Voyageurs National Park is a water-based park that is best visited by boat. While you can visit the National Park visitor centers and take a hike along the shore, to really enjoy this park you should plan to rent a boat or take a boat tour.
When we started planning our visit to Voyageurs, we struggled with finding general information about the best Voyageurs National Park boat rental and tour and whether renting a boat was our best option or if we should consider a water taxi. We knew we wanted to spend a night camping in the park and just needed to figure out the best way to do this.
After visiting Voyaguers in August of 2023, we put together this guide to help you plan your visit and decide how and where to rent a boat in the park. We will discuss the types of boats available for rent and share what to consider include practical considerations for boat rental.
If you are looking for more general information to help you plan your visit, start with our Voyageur National Park Planning Guide.
Types of Voyageurs National Park Boat Rental Options
You have several options when it comes to the type of boat you can rent to explore Voyageurs NP. You can also see some options below for boat tours or water taxis that are both good althernatives to renting a boat.
One of the most popular and fun types of boats to rent in Voyaguers is a houseboat. Houseboat rental in Voyageurs National Park allow you to enjoy the park from the comfort of a large boat. Many of these boats come with inside dining rooms, beds, and even water slides and hot tubs.
Houseboats can either spend the night in designated or non-designated areas in the park giving you many options. You can find more info on the NPS website about where to stay in your houseboat. You will need to book a permit in advance for staying on a houseboat in the park.
You can find several companies in the area that rent houseboats. Several companies include:
A few things to keep in mind with renting a houseboat in Voyageurs National Park:
- These boats are slow and generally only go a few miles an hour. Use this to plan how far you will go in the park
- While you don’t need a specific license, it’s best to have some boating experience when renting a houseboat.
- Double check with your rental company for addition fees such as cleaning, fuel, etc.
Motorboat and Fishing Boat Rentals
If you are looking for a small boat rental, you can find many places that rent small motorboats for fishing, exploring or spending the night at a campsite. Most of these boats are either Lund small aluminum boats (usually with a 25 hp engine) or you can also find some pontoon boat rentals.
This gives you a pretty big range in terms of how far you can get. We rented two 16 foot Lund boats in Ash river can camped about 10 miles away. It took us just over an hour to get to our campsite.
Since these are small boats, bad weather can make these distances more difficult or uncomfortable. You do not need a special license to rent a boat in the park, but you should only rent a boat if you already have some experience on the water.
We rented boats from Sunset Resort in Ash River. One of the boat was great, the other one had some engine issues on the lakes.
You can also rent boats from:
You can find a more complete list of commercial boat operators in the park on the NPS site.
A quieter way to see the park is to rent a canoe or kayak. Many people spend a few days paddling from campground to campground around one of the lakes. The distance you can travel depends on your experience and the weather.
It’s important to note that some of the lake are quite large and can get choppy, so if you plan to paddle large open area, it’s best to have experience. Otherwise, book your campsites in advance and choose more protects paddling areas.
We strongly considered renting a few canoes for the night, but based on the number of kids in our group and the campsites available, we opted for a motorboat that would take us further.
Most of the same places that rent motorboats also rent canoes and kayaks and will deliver your boats to one of the launching points in the park. Some also rental paddleboards in Voyageurs National Park. These are best for paddling during the day and are difficult to plan an overnight.
See the list of commercial boat operators in the park on the NPS site and you can find several rental options for kayaks and canoes.
Since getting out on a boat is the best way to see the park, you may be wondering what the best options are if you don’t want to rent a boat. You have two options – booking a boat tour or hiring a water taxi.
You can find a range of boat tours in the Park, starting with the tours operated by the National Park Service. These tours are on medium sized boats and provide information about the park and the environment.
You can also book guided fishing tours, sunset tours or sightseeing tours. In general most of the tours are equal to or more expensive than renting a boat, but also give you the best opportunity to see and learn about the park.
Voyageurs Outfitters offer some of the best tour options.
Water Taxi Service
Another option to consider when deciding whether to rent a boat is a water taxi service. Depending on the number of people in your group, how far you plan to go and whether you have boating experience this may be a better choice for renting a boat.
We looked into renting a water taxi, but found it more expensive than renting our own boats. We also have extensive boating experience so were comfortable getting the boat out on the water and handling our own boat even in rought weather.
What to Consider when Renting a Boat in Voyageurs NP
Deciding whether to rent a boat or what type of boat to rent in Voyageurs depends on several different things.
If you plan on covering a lot of distance during your visit, you are better off renting a motorboat. These can typically travel faster than a canoe or kayak. A houseboat travels slower, but can go for a long time as needed.
Length of Rental
If you are planning to rent a boat on Voyageurs National Park for a few days or even a week, you may want to consider a houseboat. These are comfortable. If you rent a motorboat for more than a few days, you will also need to plan to get fuel. Canoes and kayaks are a great choice if you want a few days paddling from campsite to campsite.
Where you pick up your boat is another important factor. It’s best to plan far in advance as you can organize getting a boat within easy reach of a campsite. Campsite rentals fill up months in advance.
Weather can be unpredicable and it’s best to be prepared for wind and rain. On our last day in the park we had a rainy morning and winds expected to pick up throughout the way. We chose to get an early start since even in the middle of the summer it was cold.
Be aware that many of the large lakes can get choppy in the afternoons and wind.
What you plan to do in the park will also determine the type of boat you want to rent. Consider whether you want to fish, camp or explore during the day.
While you don’t need a license to rent a boat in the park, you should have boating experience for any type of rental. If you are new to boating consider a shorter, less ambitious trip to get started.
What to do by Boat in Voyageurs National Park
Depending on the type of boat you’r renting there are lots of options for things to do in Voyageurs National Park. We rented motor boats in Ash River in order to get to our campsite on in one of the lakes for the night. This is a great option if you want to get into the park and enjoy a night at a campsite without your own boat. We also looked into renting canoes for the night but due to the distance to the campsite, we decided motorboats were the best option.
See more in our guide for the Best Things to do in Voyageurs National Park with a map.
Below are some of the best things in Voyagaurs National Park to do by Boat:
There are many campsites dotting the shores and islands on Voyageurs National Park. There are some of the most well maintained lake campsites we’ve every seens. Many people enjoy several days on the lake by boating from campsite to campsite. Depending on the type of boat you rent, you may need to book a campsite with a dock. You can see more about how to plan a camping trip in Voyageurs National Park.
You can also move your houseboat from site to site and explore the lake this way.
Campsites should be reserved in advance through the National Park Service.
Fishing is incredbily popular in Voyageurs National Park and most of the motorboats we saw on the lakes were out fishing. Some of the popular fish to catch include walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and crappie. Most of the boat rental companies are happy to give advice and pointers for fishing on the lake.
Explore the Lakes
You don’t have to spend the night in Voyageurs to enjoy the park. Many people choose to rent a boat for the day and explore the lakes and return home in the evening to a hotel or campsite. Since most boats are rented for the day, this is a more reasonable choice.
Renting a boat is the best way to see Voyageurs National Park. Luckily there are many Voyageurs National Park boat rentals that make it easy to explore the park no matter what type of boat you rent.
Looking for more adventures? Consider exploring Isle Royale.