Kabetogama Lake, Voyageurs National Park (Don Breneman/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Tiny Boat That Could: How My Family Survived an Epic Storm at Voyageurs National Park

To honor the upcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, NRDC staffers share their fondest national park memories. From a Grand Canyon proposal to a raging forest fire, see them all here.

In northern Minnesota, close to the Canadian border, lies one of our most magnificent national parks. But Voyageurs isn’t as accessible as most other parks — its campsites are on islands reachable only by boat.

In the summer of 1993, thinking it would make for a terrific adventure, my family of five packed ourselves and our all of gear into a tiny johnboat and headed out, not realizing that sudden and dangerous storms can whip up out of nowhere.

And that’s exactly what happened. While we were looking for the perfect campsite, a massive storm developed and conditions quickly turned treacherous. Giant waves tossed our tiny boat around and crashed over the sides. As the boat filled with water and visibility neared zero, each member of my family responded in his or her own way. My mom started crying while my sister Christina sat silently in shock. My sister Caroline plugged her ears, closed her eyes, and started singing “I get so weak in the knees, I can hardly speak…” over and over again at the top of her lungs. I desperately tried to bail out the boat using a flimsy plastic cup while my dad, partially blinded by his rain-covered glasses, gripped the steering mechanism on the boat and tried to guide us to safety.

At last we found a pile of rocks in the middle of the lake where we could pull our boat up and wait for the storm to pass. Later that night, as we sat down to eat dinner at our campsite, we looked out across the water and saw a houseboat full of dry, happy people. We all laughed, thinking that if we’d been smart, that could have been us! But our epic adventure in our tiny boat — a story we tell and retell, complete with singing — is one we will remember forever. And that’s the beauty of our national parks: They host our grand adventures that create memories to last a lifetime.