Minnesota has certainly been cooler and wetter than we expected and things did not change as we moved from Ely northwest to Kabetogama, Minnesota and stayed at the Woodenfrog State Forest Campground. We were there for two nights and both nights it got down into the forties.
After getting settled in our campsite we drove twenty five miles north to International Falls, population 6,400. We were curious to see what the city was like and we were definitely underwhelmed considering it is a key port of entry and supply point for Ontario, Canada. We drove to the International Bridge linking the United States and Canada and were disappointed to see just an ordinary bridge. We didn’t even take a picture. International Falls has a paper mill and there was a bad smell that permeated the area.
Next we visited the Smokey the Bear Park and found a geocache. At 26 feet tall, made of steel and fiberglass and weighing 82 tons, it is the largest Smokey the Bear statue of its kind in the country. It was unveiled in 1954.
Since we left Duluth we have had to rely on small local markets for groceries. The choices are extremely limited and the prices high. So I was happy to find that International Falls had a Super One grocery store and before heading back home we stopped for some groceries.
Our reason for coming to this area was to visit Voyageurs National Park, the only national park in Minnesota. The park is 218,000 acres with 30 lakes, 1,000 islands and 600 miles of bedrock shoreline between Minnesota and Canada. There are four main lakes in the park which eventually drain into the Hudson Bay. Lake levels are controlled by dams at the international border at Fort Frances, Ontario Canada and International Falls, MN as well as dams at Kettle Falls and Squirrel Falls on Namakan Lake.
Our campground was near the Kabetogama Visitors Center in Voyageurs National Park, one of three visitors centers. The visitors centers are accessible for road, but the interior of the park is accessible only by water. There are many resorts and private campgrounds near the park, but the campsites in the park are only accessible by boat. We advance booked a boat tour since it is the only way to see the park. In the summer the park can be accessed by motorboat, houseboat, canoe or kayak. In the winter it is accessible by snowmobile, snowshoe or cross country skis once the lakes freeze. The Park Service plows miles of ice roads on Rainy Lake for ice fishing and wildlife viewing. Voyageur National Park became a national park in 1975.
When we left the RV Monday morning to head to the boat it was 55 degrees, pretty chilly to be out on the water! Not far from the campground Bill spotted a red fox on the side of the road, but it ran away before we could get a picture.
We boarded the pontoon boat with a park guide and a park employee driving the boat. We were provided with binoculars and a blanket which came in very handy for the next two hours. We toured the park with views of Canada across the water. We stopped at several locations to see bald eagles, birds and a loon which is the state bird of Minnesota. We were amazed at all the bald eagle nests and the guide told us there are many more in the park we couldn’t spot. We saw several fishing boats as well as some houseboats which the guide told us are available to rent from some concessionaires in the area.
We stopped at the Kettle Falls Hotel for lunch. Built in 1913, the hotel was frequented by loggers, prospectors and commercial fishermen. During Prohibition bootleggers took advantage of the hotel’s proximity to Canada and its remote location to smuggle liquor south of the border. Legend has it that a Madam financed the construction of the hotel who later staffed the hotel with the “fancy ladies” who “entertained” the guests. William E. “Big Ed” Rose, a timberman, sold his Kettle Falls holdings to Robert Sloan Williams in 1918 for $1000 and four barrels of whiskey. The hotel and restaurant was sold to the National Park service in 1977 and is operated jointly by the Park Service and a concessionaire. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kettle Falls got its name from the naturally formed kettles in the bedrock below the falls. The kettles were formed by hard rock being swirled around soft rock over thousands of years.
The hotel restaurant was understaffed and it seemed to take forever to get served lunch. While we waited we walked around the hotel. We noticed the badly slanting floor in the bar area. When the hotel was built the owner wanted it done as cheaply as possible so they did not build a foundation. The clay soil often accumulates water which builds up and can become mushy over time, causing the earth to sink. The hotel floor sank creating a sloping floor for the entire bottom level of the hotel. When the Park Service renovated the hotel in the 1970’s they decided to repair the foundation of the floor but preserve the sloping in order to preserve the uniqueness of the hotel. The original hotel had eighteen guest rooms but since the National Park Service acquired the property and brought it up to fire code it now has twelve guest rooms. It is still being used as a hotel today and they had one room open to visit. The hotel’s original owner furnished the hotel with second hand furnishings or castaway items. It really is a high class hotel…notice the box fan for air conditioning and the fly swatter on the wall. The hotel is not open in the winter because there is no heat upstairs and there are no televisions or Wifi either.
After lunch our guide led us on a short walk to the Kettle Falls Dam. The falls are now under the dam. There is a stake in the ground showing the boundary of the United States and Canada. When standing at the Kettle Falls overlook and looking towards the dam, it is one of the only places in the continental United States where you look south to Canada.
We then boarded the boat for the trip back. While we were walking to the dam it started to lightly rain. We have learned that bright blue skies in Minnesota in the morning does not guarantee a day without rain. It was a very cold ride back even with a blanket and coats. Even though the boat was covered we occasionally felt the rain and the ride back was sometimes rocky. We saw the Minnesota’s state bird the Common loon. By the time we got back we had been gone for six hours, four of which was on the water. We were cold and glad to get back on land and in the warm car. On the way home we saw a doe and her fawn.
Next stop: Baudette, MN