply to dogs visiting Voyageurs National Park:

  • Dogs must be on a 6-foot leash, under control, and attended to at all times.
  • You must pick up after your dog. Please dispose of all dog waste properly!

An additional requirement for Voyageurs is that all pets must be vaccinated and possess a valid vaccination tag (in accordance with Koochiching and St. Louis County requirements).

More information about pet policies at Voyageurs can be found on the official nps.gov website.

An Afternoon at Rainy Lake Visitor Center

With limited access to hiking trails and land activities, unless you have a boat and plan to camp at Voyageurs, a visit with your dog can be planned for an afternoon. This might not be worth driving out of your way for, but if you are in the area, it is worth a stop. And luckily, Voyageurs National Park does not have an entrance fee

During our visit, we ate lunch at the picnic area at Rainy Lake and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the lake. In late June, the mayflies were out in full force, but the other bugs weren’t bad at all.

After lunch, we took the dogs for a walk down the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail. This is a paved trail and mostly flat. It winds through forested terrain along County Road 96. There are occasional views of the lake, but mostly you will walk among trees, and depending on the time of year, some lovely wildflowers.

Walking along the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail.

Camping with Your Dog at Voyageurs National Park

A fun and unique feature of Voyageurs National Park is that campsites are only accessible by boat. For those without a watercraft, you will have to find a campsite in the nearby state forest campgrounds.

But if you have a boat and a dog who enjoys boating, you can bring your dog along for an adventure as you head to one of the park’s front country campsites. There are over 200 front country campsites to choose from in Voyageurs National Park. A map of the available campsites can be found here.

If you are considering spending a night in Voyageurs with your pup, make sure you read all of the requirements for camping at this national park ahead of time. Here is a link to Voyageurs’ camping information page.

Dog-Friendly Activities Outside of Voyageurs National Park

There are plenty of dog-friendly adventure opportunities in northern Minnesota outside of the national park boundaries.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area

If your dog enjoys canoeing and portaging with you, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is located to the east of Voyageurs National Park. Dogs must be leashed and under control during a trip in the BWCA, as they can impact wildlife and intrude on the experiences of others. You also must have a plan in place to dispose of fecal matter 150 feet or more away from water sources, campsites, and portages.

If you aren’t familiar with the BWCA, this area is located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest and contains thousands of lakes and streams, interspersed with islands and surrounded by forest. The area is over 1 million acres in size, with nearly 150 miles of the BWCA located along the international boundary. There are over 1200 miles of canoe routes, over 2000 designated campsites, and 12 hiking trails to be enjoyed in this remote area.

Kabetogama State Forest

Much smaller than the BWCA, Kabetogama State Forest shares a boundary with Voyageurs National Park. This is the state forest that offers drive-in campgrounds for visitors to the national park. It also offers some dog-friendly hiking trails. A map of the state forest can be found in the link above.

Minnesota State Parks

There are several state parks within a 2-hour drive of Voyageurs National Park. We really enjoy Minnesota’s state parks. They tend to have well-maintained campgrounds with ample space and natural foliage between campsites. They are also dog-friendly. So when we ventured up to visit to Northern Minnesota, we chose to camp at a state park. For this tripe, we stayed at Bear Head Lake State Park.

This lovely state park is another classically Minnesotan park with plenty of water access. During our trip in late June, you could hear loons every evening in the clear water at the edge of the campground. The mosquitoes were a little intense on the hiking trails, but they weren’t bad at our campsite.

We didn’t bring any water toys with, but if you wanted to, Bear Head Lake State Park would be a perfect place to bring your kayak. There were docks to launch your kayak or canoe right from the campground.

Since we didn’t have any watercraft with, we took advantage of the miles of hiking trails through thick forests and along beautiful lake shores. We really enjoyed our time at this state park.

The view from trail around the campground.

Visiting Voyageurs National Park with Dogs

Overall, Voyageurs is not particularly dog-friendly. That being said, for those visiting with a boat, you and your dog could still spend several days boating from one front country campsite to another as you explored the park.

For those of us who are landlocked (without boat access), the dog-friendly areas of Voyageurs National Park can easily be explored in one day. And while a dog-friendly road trip to Voyageurs may not be the highlight of a visit to northern Minnesota, it is definitely worth a stop if you are already there.

And after you stop at Voyageurs, you can then head to one of the many other dog-friendly locations in Minnesota. If you need suggestions on where in Minnesota to visit, we have plenty of them!

Happy Hiking Everyone!

Kate, Glia, and Sasha

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