Tent Camping

A campfire burns in a fire ring, with a scenic lake and islands in the distance.
Wake up to the sound of waves lapping the shore of your campsite.

NPS

 

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Frontcountry Camping is one of the most popular ways to camp in the park. Most of the information on this page pertains to Frontcountry campsites.

 

Differences Between Frontcountry and Backcountry Sites


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 in the Backcountry.

Click the circular icon below and slide it back and forth to see the difference between the two types of campsite.

 
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 on the large lakes 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. 



 

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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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 permit for the Loon Cove campsite on Rainy Lake shows lines for a fictitious visitor's name, address, 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.

  • There are restrictions on refunds if you need to cancel after your permit is printed, so be certain your group's plans are finalized before printing.
  • Google Chrome is the supported browser for accessing permits; if you have trouble printing a permit, try this browser.
  • When you begin your trip, bring your printed permit with you and place it in the clear box at your campsite.

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 for all of the following season's reservations

*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.

Canceling 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 more than 3 days prior to your trip

No charge
Any change to your reservation less than 3 days prior to your trip

$10 reservation service fee

Cancel reservation more than 3 days prior to arrival date

$10 reservation service fee; receive refund for remaining amenity fees

Cancel reservation less than 3 days prior to arrival date

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

Once trip dates have started

No refund
Once permit has been printed (printing your permit confirms your reservation) No refund

Changing dates, sites, etc.

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.

Day use: Can I use a campsite for part of the day?

  • 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.

Group Size Limits

The campsite photos page describes the size of each site, plus the number of tent pads and amenities the campsites offer. In general, minimum/maximum group size limits are:

Site Type Minimum Number Maximum Number
Small Campsite 1 9
Large Campsite 1 18
Group Campsite 14 30
Backcountry Canoe 1 3 per canoe
Backcountry Rowboat 1 3 per boat

Houseboats: Can I use a houseboat permit to moor at a campsite?

Houseboats must be moored at least 200 yards (600 feet) away from any developed site; houseboats cannot pitch a tent at houseboat sites. If houseboaters want to pitch a tent, they must reserve a tent site on Recreation.gov for those in their party who want to tent camp.

The exception is group campsites; houseboats may moor at R-74 on Rainy Lake and K-54 on Kabetogama Lake. The group campsite limit is a minimum of 14 and a maximum of 30 people, and the group must have a permit for the group site plus a permit for each houseboat.

Late Arrivals

  • 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.

Maps: Where can I find a map of the campsites?

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.

Non-Designated Sites: Can I stay at one?

Not overnight.

Permit-free camping: where can I camp without a permit?

There are several private campgrounds and state campgrounds near the park that do not require a reservation.

Permits: Help! I'm at the park and don't have one!

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.

Printing: why can't I print my permit?

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 on the down arrow next to your name in the upper right corner of the screen
  3. Select "My Reservations" from the drop-down menu
  4. Click the "Print Permit" button next to the correct reservation


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.

RVs: Can I get a permit to camp in the park with an RV?

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

Time Limits: how long can I stay at a campsite?

The maximum stay at a Frontcountry campsite is 14 consecutive days, or no more than 30 in a calendar year.
The maximum stay at a Backcountry campsite is 7 days in a calendar year.


Transfers: can I transfer my permit to somebody else?

Permits are non-transferrable.

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A white tent sits at the top of a large, smooth rock that slopes gradually up from the shore of a lake. Forest in the background.
A sunny day at the Cutover Island campsite

NPS

Check-In, Checkout, and Parking (Frontcountry)

Check-in and Checkout times

Check-in for your first day at a Frontcountry campsite begins at 3 pm. Visitors have 24 hours from their check-in time to set up at their reserved site. Checkout is at 12 noon on the day after your last night.

Between noon and 3 pm, unused campsites may be used temporarily for swimming, picknicing, etc. Only visitors who reserve a canoe in the Backcountry need to stop at a visitor center before checking in. All others may go straight to their campsites if they have a valid printed permit.

Example: Lee has reserved a Frontcountry campsite on Sphunge Island, and his start date is August 8. He will camp overnight there that evening, as well as August 9, and will leave on August 10.
 
A blue van is parked in front of a log building. Near the van, a sign reads "Ash River Visitor Center."
All are welcome at Voyageurs' visitor centers. For check-in purposes, only those who have reserved a Backcountry canoe or rowboat are required to stop in before going to their campsite.

NPS

  • Check-in for his campsite is at 3 pm on August 8. If he arrives earlier, he may find people at his site. If the site is unoccupied, he can arrive as early as noon; check-in is still at 3 pm.

  • Because this is a Frontcountry site, he does not need to check in at a visitor center beforehand (although he is welcome to do so anyway if he wants to learn about the park, purchase maps, etc.)

  • Checkout is at noon on August 10.

Check-in and checkout times for Frontcountry sites are different than Backcountry rules. Check the Backcountry camping page for check-in times at Backcountry 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

 
 

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a


For Paddlers Camping on the Large Lakes

 
Six adults in life jackets paddle three canoes across open water towards a forested shoreline.
Canoeing across Black Bay on Rainy Lake

NPS

If you plan to paddle on Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, Namakan, or Crane Lakes to your campsite, the tips below can make your trip safer and more enjoyable.

 
An adult and child in yellow life jackets sit at the front of a canoe on a scenic lake, looking towards a tree-lined island.
Life jackets are also very strongly recommended—and they're also the law for kids under 10 years of age.

NPS/Grunwald

  • If it looks too rough to leave, don't. Even if you are already at one campsite and have a permit for another one, your safety is the top priority. If you're stuck at a site, either of these options are possible:
    • Stay at the site. If it is vacant, you may be able to get a permit. If others arrive at the same site, it is not uncommon for multiple groups to stay at a single site during bad weather. Safety for both groups is the highest priority.
    • If campsite disputes occur, consider calling Park Headquarters (see contact information at bottom of page) or any other visitor center for assistance.
    • Request a water taxi if it is safe to do so.
  • Have a Plan B. Windy conditions—especially winds over 10 miles per hour and winds from the northwest—can make headway very challenging for paddlers of any ability due to the size of the lakes. If you have doubts on the day you expect to depart, consider staying on the mainland at one of the nearby public campsites or private lodges until conditions calm down.
 
A visitor sits with a paddle on her lap at the front of a canoe. She is looking straight ahead at a large pile of sticks and twigs that make up a beaver lodge.
A paddler checks out a beaver lodge on Black Bay

NPS

  • Learn team rescue and self-rescue techniques if you don't know them already. The American Canoe Association and U.S. Coast Guard have some good reference materials for rescue training.
  • Make a float plan and leave it with somebody you trust on the mainland with instructions to call the park if you do not check in by the time you're supposed to have left. A basic float plan includes:
    • Full names and contact information of everybody in your group
    • Your full itinerary, including campsites and routes
    • Dates you will enter and depart
    • Emergency contact information
    • The forecast you expect to encounter during your trip

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Winter Camping

Discover a Voyageurs winter!
 
A white snowmobile with a large box bolted to the back faces toward the wide expanse of a frozen lake, with a forested treeline on the horizon.
Travel by snowmobile, ice road, skis, or snowshoes to your campsite!

NPS/Challeen

The park's campsites are open all year, and winter camping is an exhilarating, memorable opportunity in Voyageurs for those who are prepared. Driving the park's ice roads, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing are all unique ways to travel to your campsite.
 

Recommended Winter Camping Gear Checklist

  • Snowshoes (regardless of how you get to your campsite)
  • Poles
  • Ice picks
  • Tools to maintain gear (e.g. extra straps, duct tape, rope, patch kit)
  • Backpack or tow sled
  • Tent or bivy
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Insulated, water resistant outer coat and snow pants
  • Long undergarments (upper and lower)
  • Gloves or mittens with removable shells
  • Scarf or balaclava
  • Hat
  • Sleeping bag (rated to at least -50 Fahrenheit)
  • Sleeping pad and additional padding to insulate bottom of tent
  • Enough food for at least one extra day
  • Cooking pot to melt snow
  • Camp stove
  • Camp stove fuel (plus at least one day's worth of extra fuel)
  • At least 2 extra layers of clothing, gloves, and hats
  • Matches
  • Knife
  • Stove repair kit
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp (at least 2)
  • Extra batteries
  • Emergency signaling device (e.g. mirror, flare, SPOT)
  • Emergency fire starter
  • Lightweight shovel
  • Sunglasses (to prevent snow blindness)
  • Portable hand and foot warmers
  • Thermos
 
A thin dusting of new snow crystals sits atop a stretch of thin ice jutting out from a grassy shoreline. The ice disappears as the water gets deeper, towards a tree-lined horizon on the far shore.
New winter ice

NPS

Before your winter trip:

1. Check the park's winter ice and trail conditions report and/or social media page, which are updated regularly with safety information. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has excellent information about ice safety as well.

2. Make sure you have a way to communicate beyond a cell phone. Cell phones are often unreliable in cold temperatures. Radios and emergency signaling devices are more reliable in an emergency.

3. Write down an itinerary with your start/end dates and route, and leave it with somebody you trust to call the park in the event of an emergency.

4. Check visitor center hours if you plan to purchase gear or maps.

5. Get a permit. Campsites are available at a reduced price from October 1 through April 30 annually.

6. Review camping rules and regulations, plus the Superintendent's Compendium if you have questions about what activities are permitted (e.g. ice fishing) while camping.

7. Review the Winter Safety page.
 
A person in a thick, hooded jacket and knit cap stands on a tree-lined ridge and looks towards a large, frozen lake dotted with forested islands.
Winter on Lake Kabetogama

NPS/Schwartzbauer

8. See which resorts and businesses are open year-round if you plan to purchase gear, hire a winter guide, or stay overnight at a resort either before or after your trip.

9. Plan to cover less ground and to spend more time setting up/breaking down camp. Everything takes longer during winter.

10. Test your equipment in cold temperatures. Stoves, fuel, and water filters don't work as well in the cold, so test them in cold conditions before you have to rely on them. Also test your shelter to ensure it has enough ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning (especially if you are using an ice fishing house).

11. Learn the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia, and how to treat them.

12. Triple-check your clothing. Having enough layers and the right kind of clothing (e.g. packing wool or synthetics, not cotton) can become a matter of survival while enjoying an inspiring and powerful Voyageurs winter.

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Last updated: February 6, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Voyageurs National Park Headquarters
360 Hwy 11 East

International Falls, MN 56649

Phone:

(218) 283-6600

Contact Us