Backcountry Tent Camping and Canoe Rentals

A map shows many islands on a large lake. A dotted red line begins at a visitor center on the lake's southern shore, crosses the large lake, continues along a hiking trail on the lake's north shore, continues across a smaller lake and ends at a campsite.
Backcountry camping requires 2 or 3 steps.
1: Boat to a trailhead on the Kabetogama Peninsula (visitors must use their own boat, a water taxi, or a rental)
2: Hike a trail
3: If the campsite is on a Backcountry lake, paddle a canoe or rowboat (rented from the park and staged at the end of the trail) to your campsite.

NPS

 

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As of May 18, 2020 Voyageurs National Park has reopened access to backcountry camping and canoe rentals. All backcountry camping that offers canoe rentals, which is defined as camping on the interior of the Kabetogama Peninsula, will require an advanced 4 day permit on www.recreation.gov. This will allow staff and visitors ample time to arrange key pick-up while park facilities are closed

Please visit the Voyageurs National Park Association webpage for information on how to enjoy Voyageurs, stay safe, and protect the park and others.



Differences Between Backcountry and Frontcountry Camping

All Frontcountry and Backcountry campsites are water-based, require a permit, and can only be accessed by boat. Most campsites in the park are Frontcountry sites, and 15 are Backcountry sites.

Click on the circular icon and slide it across the maps below to see the differences between the two types of campsites.
 
A map depicts several islands on a large lake. A dotted red line connects a visitor center on the mainland with a campsite on one of the islands. A map shows many island on a large lake. A dotted red line begins at a visitor center on the mainland, crosses the lake, continues along a hiking trail on the lake's north shore, then crosses a smaller lake and ends at a campsite.
Example of a typical Frontcountry campsite, which only requires a boat to access.
Example of a Backcountry campsite, which visitors must use a boat, hike a trail, and then paddle a canoe to access.

Frontcountry campsites are directly accessible by boat.

Backcountry camping has 2 to 3 steps:

1. Travel by boat to a trailhead (visitors must either use their own boat, rent a vessel, or use a water taxi).

2. Hike a trail into the Backcountry

3. Some backcountry sites also require campers to use a canoe (available for rent by the park and staged at the end of the trail) after hiking to reach their campsite.
 
If you do not have a boat and want to drive your vehicle to a campsite on land, there are two state campgrounds, as well as private campgrounds and other lodging near the park. 



 

Backcountry Camping 101

All Backcountry camping takes place on smaller lakes within the Kabetogama Peninsula. Canoes are provided to the public—both for overnight camping and single-day use—on certain backcountry lakes (listed below). Our photo gallery shows campsite pictures and amenities at each Backcountry site.
 
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 Campsite and Canoe Locations

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 for each campsite), 3 additional canoes, and 2 rowboats. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
War Club Lake (B17) 3.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 for each campsite), 3 additional canoes, and 2 rowboats. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Quill Lake (B15) 4.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 for each campsite), 3 additional canoes, and 2 rowboats. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Loiten Lake (B11) 5.75 miles Yes 4 campsite canoes (1 for each campsite), 3 additional canoes, and 2 rowboats. All staged at the end of Locator Lake trail.
Ek Lake (B6) 0.1 mile No 1 canoe
Jorgens Lake (B7) 1 mile No 0
Little Shoepack Lake (B8) 2.4 miles Yes 1 canoe
Shoepack Lake (B19) 3.9 miles Yes 1 rowboat (staged on the south shore of Shoepack; it is automatically included with the canoe at Little Shoepack Lake)
Cruiser Lake (B5) 4 miles No 1 canoe
Brown Lake (B3) 2.1 miles (hiking) or 1.5 (canoeing) No 1 canoe on north shore (Rainy Lake side)
Quarter Line Lake (B14) 0.5 miles No 0
Peary Lake (B13) 1.2 miles No 0
Oslo Lake (B12) 0.5 miles No 0
Agnes Lake (B1) 0.4 miles No 0
Ryan Lake (B18) 0.4 miles No 0

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What to Bring when Camping and/or Paddling

The basic items below are required; our safety page also shows camping supplies that can help make your trip safer and even more enjoyable.
Item Frontcountry Backcountry
Permit (printed and placed in clear box provided at campsite) X X
Boat, other watercraft, or water taxi X X
Knowledge of camping rules and regulations X X
1 life jacket for each camper using a boat or canoe X X
Key for backcountry canoe (if using one) X
Pack for food that can be hung from a pole (if camping overnight) X
Non-live bait (if your party will go fishing) X
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A hand holds out a brass key that is linked by a small chain to a large, yellow float labeled "7 War Club."
Keys for Backcountry canoes can be checked out at any open visitor center up to 24 hours in advance of a trip.

NPS

Backcountry Canoes: Where to Find Them, What They're Used for, How to Get Them, and Rules

Where to Find Backcountry Canoes

The National Park Service provides canoes, rowboats, oars, and paddles in the Backcountry for public use on:

  • The Chain of Lakes (made up of Locator, War Club, Loiten, and Quill Lakes)

  • Ek Lake

  • Shoepack and Little Shoepack Lake

  • Brown Lake

 
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

Backcountry canoes are locked on racks at the ends of the trails leading to each of these lakes. Visitors with valid permits may check out keys at any open visitor center up to 24 hours in advance of their trip (some visitor centers are seasonal—remember to check the open hours beforehand).

The Park Service only rents canoes for the Backcountry. If want to rent a canoe from the mainland for use on the larger lakes like Rainy or Kabetogama (instead of the Backcountry), check out our Local Area Businesses that provide rentals.

Backcountry canoes can be used in two ways: single-day use (also known as day rental) and associated with an overnight backcountry camping permit.
 
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 Get a Backcountry Canoe

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

Most sites only have one canoe. However, the Chain of Lakes has extra canoes and rowboats that can be added to your reservation. When you reserve a permit for a Backcountry campsite on the Chain of Lakes, the reservation website will ask if you wish to add boats before you finish your order. Simply select the number and types of additional watercraft you need for your group.

Backcountry Canoe Rentals (Single-Day Use)

Visitors can also rent canoes or rowboats in the Backcountry to use during the day without camping overnight. To rent a canoe online, click the "Reserve Day Use Rental" button on the Recreation.gov opening page for Voyageurs and select the date you want.

The key to unlock your canoe must be checked out from a visitor center during business hours and returned to any visitor center by the end of the day. If you need to drop your key off after visitor centers have closed, you can use the key drop box located near each of the three buildings.

 

Canoe Safety and Rules in the Backcountry

In addition to following rules for Frontcountry campsites, Backcountry visitors must:
Rule or Regulation Backcountry Camping Day Use Canoe Rental
Use only the number of boats shown on your permit (no additional canoes or rowboats). This ensures that other visitors can access their own reserved boats. X X
Pick up key for a reserved Backcountry canoe at a visitor center up to 24 hours in advance of your trip, and return keys to any park visitor center within 24 hours after your trip is done. A valid, printed permit is needed to check out a key. X X
Bring 1 life jacket for each person in your Backcountry boat 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
Check-in at the start of the day and check out at day's end after your final night at the Backcountry campsite X
Maximum stay is 7 days per year in the Backcountry X
Bring a rope to hang your food from bears (bear poles are provided at each Backcountry campsite) X

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A woman stands on a scenic lakeshore next to a green canoe.
Multiple businesses on the mainland rent canoes for use on Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane Lakes.

NPS

"Where can I rent a canoe for the big lakes like Rainy or Kabetogama?"

If you want to rent a canoe on the mainland to explore Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, Sand Point, or Crane Lakes (instead of the Backcountry), check out some Local Area Businesses that offer rentals. To avoid competing with these local businesses, the National Park Service does not rent canoes for the large lakes from visitor centers.

See our Frontcountry Paddling section to learn more about exploring the large lakes of Voyageurs by canoe or kayak.

 
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 can't I bring my own boat into the Backcountry?"

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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Permits and Prices

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
 
An example of a printed paper permit for Loon Cove campsite on Rainy Lake, showing lines for a fictitious visitor's name, permit number, group size, and other information. A National Park Service arrowhead symbol is seen behind the form as a watermark
Example of a printed permit

NPS

After you get your permit:

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.

Select the type of campsite you need below for step-by-step instructions to make a permit.

 
 
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Permit Prices

Income generated from overnight camping is used to improve and maintain amenities, campsite cleaning, and supporting the reservation system.
Site Reservation Service Fee
(one-time charge per
reservation call)
Amenity Fee Earliest Dates to Purchase Permit
Small campsite with 2 tent pads $10 $20 per night For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
For Low-Use Season**: Available March 15
Large campsite with 4 tent pads $10 $24 per night For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
For Low-Use Season**: Available March 15
Group Campsite $10 $35 per night For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
For Low-Use Season**: Available March 15
Backcountry campsite with no canoe $10 $16 per nigh For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
Not available during winter
Backcountry campsite with
overnight canoe
$10 $28 per night For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
Not available during winter
Day use rental canoe or rowboat
(Backcountry only)
$10 $12 per day For High-Use Season*: Available Nov. 15
Not available during winter
Houseboats Reservation fee included
in the amenity fee
$10 per night November 15

*High-Use Season: May 1 through September 30, annually. Both amenity and reservation service fees apply during the High-Use Season.

**Low-Use Season: October 1 through April 30, annually. Only reservation fees apply during Low-Use Season.

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Permit FAQ from A to Z

The information below pertains to both Backcountry and Frontcountry permits.

Cancellations must be made by phone to Recreation.gov. Call (877) 444-6777 to cancel a reservation. Fees may apply; see below.

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

If you need to change the dates and/or campsites of your permit, you can do so by calling the reservation hotline at (877) 444-6777.
  • There are 33 designated Day Use Sites in the park that are designed for picnicking; please try to use them first.

  • If a campsite is unoccupied, visitors may use the site until 2 pm.

  • No day use is allowed at houseboat 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.
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.
There are several private campgrounds and state campgrounds near the park that do not require a reservation.
There are several options:
  • Obtain a printed permit at any open visitor center
  • Call the reservation hotline at (877) 444-6777
  • Order a permit online using a mobile smart device at www.recreation.gov
  • Consider using camping and lodging opportunities on the mainland, near the boundary of the park.

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.
There are several private campgrounds, public campgrounds, and/or lodges near the park or on the park's shores that can accommodate RVs.


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A small brown sign with a white tent symbol labeled "Jorgens Lake" is surrounded by green ferns and trees. To the right of the sign, a trail leads into the forest.

NPS

Check-in and Parking

Check-in and Checkout Times

Check-in for your first day at a Backcountry campsite begins on the morning of 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 day's end on the day after your last night.

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 can obtain her key at any open visitor center as early as July 2
  • Check-in for her campsite is on the morning of July 3. If she cannot get to her campsite that day, she has 24 hours to do so.
  • Checkout is at the end of the day on July 5.
Backcountry check-in and checkout times are different than Frontcountry rules. Check our Frontcountry camping page for check-in times at Frontcountry sites.

Parking

Tent campers in Voyageurs can park their vehicles for free overnight at any park visitor center for up to 14 days during their trip. If you prefer to park somewhere else, consider asking about parking arrangements at the local resorts and businesses near the park.

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Links to More Information about Camping

 
 

Last updated: May 22, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Voyageurs National Park Headquarters
360 Hwy 11 East

International Falls, MN 56649

Phone:

(218) 283-6600

Contact Us