We visited Voyageurs National Park the wrong way last weekend.
The park, right at the northern border of Minnesota, is more than one-third lake, and nearly all of the land is best accessed by boat — or by ice, once the lake gets there. We didn’t have a boat and had just a few hours, hardly enough to get introduced to a few hundred square miles. But it was my birthday week, and the fall colors were still hanging on, and we won’t be in Minnesota forever, and we had a beautiful Saturday to spend, so we went for it. It’s the wrong approach to truly see this place. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
We hiked the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a nice little loop near a park entrance. Golden aspen and birch leaves, long pine needles and green mosses carpeted the often waterlogged forest floor. There’s still growing to do even in October, including for spiky little plants, like miniature Christmas trees and cacti, that I’d never seen before.
Hopefully we’ll have the chance to get more thoroughly acquainted.
The clouds greeted us on our way to Kings Canyon. The road from Sequoia to the adjacent national park goes over a high ridge where water vapor drifts up and down the hillsides in all directions, including right through where we stood.
From there the road mostly goes down, descending from an overlook of one of the continent’s deepest canyons right to its floor. The gorge is genuinely, shockingly deep, gouged by the Kings River and ancient glaciers into a complex of rough-hewn peaks and cliffs — great walls that enclosed us on all sides except above. It’s a wilder, rougher cousin to Yosemite Valley and perhaps the more spectacular demonstration of frozen and liquid water’s sheer power, in my opinion.
We took the Mist Falls trail from Roads End, a literal-named park service station, deeper into the canyon. The trail is a backpacking thoroughfare, busy with groups going to and from the Sierra wilderness. Our destination was Mist Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in these national parks. The Kings River’s South Fork, the canyon and a textbook U-shaped, glacier-carved side valley kept the journey lively.
The enticingly named Paradise Valley and other beautiful places lie just beyond the falls. Nearly all of the park and its wonders are inaccessible by road. I can only get a taste of these glorious places.
The trail: about 8 miles in all, there and back; level for the first half of the way, more rugged and steep after that.