What to do in Minnesota: A North Woods Destination

Sunset on Rainy Lake

When you think of a true Minnesota escape, you probably imagine towering pine trees, serene lake waters and fishing that doesn’t disappoint. It’s the stuff paintings are made of. At Rainy Lake, you don’t need a canvas to see this magnificent natural beauty – it’s right before your eyes. Getting there takes a little planning, but it’s worth it to experience a part of the continent like no other. If you’re planning to visit Minnesota for the first time, or you’re already here, it’s worth visiting one of the state’s most beautiful regions.

Minnesota’s Only National Park

A bald eagle fishing in Rainy Lake

It’s true; Voyageurs holds the distinction of being Minnesota’s one and only national park. The areas in and around Rainy Lake had to demonstrate exceptional natural beauty, unique geological features and varied recreational opportunities to qualify for the distinction. Tourists visit from all over the country to explore this federally protected landscape, although you might have a hard time finding them – solitude is one of the park’s defining features. If you visit, be sure to make your way to Kabetogama Peninsula, which holds most of Voyageurs’ land area, and features pristine hiking trails maintained by the National Park Service. 

Unique natural landscape


Rainy Lake’s natural environment is world-renowned, and as cliché as it sounds, pictures don’t do it justice. Surrounding the sky blue waters are forests that make the transition between southern boreal and northern hardwood biomes. Aquatic and land ecosystems intermingle in a place where you’re more likely to spot an otter than an automobile. Moose, beavers and loons will also be around to keep your group company. Even the rocks around Rainy Lake tell a story ­– glaciers carved them over 10,000 years ago. If you’re looking for a true North Woods experience, Rainy Lake should be on your list.


A white swan taking off and flying out of Rainy Lake on a beautiful sunny day.

Getting here couldn’t be easier. Rainy Lake is a scenic five-hour drive from the Twin Cities. If you’re coming from Minneapolis, just take I-35 to Highway 53 – the views are breathtaking. Unlike many national parks (especially in the mountains), traffic on the way to Voyageurs is almost never an issue. If you’re looking for an even faster way to get to Rainy Lake, you could fly into Duluth’s airport (DLH) or Falls International Airport (INL), and skip the hustle and bustle of the big city. Voyageurs is a centrally located national park, so if you have relatives located across the country that are coming together, it is a convenient option.

The luxurious Saginaw houseboat from Rainy Lake Houseboats on a beautiful sunny day.

Whether you’re from another state or you live just miles away, Rainy Lake offers an adventure you won’t find anywhere else. It has taken hundreds of thousands of years to shape the Rainy Lake’s landscape, but it seems like all the right variables came together to create a unique and interesting place to visit. Navigating the lake is a breeze on vessels like the Saginaw, which features a front deck that will get you up close and personal with Northern Minnesota’s wildlife. When you go back home, you’ll have more than a few stories to tell.