A boat with all of the amenities of a home + a gorgeous lake surrounded by islands, pines and glacial landforms + a national park full of hiking trails + your family or good friends = one awesome vacation!
Considering renting a houseboat for your trip to Voyageurs National Park? Look no further. I’ve put together a guide to help you bon voyage and embark on your national park journey into pristine wilderness, all while living on a boat.
Minnesota is home to Voyageurs National Park. It’s located on the northern most tippy tip of the state near International Falls. What makes this national park unique? Around 40 percent of it is water, there are 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and more than 500 islands. Talk about #lakelife. So what better way to discover Voyageurs than while living on a houseboat?
A big thank you to Rainy Lake Houseboats for partnering with Girl of 10,000 Lakes to make this post possible. This guide and all words on Girl of 10,000 Lakes are my own. I’m glad to partner with Minnesota businesses like Rainy Lake Houseboats to bring you insightful, fun ideas to make the most of the great outdoors.
BOOKING YOUR TRIP
With five couples onboard for the adventure, we ended up booking our houseboat with Rainy Lake Houseboats located on Rainy Lake. A quick Google search is all it really takes to find out you have options for a houseboat rental.
First, figure out what lake you want to go to between Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand Point Lakes. Rainy Lake is the largest lake in Voyageurs National Park.
I learned very quickly that you need to book early to get the dates you want. Our group definitely wanted a long weekend rather than clumped up weekdays. We were somehow able to snag a Thursday – Sunday in August, so three nights total.
FIGURING OUT COST
It’s not as pricey as you might be thinking! The cost depends on the houseboat. Some boats fit two people comfortably while others can fit up to twelve.
At Rainy Lake Houseboats, a two-person houseboat aka the ‘Honeymooner‘ starts at around $285/day. The ‘Voyageur‘ which fits 6-10 people is $560/day. We ended up going with Lady of the Lake. It fits 10-12 people and includes four bedrooms + two pullout couches. There’s even a hot tub on the roof! Lady of the Lake comes to about $1160 per day + gas + tax. So between ten people, it comes to around $750/person total for a large 54′ houseboat with all of the amenities you’d need to live comfortably for a few days. There’s a three night minimum, which ended up being perfect for our group.
We recently booked a three-night trip to Vegas and it came to around $830/person. It’s comparing apples to oranges, I know. But Voyageurs ends up being very cost-effective! You won’t be eating out all the time since most of your meals will be on the boat or campsites. Plus, if each couple takes responsibility for cooking a meal — it ends up being a cost-saver too. If you’re looking for a northwoods getaway that actually feels like a vacation with an excursion, renting a houseboat and exploring Voyageurs National Park is definitely the way to go.
BEFORE YOU GO
Lucky for all of us, there’s a general packing list on Rainy Lake’s website. Rainy Lake Houseboats also takes care of getting the permit squared away for your national park visit.
Here are a few things to do before you journey up to International Falls:
- Figure out meals. If you’re going with a big group of people, have each person or couple take care of one or two meals for the group. You’ll get a wide variety of flavors and cuisine. The houseboats have full kitchens plus a grill so you can make anything you want.
- Research Voyageurs National Park. Take a look at this very helpful map on the National Park Service’s website. You’ll see that there are tons of houseboat campsites to choose from. Houseboats must be moored to shore from sundown to daylight so it’s probably a good idea to have a loose plan of what area you’d like to camp at each night. You can also research the national park and plan some day hikes and visit destinations like Kettle Falls.
- Download the Navionics Boating Marine & Lakes app onto your phone. The map shows your houseboat in real time which will help you plan routes. It also shows you the depth of the water and fishing spots that people have marked. I believe there’s a two-week trial period so you can actually use the app for free as long as you download it just before you go on your trip.
- Be sure to have someone in your group that has knowledge of driving a boat. Rainy Lake Houseboat’s crew will go through it with you, but I definitely recommend having prior experience operating at least a single engine boat. If you know how to operate a pontoon, you can definitely operate a houseboat with a little guidance. If you need some assistance, considering hiring a Spot Guide who will help with chart reading and navigation while you drive the houseboat.
HELPFUL TIPS & NOTES
- We really enjoyed hiking Anderson Bay Trail. There’s a beautiful scenic overlook and even an area some people like to cliff jump from.
- Bring your fishing gear. Rainy Lake is known for its walleye fishing. We caught six walleyes while cruising around in the aluminum row boat that comes with the houseboat (none of them were worth keeping — but it was fun to catch!). Bring your spinning rod and reel, jigs, bobbers, slip bobbers and live minnows.
- Don’t know where to start fishing? Rainy Lake Houseboats also offers a fishing guide service for $400/day for two people. Consider going on a guided trip with them on the first day and go off on your own the remaining days.
- If you end up sleeping in one of the areas with a pullout couch, bring a suspension curtain rod with long drapes. That way, you can make that area a bit more private. That’s what we did!
- Get to your campsite by 3 p.m. if you can. Houseboat campsites are on a first come first serve basis. It’s a good idea to claim your site early during peak season so that you’re not wandering around for a site close to sunset.
- Pack plenty of bug spray.
- Bring your own pillows, sheets and comforter.
- Pack extra ice to leave in the freezer.
- Bring some air freshener for the bathroom. Sharing one bathroom between ten people… you get what I’m saying.
- Bring games, puzzles and books for rainy days.
- You end up living in the same clothes most of the time, so packing minimally is recommended.
- Bring water shoes.
- Be sure to close the sliding glass doors so that flies and bugs don’t congregate inside.
- You won’t need your passport as long as you only camp and fish in the U.S. If you’re planning to visit Canadian shores or fish in Canada, let Rainy Lake Houseboats know ahead of time during your booking. You’ll need proper permits, mooring tags and fishing licenses.
- The hot tub is awesome. There’s something amazingly relaxing about soaking up in a hot tub while cruising on the lake or at night while gazing at the stars.
- Be sure to visit Kettle Falls Hotel. There’s a fun little bar with a very crooked floor and even a sit down restaurant. It actually used to be owned by the same family that started Rainy Lake Houseboats.’
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
I did a quick call-to-action on an Instagram story right after our trip for this specific blog post. I asked if you had any questions about our houseboating experience. Here are your questions and my answers!
Q: How comfortable are the beds?
A: It’s definitely more comfortable than you’d expect! The queen beds in the rooms were comfortable, I’m told. I slept on the pullout couch and it was a thinner mattress with not much spring support. But it was still luxury compared to sleeping on a thermarest on the ground in a tent.
Q: Can you still have an area all to yourself?
A: There are bedrooms that you can have all to yourself! So yes! Plus, even with ten people onboard, we were not all in the same area at the same time. Some folks spent their time on the front deck, others were in the living room, while some were hanging out on the upper deck or roof.
Q: Would this experience be good for small children?
A: Totally! I am definitely planning on bringing my future children here someday. The main deck has sliding glass doors so they can safely be inside when the boat is moving. But it’s also safe on the upper deck and front deck. The wall of the boat comes up high enough to keep everyone within the boat. They will have a blast playing in the water while the houseboat is moored. Bring some games, toys and coloring books to do while indoors. Be sure to stop at the visitors center and learn about becoming a Junior Ranger. I think older children may appreciate it more though. There’s a waterslide on the houseboat that teenagers would really enjoy.
Q: How much did it cost?
A: Depending on the houseboat, it can be anywhere from $285/day to $1160/day. Also factor in tax and gas. But full disclosure, we did end up working out a discount with Rainy Lake Houseboats in exchange for services including photography and videography. It’s one of the ways I’m able to continue providing blogs posts like this and share high quality content with you.
Q: How did you rent yours?
A: I did a bit of research on the ol’ Google. I inquired online through Rainy Lake Houseboat’s website which led to an email and eventually a phone conversation where I made my first deposit.
Q: How was the fishing?
A: We were there in mid-August and still were able to catch six walleyes. They were all under 13″ but maybe that’s because it was so late in the season or we weren’t fishing in the right spots. We heard other people had good luck along some structures near Blueberry Island. You can look through the Navionics map to see if there are any locations people have marked as “structure” with successful fishing.
Q: Pros and cons?
- It was a unique experience that I don’t think you can really get anywhere else. This is a very remote part of the northwoods with beautiful pine trees, glittering stars with basically zero light pollution and you get camping experience but with a bit of luxury. You get a real bed, air conditioning, a full kitchen and protection from the rain.
- You’re able to go from campsite to campsite with ease. Switch it up each day and discover a new campsite!
- There’s a bathroom with flush toilet and a shower!
- The hot tub makes you really feel like you’re living the dream.
- Great fishing!
- Enough room for just two people or up to 12 people — so you can have a romantic getaway or a big party if you want!
- It’s an affordable vacation that I would totally do again!
- Someone from your group should feel comfortable around a boat. I know that is not always the case, but I definitely recommend having some boating experience beforehand.
- You cannot drop anchor in the middle of the lake. You have to be moored along shoreline in order to “park.”
- You should be familiar with navigating waterways. There’s a whole buoy system with channel markings to help guide you on where it’s safe to drive the boat. Take a look at the navigation guide.
- There’s only one bathroom so you may be sharing it with a crowd.
- Crews recommended that we power down the generator before going to bed and power back up when we wake up.
However, once the generator is shutdown, the water won’t run and electricity is off — including the air-conditioner.Correction: There is water available 24/7 on the houseboat, both fresh and lake water are supplied via 12 volt water pumps. The switches on the console need to be on for the water to run.
- You’re basically confined to a boat during the day while traveling, so make sure to bring people you enjoy being around. 🙂
I had so much fun on this Rainy Lake Houseboat trip to Voyageurs National Park. It was a vacation unlike any other I’ve been on. I got to spend time on a spectacular lake with my close friends, go fishing, have bonfires every night, hot tub while cruising, hike the national park trails, visit some of the historic sites and live on a boat.
So that’s it! What do you think? Would you go on a houseboating adventure at Voyageurs National Park? Comment below!