Rainy Lake Visitor Center (Docks)

Voyageurs National Park - Oberholtzer Trail

Established in 1975, Voyageurs National Park is 218,000-acre piece of public land located in the Boundary Waters region of far northern Minnesota. It’s a challenging park to visit, and not just due to its remote location. With only a car, just a small portion of the park is accessible. The majority of the parks islands, waterways, trails, and campsites are only accessible by water. During the short summer season there are numerous tours and private water shuttles to help explore the park. In the winter season (October-April), however, you’re on your own. Our visit took place in early October, which meant that we would thus be restricted to the mainland. Luckily, though options are limited, there’s still a nice handful of trails to choose from at the parks three main entry points. On this visit we’d be stopping at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center first. Located a dozen miles east of International Falls, Rainy Lake is the only visitor center in the park open year-round. A hub for watercraft and tours in the summer, there’s but one short trail to walk here in the off-season…the Oberholtzer Trail. Though short, I had read that the Oberholtzer Trail would be a great introduction to the varied ecosystems and landforms found within Voyageurs. It didn’t disappoint.

The Oberholtzer Trail, named for a renowned local conservationist, departs from the south side of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. A small sign marks the trailhead, where a map of the trail is also displayed. The trail is made up of two lollipop-shaped routes, one stacked atop the other. Departing the visitor center you’re walking up the “stick” of the first lollipop. The first few minutes on the trail probably won’t impress you much as the route is closely bounded by park roads. After a quick tenth-of-a-mile, however, the route becomes more secluded and the marks of civilization are left behind. After a brief descent the trail now swings along the outer edge of a vast marshland extending west from nearby Black Bay. It’s a stunning panorama, with the bay itself shimmering on the horizon and mixed coniferous forests lining the marsh boundaries. After passing the marsh the terrain remains flat for a short time before suddenly arriving at a fairly steep flight of wooden steps. Climbing the steps you’ll find yourself at the loop portion of this first lollipop. Keeping left the trail remains tightly surrounded by a mix of spruce, pine, and aspen. Halfway around a sign points you towards the Bayview Overlook, a short distance from the main trail. The view from the overlook is similar to the marsh view earlier with the exception being you’re much closer to the waters of the bay now. Nearby islands and distant shores can be seen in all directions….and, aside from the random passing boat, not a sign of man can be seen anywhere. It’s beautiful.

The first loop soon closes at a junction where you’ll now turn left, to start walking up the “stick” portion of the second lollipop. The terrain is a bit more rugged now, though there is little in the way of elevation change. Exposed rocks and countless roots demand a careful step. Spruce and aspen dominate the canopy creating a wonderful contrast in color if you manage to visit during leaf season as we did. In a bit under a half-mile, after crossing another paved road, the second (western) loop begins. Bearing left again to head around it in a clockwise direction, the scenery along the loop is much like what has come before. It’s barely 1/3-mile around the loop, with one more overlook to be enjoyed just before arriving back where it began. This overlook is nice, but trees intrude on the view of Krause Bay just to the north. After closing the western loop it’s a fairly straight-forward 2/3-mile walk back to the visitor center…just make sure you bear left at each of the junctions you pass along the way.

Overall this is indeed a great introductory hike for those visiting Voyageurs National Park for the first time. It’s short enough and easy enough for pretty much anyone to complete and has some decent views to boot. Add a bit of fall foliage in, as we managed, and the recipe for a wonderful walk is complete. It will no doubt perk your interest as to what other natural wonders are in store elsewhere in the park. So it was for us. With that said it’s my pleasure to invite you along with us as we make the first in a series of hikes at Voyageurs National Park, along the beautiful Oberholtzer Trail. Welcome to the Northwoods and, as always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  48.58439, -93.16182

Route Type: Stacked lollipops            Difficulty: EASY (Petzoldt Rating: 1.82 )

Hike Length:  1.7 miles                         Hike Duration:  0:45

Trailhead Temp:  60'F                         Trail Traffic: NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  1,110'                            Max. Elevation:  1,140'

Total Vertical Gain:  60'                       Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  35'

Trails Used (blaze color): Oberholtzer Trail (unblazed)


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