Winter, a time of frozen lakes, sparkling snowfall, frigid temperatures, and… abundant wildlife? If you’re in Voyageurs National Park, then yes! Though temperatures remain below freezing in the park for nearly a third of the year(!), that does not stop some intrepid animals from making an appearance.
Winter is actually the ideal time of year to visit Voyageurs if you are hoping to see gray wolves in the wild. As the dominant predator in the park, they have an active and healthy population throughout the year, but during winter they can be more easily seen as they move along the lake shores hunting for food.
The largest mammal in Voyageurs National Park is the magnificent and formidable moose. During the winter, moose have less access to high-quality foods, instead feeding on large quantities of willow, birch, and aspen. The scarcity of food resources forces the animals to conserve their energy, which includes staying away from deep snow and using packed trails or cleared roads. This increases the likelihood that wildlife enthusiasts might see them, though you will want to be especially alert when driving in moose territory! Even if you do not see wild moose, you may be lucky enough to spot their antlers lying in the snow, as adult bull moose shed their antlers during the winter.
An animal that may be more challenging to spot in winter is the snowshoe hare. These small mammals are slightly larger than a cottontail rabbit and live primarily in coniferous forests such as those found in Voyageurs. Snowshoe hares are unique because their fur actually changes color depending on the season! In summer, they are dark brown to blend in with the shadows of their forest habitat. In winter, their fur turns a brilliant white which helps them to perfectly blend in with the snow.
No matter the season, Voyageurs is a perfect place for birdwatching. Many species of birds remain in the park throughout the winter, including loons, grey owls, great horned owls, cardinals, and warblers. One majestic bird actually migrates TO Minnesota in winter! Canadian winters actually drive snowy owls south to the more “moderate” climate of Voyageurs National Park, though they return north during the warmer summer months. These beautiful birds have perfect camouflage for the snowy months and the eerie ability to fly in complete silence, presenting a challenge for birdwatchers. But if you are incredibly lucky, you may be able to spot one!