What Animals Live in Voyageurs National Park?
120,000 acres of land. 84,000 acres of water. With vast stretches of wilderness, Voyageurs National Park makes a handsome home for many different animal species of the feathered, finned and fuzzy variety.
Voyageurs National Park wildlife is so vast and diverse that naming and describing all the animals that call Voyageurs home would fill multiple books. In fact, it already has. For now, we’ll focus on some of the fan-favorite mammals, birds, reptiles and fish found in this diverse wilderness.
Mammals of Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is home to over 40 different species of mammal, many specific to the Northern Boreal Forest habitat. Traveling by boat allows visitors to the park to keep an eye on the forest without rustling through the undergrowth and scaring away the wildlife before there’s a chance to spot them.
Below we’ve highlighted four different mammals of interest. However, these aren’t the only exciting mammals to spot in Voyageurs. Look out for otters, hares, foxes, and even porcupines, swinging high up in the pine trees as you travel the waters of Rainy Lake.
The beaver is the very reason for the name Voyageurs National Park. French fur traders, called voyageurs, used to travel the area to trade with the Ojibwe for beaver pelts. These days, beaver trapping in the park is forbidden, making it more likely that visitors to the park will be able to spot these flat-tailed engineers hard at work.
If you want to see a beaver, the signs of their presence are easy to detect. You’ll know beavers are taking up residence in the water near you when you see one of their lodges. A dome made of sticks and mud that sticks out of the water, beaver lodges vary greatly in size from 6 to 40 feet, depending on the population of beavers in the colony. You can also look for felled trees on shore.
Beavers are most often spotted swimming in the water, so watch for their slick brown heads, just above the surface. Stay quiet and you might be able to watch as they use their long, flat tail as a rudder to steer to their next engineering location.
It’s difficult to understand how large a moose is until you see one in the wild. Long-legged and muscular, these solitary animals are often over 6 feet tall and over 1,000 pounds. The best time to spot these water-loving giants is at dusk or dawn in spring and summer. Gifted swimmers, moose prefer to graze in wetlands, bogs and areas impacted by beaver.
A warning: never approach a moose. They have limited vision and may be startled if you get too close. While they’re typically gentle giants, they will charge when they feel threatened. Stay 25 feet away from any moose or deer. Also, put at least 100 feet of distance between you from bears and wolves.
Voyageurs National Park is home to 30 to 40 timber wolves at any given time. Also called gray wolves, a healthy male can weigh over 100 pounds. These majestic predators hunt in packs of around five. Each pack requires their own territory to hunt, making the population of these wild creatures widespread.
These aloof creatures aren’t often spotted by casual visitors to the park. However, when they do happen, many wolf sightings occur along the shores of the big lakes, giving those that travel by boat the upper hand when it comes to seeing one of these iconic canines.
Black bears are widespread in northern Minnesota. While the omnivorous animals naturally dine on berries, plants and fish, bears in popular tourist destinations have developed a taste for human cuisine.
Houseboaters should be aware that bears enjoy “island hopping,” swimming from island to island in search of food. This means that any food or garbage left in the boat unattended should be safely stored indoors, for both the bear’s and the human population’s safety.
Visitors to the park are most likely to spot bears in the early morning and late evening hours in the spring and summer. Black bears are typically afraid of humans, however, it’s important to take precautions if a bear gets close. Never run from a bear. If it begins to approach, make yourself as big and loud as possible. A bear encounter is your one valid excuse to try out Minnesotan Boreal Forest yodeling.
Birds of Voyageurs National Park
Spend a quiet moment in the middle of Rainy Lake at the right time of day and you’ll know that the forest around you is teeming with life. Carrying over the water, you’ll hear bird songs in every direction.
Named an important birding area by the Audubon Society, Voyageurs National Park wildlife includes at least 240 different bird species. Below we’ll broadly cover different bird types, and a few of the species often spotted or heard by visitors to the area.
There are over 100 species of songbird in Voyageurs National Park. While you may not spot many, as they move quickly and are suited to blend into the forest, there are six species that are common singers in this lush wilderness.
Visitors to Voyageurs will often hear the Nashville warbler, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, red-breasted nuthatch, white-throated sparrow, and the blue jay. Bring along your bird book or a birding app and you may be able to identify the birds you hear by their songs.
Birds of Prey
Once you know what to look for, it’s not hard to spot an eagle’s nest high up in an old white pine on the shores of the Voyageur National Park lakes. When you spot a giant puzzle of sticks and branches woven into the bare branches of an old tree, you’ll know to keep a look out for a family of bald eagles.
Bald eagles aren’t the only birds of prey of interest in Voyageurs. The national park is also home to hawks, vultures, owls and ospreys. Ospreys are hawk-like birds that nest near water.
Scan the woods early in the morning or late in the evening and you might spot an owl. Great horned owls, snowy, barred, and great gray owls can all be seen at the edge of clearings, searching for little snacks that might be skittering through the undergrowth.
Shorebirds come in all shapes and sizes from the tall and lanky to short and stout. There are many places to watch on Rainy Lake specifically. Visit Echo Bay to see Voyageurs’ largest heron rookery. Lucky visitors might even see an osprey nest!
Besides herons, the park is also home to sandpipers, gulls, terns, cormorants and plovers. Plovers and sandpipers are both rather small birds that can be found on beaches, snacking on small creatures left behind by the waves.
Cormorants can be found in groups or alone. These black birds have long necks and stand just under 3 feet tall and weigh about five pounds and often dwell on rocky outcroppings. Terns can often be spotted soaring over lakes, their distinct forked tail and V-shaped wings makes it easy to tell them apart from sea gulls.
Many people visit the lakes in Voyageurs National Park hoping to catch a glimpse of the iconic Minnesota loon. The birds are numerous, scattered throughout the many lakes of the park. Find these distinct black and white birds floating in deep water. Be sure and listen for their famous “laughing call” carrying across the water.
Visitors to the lakes should also keep an eye out for other beautiful waterfowl such as mergansers and emerald-headed mallards.
Reptiles of Voyageurs National Park
A description of a Voyageurs National Park wildlife isn’t complete without mentioning the cold-blooded creatures that dwell in the forests and lakes of this region. While none of the reptiles found within the park are venomous, please refrain from handling any creatures you might come across on your Voyageurs adventure.
There are two kinds of turtles found in Voyageurs National Park: the western painted turtle and the common snapping turtle. It’s easy to tell the two apart. Painted turtles get their name from their distinctive lower shell, with bright yellow and red stripes. These turtles are small — 10 inches long at most. They can be spotted basking in the sun on logs or rocks in the water.
The snapping turtle is much larger than its painted cousin. They can be up to 20 inches long and weigh up to 30 pounds. Known for their aggressive behavior on land, once they’re in the water, these creatures prefer to swim away from confrontation. Much like painted turtles, snappers can be spotted sunning themselves on logs, beaver lodges and rocks.
If you see a snake in Voyageurs National Park it’s either a common garter snake or a red-bellied snake. While some garter snakes can grow up to 4 feet, most will stay under 2 feet long. Garter snakes have distinct yellow stripes on their backs and may release a musky smell if threatened. Spot this snake basking in the sun in clearings, on rocks or even on trails.
The red-bellied snake is the smaller of the Voyageur National Park snakes. The top-side of the snake blends into the forest floor while its underbelly ranges anywhere from yellow to red. The red-bellied snake is much more bashful than the garter and is typically found under rocks or fallen trees.
Fish Found in Rainy Lake
At Rainy Lake Houseboats, we’re well acquainted with most of the Voyageurs National Park wildlife but we know the fish best of all. With 80,000 acres of wild waters, the lakes are home to at least 54 different species of fish.
Here you’ll find walleye, pike, bass, and crappie. Lucky visitors might even spot a lake sturgeon. A bottom-feeding giant, this prehistoric species has been known to grow over 6 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds. Want to know more about fishing at Rainy Lake? Find out about everything you need to know and see photos of fish caught in Rainy Lakes waters here!
Your Voyageurs National Park Adventure
Now that you know what animals live in Voyageurs National Park, we hope you’re excited to visit us. Just remember to keep your distance, secure your food and take plenty of photos because this experience will be one you’ll never want to forget. Ready to get on the water? Start planning your vacation to Rainy Lake here!