So, you’ve booked your houseboat rental for Voyageurs National Park. It’s going to be absolutely epic. But, you may be wondering what in the world should be on your houseboat packing list. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. These are the essential items to bring with you on your houseboat vacation plus some not-so-essential items that make your experience even more enjoyable!
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- Where is Voyageurs National Park
- Weather in Voyageurs National Park
- Houseboat Basics
- What You *Probably* Don’t Need to Bring
- Essential Houseboat Packing List
- Not-So-Essential Houseboat Vacation Packing List Items
- Enjoy Your Voyageurs National Park Houseboat Trip
Where is Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is spread out over 200,000 acres in north central Minnesota, just along the Canadian border. In fact, while exploring the park you will cross into international waters several times. The park is made up of a number of lakes and interconnected by waterways. It’s designed to be explored by water.
There are several houseboat rental companies offering entry into Voyageurs National Park. The closest to Minneapolis and St Paul, is on Crane Lake which is about a 4-½ hour drive. Other options can be found nearby on the Ash River.
Weather in Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is a year-round destination. In winter, it’s a snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing destination. And, in summer the park is all about boating and paddling. Most houseboat rental companies in Voyageurs National Park rent boats from May through September, when temperatures during the day average above 60F.
Early and late in the boating season, the weather can be somewhat unpredictable. For instance, during my visit in late May it was 80F one day and the next morning there was light snow falling. Throughout most of the summer, the water temperature is quite cold – though on a hot day it will feel refreshing!
A houseboat essentially feels like an RV that’s on top of a pontoon boat. They come in all different sizes, some even have several bedrooms and a hot tub! But, before you get all excited about the possibility of a hot tub on your houseboat, let’s talk about a few houseboat basics that you need to know to stay safe out on the water.
Charging the Radio
When your boat is parked and outside of quiet hours on the water, be sure that you are charging the main power system. They should show you in orientation how to do this on your specific boat, but if they don’t be sure to ask. The reason this is important is that this is what charges your radio, which is your lifeline in the event you have trouble out on the water.
Running the Generator
A propane generator provides power for the appliances onboard. So, in general, if the generator isn’t running, they won’t work. (I say ‘in general’ because some houseboats may be fitted with other technology but that’s not common in Voyageurs.) This includes the refrigerator. To keep your food at a safe temperature, be sure to run the generator for a couple of hours in the morning and evening before bed. This tends to work well because that’s when you’re likely to be cooking and will need the appliances anyway.
Pro Tip: Be sure to turn off your generator for the park’s quiet hours so that you (and anyone else nearby) can enjoy the sounds of nature.
Landing the Houseboat
Most of the designated houseboat sites in Voyageurs National Park are not sandy, they are rocky. So, landing the houseboat isn’t as easy as just rolling up on the sand. Be sure to come into shore gently and have others onboard prepared to hop off and help tie off the boat on shore.
If you are nervous about landing the houseboat, there are two things you can try to make it easier. First, drive until you find a sandy spot to park it. This is by far the easiest way to do it. Second, try downloading the Navionics app. This app works offline and shows you the depth of the water. Look for a spot with a steep dropoff in depth. This will avoid driving over or into rocks at or under the surface. As you approach the rocky shore, come in gently and put the boat into reverse when you get close. This will slow your momentum so you don’t hit the rock too hard.
What You *Probably* Don’t Need to Bring
The houseboat will be stocked with a lot of the essentials already so the very first thing I recommend is looking on the rental companies website or asking them for a list of what is supplied with your rental. It’s very likely you can leave these off of your packing list for your houseboat trip.
Here are common things that are likely to be included with your rental.
- Gas grill
- Garbage bags
- Drinking water (*see below)
- Life jackets (*they are required to provide one for every person onboard)
- Toilet paper
- Propane (for the generator and grill)
- Map of the lakes and waterways (*they are required to provide this)
- Pots, pans, silverware
As you can see, the rental companies provide a lot of items that make it easy for you to enjoy your time!
Essential Houseboat Packing List
So what are the must-have items for your houseboat trip packing list? Here you go!
While blankets and pillows are commonly provided, sheets and pillowcases are not. Be sure to bring a fitted or flat sheet to cover each of the beds as well as pillowcases.
Also, make sure to bring towels. I recommend one bath towel and one beach towel per person, plus a hand towel for the bathroom.
Safety & First Aid
While in Voyageurs National Park, you’ll be doing all sorts of activities – boating, paddling, fishing, hiking, swimming and more. Accidents can easily happen. Be sure to have a first aid kit with you so you can treat minor cuts, scrapes and other injuries. // Here’s the first aid kit I carry.
Aside from that, there are three main factors to consider for safety: wildlife, bugs, and sun. Voyageurs National Park is a great place to see bears, moose, wolves and more. While many will tell you that you don’t need bear spray in northern Minnesota, I always carry it just in case. An actual encounter is unlikely as black bears generally want nothing to do with humans, but it puts my mind at ease to have it with me.
When it comes to bugs, the area is known for mosquitoes, black flies and ticks. Here’s my full rundown of how not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes and ticks, including specific products I use and tips. All I can say is be prepared.
Finally, sun protection is essential when you’re out on the water. Not only do you get the reflection from the surface of the water, but you also are very likely to be in direct sunlight most of the day. Here are the sun protection essentials I recommend:
- Sunglasses (These are my faves made of recycled materials!)
- Sunscreen – Here’s what I use for my body and my face!
- UPF rated clothing
- SPF rated lip balm
- Water bottle or hydration bladder (I use HydroFlask because of their lifetime warranty!)
Check out my specific recommendations on what to wear for hiking in summer, which covers sun protection gear in more detail.
For a 4 day, 3 night trip in mid May, I brought the items listed below. It was more than enough and, in fact, I think I would further downsize for my next trip. Keep in mind how far north you are. The temperatures can drop dramatically at night, particularly early or late in the boating season.
- Shorts (1 pair)
- Pants/ leggings (2 pairs)
- Socks (4 pairs, 1/ day)
- Underwear (4 pairs)
- Sports bras (3)
- Tank tops (2)
- Short sleeve top (1)
- Long sleeve top (1)
- Jacket (1 for warmth at night, 1 for rain)
- Bathing suit (2)
- Hiking shoes
- Water sandals
- Warm hat and gloves
You may be wondering about the warm hat and gloves. The first day I was on the boat, the temperature was 80F, the next day I woke up to very light snow falling. While the houseboats do have a heating system, you may want these items while you’re out exploring.
Don’t forget to pack your essential toiletries for your houseboat vacation!
- Prescriptions/ medicine
- Comb/ brush
- Face wash and other products
- Sunscreen (listing it here too to make sure you don’t forget!)
- Hair ties
- Contacts and contact solution
- Prescription glasses
Definitely not essential, but I also bring some basic makeup with me.
Houseboats have electrical outlets you can use to charge your electronic devices. Most of the park has no cell service, but you can use your phone for reading, taking photos, and other things.
- Phone charging cable and plug
- Camera with charged batteries and memory cards
Pro Tip: Be sure to download books, podcasts, shows or movies you may want to access before you go on the houseboat. This could come in handy on a rainy day on the houseboat!
Like I mentioned, the kitchen will be well stocked with pots, pans, and utensils so you don’t have to worry about those. Here are the items you will want to bring with you for the kitchen.
- Aluminum foil
- Extra ziploc bags and/or small tupperware containers (I use Stasher bags to minimize waste)
- Small tupperware
- Jug(s) of water (try freezing it beforehand and use it as ice for your cooler)
- Cooler (to transport food and hold anything that doesn’t fit in the fridge)
- Cleaning wipes
Pro Tip: Potable (drinkable) water is provided on the houseboat. However, the water system on our boat smelled funny. We were thankful to have brought our own water and a water filtration system. Be sure to check the water system during your orientation.
Obviously, you also need food! I strongly recommend making a meal plan before you go so that you don’t forget anything and make the most of the space in the small refrigerator onboard.
Miscellaneous Other Houseboat Essentials
There are a number of miscellaneous items that are essential for your houseboat vacation in Voyageurs National Park.
- Printed copy of your houseboat permit (purchase in advance on recreation.gov)
- Navionics smartphone app (Free)
- Small dry bag for electronics
- Credit card
- Cash (for tip)
- Fire starting tools
- Campfire cooking stick (for s’mores or hot dogs)
Pro Tip: Designated houseboat sites have a fire ring available for use. Also, houseboats can park at day use sites, which also have fire rings.
Not-So-Essential Houseboat Vacation Packing List Items
Wanna make your houseboat vacation in Voyageurs National Park even more memorable? Consider packing these not-so-essential items!
Do you have a life jacket that you love or fits you just right? Bring it along! This will make your time on the water more comfortable.
Kayak and/ or Paddleboard
If you love paddling, Voyageurs National Park is a great place to bring your kayak or standup paddleboard. Don’t have one? Ask your houseboat rental company if they can provide one for you!
Fishing Gear & License
Voyageurs National Park is a fisherman’s paradise. Whether you fish for fun or plan to catch your dinner, pack your fishing gear. Don’t forget to purchase a Minnesota fishing license before you head out on the water though!
My dad just gave me a really cool collapsible fishing pole. It’s perfect for a trip to Voyageurs National Park!
Cards & Board Games
Board or card games are perfect for a sunny afternoon on the rooftop or a rainy day inside the houseboat. A simple deck of cards takes up very little room and can offer hours of entertainment!
Capture the beauty of Voyageurs while you’re out on the water without worrying about getting your phone or camera wet. This is the perfect place to bring your waterproof camera. Why not capture some action shots as you go down the slide on your houseboat?!
It might be hot during the day, but it can get cool at night. Bring a blanket along so you can cozy up around the campfire or up on the roof of the houseboat when you’re stargazing. My go-to blanket is the Rumpl nanoloft. Read all about why I bring these blankets on every adventure!
If you’re into bird or wildlife watching, definitely bring your binoculars. There is so much wildlife to see in Voyageurs. You could easily spend hours just soaking it all in.
If you plan to spend time around the campfire, make it more comfortable by bringing along some compact camping chairs.
As I was driving through one of the waterways between the lakes, a bear cub walked up to the shoreline and started drinking from the water. It was magical… but I was driving the boat. I shouted ‘quick, everyone, get something!’ What I meant was, ‘get your cameras out and come see this’!
If you love capturing wildlife or night photography, be sure to bring your tripod with you to Voyageurs National Park. Did you know the park was recently named an official Dark Sky Park?
On a whim at the last minute, I threw in some rope that I found with my gear. I ended up being so thankful I had it with me! The kayaks we rented were stored on top of the houseboat. It was an absolute nightmare trying to get them down from there. So, once we got them down, I used the rope to tie them behind the houseboat and tied them down inside the fishing boat.
If you have some rope and space, I say throw it in. It just may come in handy!
Portable Wifi Device
Let me preface this by encouraging you to use your time in Voyageurs to disconnect as much as possible. It’s a truly magical place best enjoyed without the distractions of daily life. But, if you have a need or desire to remain connected, consider bringing a portable wifi device. My favorite is Solis (previously Skyroam) because they have daily, monthly and per gigabyte plans that are easy and affordable to use. Use code THISBIGWILDWORLD for 10% off your Solis purchase!
Enjoy Your Voyageurs National Park Houseboat Trip
Houseboating is a unique experience and it’s a great way to explore the beauty of Voyageurs National Park. With these essential, and maybe some of the not-so-essential, houseboat packing list items you’ll be all set to have a great time!
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