Backcountry Camping and Canoe Rentals

Quarter Line Lake campsite in the backcountry of Voyageurs National Park
Quarter Line Lake campsite in the backcountry of Voyageurs National Park, NPS Photo

Backcountry campsites are located on the interior lakes of the park's Kabetogama Peninsula, and require travel by water from any mainland boat launch to access the trailheads that lead to them. The backcountry areas of Voyageurs National park are wild, rugged, and breathtakingly beautiful. They offer more remote, secluded, and serene camping, hiking, and canoeing experiences, since they are less traveled than the frontcountry and the lakes here are smaller, protected, inland waters.

The park does not rent watercrafts of any kind on the large lakes to take you to the remote trailheads. If you do not have a watercraft, there are local businesses that offer water taxi service to and from the trailheads, as well as a variety of boat rentals, from canoes and kayaks to fishing boats and pontoons.

Voyageurs National Park has four water access points at the Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Ash River Visitor Centers, and the Crane Lake Ranger Station. There are also public and private boat launches outside the park.

Some backcountry lakes have rental canoes stationed at them that can be reserved with an overnight camping permit or for day use.

 

The Basics of a Backcountry Camping Trip in Voyageurs

  1. Do some research:
    • You will need to arrange water transportation to get to and from the backcountry trailheads. If you don't have a watercraft, check out this list of local businesses to find a boat rental or water taxi service.
    • View a map of the backcountry areas (below) to select hiking distances that suit your abilities and campsites that suit your needs. Only select backcountry campsites have rental canoes stationed at them as optional additions to your backcountry reservations, so consult this map in your planning.
  2. Make your reservation: Go to the Voyageurs National Park Camping Permits page on recreation.gov. Here you can view campsite info and photos, search for campsite availability, and build an itinerary. Weather or not you plan to incorporate any of the backcountry rental canoes into your itinerary, use these step-by-step instructions for a smooth reservation-making experience.
  3. Print your permit within 5 days of your trip start date by logging into your recreation.gov account and selecting Reservations from the menu. Click on the Print Permit button next to the correct trip. This button is disabled until 5 days before your trip. Backcountry sites do not have permit display boxes, so keep it on your person and/or have a digital copy/screenshot as a backup.
  4. Ensure you have the combination code and instructions for any canoes you have opted to reserved with your backcountry campsite. If this information has not been emailed to you by one week prior to your trip, call a visitor center.
  5. Parking: Campers can park overnight at visitor center parking lots free of charge during their permit dates, up to 14 days.
  6. Take a boat ride to the applicable backcountry trailhead. Visitors must either use their own boat, rent a vessel, or use a water taxi, as the park does not rent boats or canoes on the large lakes (Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane).
  7. Follow a map and hike the backcountry trails to your backcountry campsite.
    • The campsites at Jorgens, Quarter Line, Ek, Agnes, Cruiser, Brown, Peary, Ryan, and Oslo Lakes can all be hiked to directly after boating to the appropriate trailhead.
    • Reaching the campsites in the Chain of Lakes (Locator, War Club, Quill, and Loiten) and the Shoepack Lakes requires the use of a canoe after hiking. The use of one canoe automatically comes with your overnight camping reservation at these sites, however, the Chain of Lakes has additional canoes that can be added during the reservation-making process.
 
A map shows three large lakes surrounding a large peninsula of land. Dotted lines mark trails along the peninsula, which connect to a series of smaller lakes. 15 campsites are shown on the shores of the smaller lakes, indicated by tent symbols.
Campsites and trails in the Backcountry of Voyageurs National Park
Backcountry Site Name and Number Distance from Closest Trailhead (approximate) Canoe Needed
to Reach Campsite?
Total Number of Watercraft Available for this Backcountry Location
Locator Lake (B9) 2.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 per campsite) and 6 additional first-come, first-served canoes. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
War Club Lake (B17) 3.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 per campsite) and 6 additional first-come, first-served canoes. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Quill Lake (B15) 4.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 per campsite) and 6 additional first-come, first-served canoes. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Loiten Lake (B11) 5.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 per campsite) and 6 additional first-come, first-served canoes. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Ek Lake (B6) 0.1 mile No 1 canoe on south side of lake
Jorgens Lake (B7) 1 mile No No canoe available
Little Shoepack Lake (B8) 2.4 miles Yes 1 canoe (on east end of Little Shoepack; both Shoepack Lake sites get reserved together)
Shoepack Lake (B19) 3.9 miles Yes 1 canoe (on the south shore of Shoepack; both Shoepack Lake sites get reserved together)
Cruiser Lake (B5) 4 miles No 1 canoe located at campsite
Brown Lake (B3) 2.1 miles (hiking) or 1.5 (canoeing) No 1 canoe located at campsite
Quarter Line Lake (B14) 0.5 miles No No canoe available
Peary Lake (B13) 1.2 miles No 1 canoe located at campsite
Oslo Lake (B12) 0.5 miles No No canoe available
Agnes Lake (B1) 0.4 miles No No canoe available
Ryan Lake (B18) 0.4 miles No No canoe available
 
A canoe sits upside down on a wooden rack on the shores of a scenic lake, secured to the rack by a chain. Two paddles lay crossed next to the canoe.
Backcountry canoe on the shores of Ek Lake

NPS

Where to Find Backcountry Canoes

Backcountry canoes stay locked at the backcountry campsites that offer them and can be used in two ways: associated with an overnight backcountry camping permit, or for single day use.

All backcountry canoes require a combination code to access. Visitors with permits for canoes will be provided the combination code and instructions in a confirmation email and in the My Reservations section of their recreation.gov account. Be certain to print your permit within 5 days of your trip start date; it is required to have this with you and it will also contain the code and instructions. Do not hike into the backcountry without knowing the code for each canoe you will be accessing!

The Park Service only rents canoes that remain stationed in the backcountry. These cannot be portaged to other areas, and personally-owned vessels cannot be portaged into the backcountry, due to the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species.

If you wish to rent a canoe for use on the large lakes (Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, or Sand Point), check out the Local Area Businesses that provide rentals.
 
A small campfire burns in a metal fire ring on the shore of a scenic lake at dusk. Behind the campfire, a canoe floats on the shore.
A quiet evening in the Backcountry

NPS

How to Reserve & Access a Backcountry Canoe

Canoes with a backcountry camping permit:
When you purchase a Backcountry camping permit for the Chain of Lakes or the Shoepack Lakes, one backcountry canoe is automatically included in your permit so you can access the campsite.

Ek, Cruiser, Peary, and Brown Lake campsites have a canoe stationed at or near them. These canoes are optional to add to your camping reservation, because they are not required to reach the sites. A window will appear during the reservation-making process asking if you'd like to add them.

The Chain of Lakes is the only area that has extra canoes available that can be added to your camping reservation, so your group can have more than one canoe. During the process of reserving a backcountry camping permit on the Chain of Lakes (Locator, War Club, Quill, or Loiten Lake campsites), the reservation website will ask if you wish to add canoes. Simply select the number of canoes you need for your group in addition to the canoe that comes with your camping reservation. There is a limit of three.

Canoe rentals for single-day use:

Visitors can rent these same canoes for day use only (not in association with a backcountry camping permit). To rent a canoe, click the Reserve Day Use Rental button on recreation.gov's VNP Camping Permits page and select the date you want.

Whether you reserve a canoe with a camping permit or for day use, you should receive an email with the combination code and instructions to access your canoe about one week before your trip. If you do not recieve an email, call a visitor center or stop at one during business hours. Do not hike into the backcountry without your code!

 
A Spiny Water Flea (a white, flea-like creature with large black eyes and a long, barbed tail) floats in a water sample.
Invasive Spiny Water Fleas—which can harm fish habitats—inhabit Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, Namakan, and Crane Lakes. However, they are not currently found in Voyageurs' Backcountry Lakes.

Minnesota DNR

Why the Park Provides Backcountry Canoe Rentals

To prevent aquatic invasive species from spreading, visitors are not allowed to bring their own watercraft (e.g. boats, canoes, kayaks, tubes, floatplanes) into the park's Backcountry lakes.

Kabetogama, Sand Point, Namakan, Rainy, and Crane Lakes contain the invasive Spiny Water Flea. Using boats already staged in the Backcountry help prevent this detrimental species from spreading to fish habitats in the Backcountry.

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Plan Ahead and Prepare for Your Backcountry Trip

  • Have a basic understanding of parkwide rules and regulations before you start your trip.
  • Our safety page shows camping supplies that can help make your trip safer and even more enjoyable.
  • Make sure to secure a rental watercraft or water taxi to travel to and from the trailhead.
  • In addition, all backcountry visitors must:

Rule or Regulation

Backcountry Camping

Day Use Canoe Rental

Use only the number of canoes shown on your permit (no additional canoes). This ensures that other visitors can access their own reserved canoes.

X

X

Print your official camping permit from your recreation.gov account within 5 days of your trip. It is required to have this with you while camping and will contain the combination code and instructions needed to access your backcountry canoe.

X

X

Bring 1 life jacket for each person in your backcountry canoe and wear it.

X

X

Use non-live bait only, if fishing

X

X

No pets allowed on backcountry trails

X

X

Return the canoe to the same location you found it

X

X

You may check into your backcountry campsite no earlier than 12pm noon on your arrival day, and must depart no later than 11am on your day of departure. Be mindful that the next visitor may be waiting for your canoe to be returned to the launch area.

X

Maximum group size is 6, and the maximum stay is 7 days per year in the backcountry

X

Bring rope to hang your food 10' up and 4' out from a tree in case a bear pole is not present

X


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Backcountry Camping FAQs

There are two ways to get a permit:

  • Online at www.recreation.gov (Google Chrome web browser is strongly recommended)
  • Call 1-877-444-6777

After you get your reservation:

1. You will get a confirmation email. Be aware, though: this email is not your permit.

  • You can view your permit by logging onto Recreation.gov and clicking "My Permits" in the upper right corner.

2. You can print your permit up to 5 days in advance of your trip.

  • Refunds are not available once your permit is printed, so be certain that your plans are finalized and your group is prepared before printing.
  • To print:
    1. Log into your recreation.gov account
    2. Click on the "down" arrow next to your name in the upper right corner
    3. Select "My Reservations"
    4. Click the "Print Permit" button next to the correct permit
  • Google Chrome is the supported browser for accessing permits; if you have trouble printing a permit, try this browser.
  • When you begin your trip, keep your printed permit with you at all times.
  • You can easily modify or cancel your reservation using your recreation.gov account:
    • Log into your recreation.gov account and click on your name in the upper right
    • Select My Reservations and then click on the “Modify or Cancel” button next to the reservation you need changed
    • Deselect dates and select new dates or campsite to modify, or click on Cancel Reservation to cancel.
  • The following fees apply:

Action

Fee

Any change to your reservation

$10 reservation service fee

Cancel reservation more than 1 day prior to scheduled arrival date

$10 reservation service fee; receive full refund of nightly amenity fees

Cancel reservation less than 1 day prior to arrival

$10 reservation service fee; forfeit current night's fee; receive refund for remaining nights

Early departure from site

$10 reservation service fee; forfeit current night's fee; receive refund for remaining nights

Once permit is printed

Refunds not available

Both within frontcountry and backcountry sites at Voyageurs, if a campsite is unoccupied, visitors may use the site until 2pm.

  • There are 33 designated Day Use Sites in the frontcountry of the park that are designed for picnicking; please try to use them first.
  • No day use is allowed at houseboat sites.
Campsite maps published by National Geographic may be purchased at any of the park's three visitor centers or by going to the online shop of Jefferson National Parks Association, our bookstore partner.

Other maps for trails, day use sites, etc. are available for free on our maps page, but National Geographic and Mackenzie charts are both strongly recommended for safe navigation to campsites.
Camping is only permissible in designated camping sites. Non-designated camping sites are not permissible for overnight use.
There are several private campgrounds and state campgrounds near the park that do not require a reservation.
There are several options available if you arrive at Voyageurs without a permit:
  • Call the reservation hotline at (877) 444-6777 and print permit at any open visitor center.
  • Make a reservation online using a mobile smart device at www.recreation.gov and print permit at any open visitor center.
  • If you need to print your permit, visit any open visitor center for assistance. Remember permits are not available to be printed more than 5 days from the start of your camping reservation.
  • Consider using camping and lodging opportunities on the mainland, near the boundary of the park for last minute and dispersed camping options.

Permits can be printed up to 5 days in advance of a trip. Recreation.gov does not email permits to those who have reserved them; you will need to:

  1. Log into your recreation.gov account
  2. Click the "down" arrow next to your name in the upper right corner
  3. Go to "My Reservations"
  4. Select the "Print Permit' button next to the correct permit


If it is five days or less before your trip and you still cannot print your permit, try the following:

  • Ensure you're using Google Chrome as your browser

  • If your email address has changed since you made your permit, be sure to change it in your Recreation.gov profile

  • Call (877) 444-6777 and request assistance.
  • Check-in for your first day at a Backcountry campsite begins at noon on the first day printed on your reservation. Visitors have 24 hours from their check-in time to set up at a site. Checkout is at 11am on the departure day. Be mindful that another visitor may be waiting for your canoe to be returned to the launch area.
Example: Donna has the Backcountry campsite on Locator Lake reserved, and her start day is July 3. She will camp overnight that evening, as well as July 4, and she will leave on July 5.
  • She will log into her recreation.gov account and print her official permit within 5 days of her trip start date. This will contain the combination code and instructions necessary to access her canoe.
  • Check-in for her campsite is at noon of July 3. If she cannot get to her campsite that day, she has 24 hours to do so.
  • Checkout is at 11am on July 5th.
Backcountry check-in and checkout times are different than Frontcountry rules. Check our Frontcountry camping page for check-in times at Frontcountry sites.
  • Permit holders have 24 hours from the time of check-in (on the date of entry) to get to their site.
  • If a permit holder fails to arrive within 24 hours of check-in, the permit is void. The site will become available for others to reserve.

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Voyageurs National Park Backcountry Permits and Prices

Permit Type

Reservation Service
Fee (per transaction)

Low Use Season Fees

(per night)

High Use Season Fees

(per night)

Earliest Dates to Purchase Permit

Small campsite without dock

$10

$10

$22

For High-Use Season (May 15 – Oct 15): Available the previous November 15th


For Low-Use Season (Oct 16 – May 14): Available the previous April 15th

Small campsite with dock

$10

$10

$26

Large campsite without dock

$10

$10

$28

Large campsite with dock

$10

$10

$32

Campground small site

$10

$10

$26

Campground large site

$10

$10

$32

Group Campsite

$10

$10

$60

Backcountry campsite without canoe

$10

$10

$16

Backcountry campsite w/
overnight canoe

$10

n/a

$30

For High-Use Season (May 15 – Oct 15): Available the previous November 15th


**Rentals not available Oct 16 – May 14**

Day use rental canoe or rowboat
(Backcountry only)

$10

n/a

$14 per night or per day

Houseboat

$10

n/a

$15/night

Available the previous November 15th

**Income generated from overnight camping and permits is used to improve and maintain amenities, clean sites, clear and repair backcountry trails, and support the operation of the reservation system**

Last updated: November 9, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Voyageurs National Park Headquarters
360 Hwy 11 East

International Falls , MN 56649

Phone:

(218)-283-6600

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