Minnesota : Safety by City
- Brooklyn Park
- Detroit Lakes
- Fergus Falls
- Grand Marais
- Grand Portage
- International Falls
- Maple Grove
- New Ulm
- Red Wing
- St. Cloud
- St. Paul
- Two Harbors
International Falls, Minnesota, sits at the far northern edge of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, ironically along a river.
Visitors are likely here for one of three reasons – going to Canada, visiting Voyagers National Park, or working at one of the many mills.
This is a small town of 5,800 people still relying on the paper mill economic drivers that brought this town to life in 1870.
The city isn’t much of a tourist destination itself, but across the international boundary in Fort Frances, Ontario, you’ll find the “beginning of everything.”
International Falls, also referred to as I Falls (which is something I do regularly when it snows outside), is known as the “Icebox of the Nation,” signaling the bitterly cold winters that put even North Shore Minnesota cities to shame.
To get a feel for the city’s vibe, watch the 2019 dark comedy International Falls, which was shot in the city and shows the best (and worst) of this rural destination.
The summer of 2022 led to some of the worst flooding International Falls has seen in 70+ years.
Evacuations and closures were common, but the city is safe to visit now.
It’s just another reminder of how important it is to stay weather aware, especially in a remote area.
Warnings & Dangers in International Falls
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk here, even though the crime per 100,000 suggests otherwise. It appears higher than it is because the population of 5,800 is used to determine the crime rate and doesn't take into account the thousands of visitors that pass through. The rugged nature of this area can be risky if you aren't trained in survival, outdoor safety, and GPS tracking.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
You should have your own vehicle or be prepared to rely on sparingly available taxis or rideshares. The small public transportation system doesn't have fixed routes, and it doesn't go to the entrance to Voyagers National Park. Within the park, you'll need to reserve boat rides to separate islands. The park has a list of approved vendors on its website.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The risk is low, with just 56 thefts in 2021. Most of those were from buildings, not individuals. You shouldn't let your guard down, especially since you'll carry important documents to cross the border or a full backpack to go into the national park.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
The city gets nearly six feet of snow each year, which can lead to some treacherous road conditions, especially when the temperatures don't get high enough to melt the previous snowfall. Flooding from rain and snow melt creates ongoing risks, which is what caused the catastrophic flooding in 2022. While summer severe weather isn't a huge threat, even lightning from a non-severe storm can be dangerous in the wild. Wildfires are another risk, and you'll see a giant Smokey Bear in I Falls reminding you that "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
This is a low risk. The city doesn't average more than two robberies a year, and between 2017 and 2021, there were just two robberies. Neither 2020 nor 2021 had any reported robberies. Now, that doesn't mean a bear won't come after your food if it's not properly stored. More on that to come.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
The biggest terrorism risk comes at the border, which is in the top 20% of crossings from the U.S. to Canada in the country. Drugs, guns, and terrorists can use the seemingly safer Canadian border, but the same tough scrutiny and security are here from both countries as you'd find at the Mexican border. While the risk is low that a tourist would be impacted, you should always report anything suspicious to the local police, so they can alert Border Patrol if needed.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Utility scams reign here, which wouldn't impact your visit. A hallmark of a scam is when a supposed police officer or bill collector demands payment NOW. You can always hang up and report the scam to the police to help them advise the community of the risk.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
You'll need smart wildlife and wilderness safety skills here, and it helps to take safety courses. This isn't an outdoor retreat like a spa setting - it's rugged, remote, and dangerous if you don't know advanced safety.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. Lead in drinking water is always risky if it comes through old pipes. Fix the risk by letting all stagnant faucets run for a minute or two before using the water. You can learn more about water quality testing and safety in Voyager National Park on the park's website.
Safest Places to Visit in International Falls
The International Falls Chamber of Commerce and Explore Minnesota state tourism website are the best places to safely search the web for events, activities, and attractions.
You’ll find the Voyager National Park website and app to be a robust source of information for that expansive park.
Jameson and Ranier are two towns east of I Falls, which have hotels and attractions as well.
NOTE: Ranier has nothing to do with Rainier or Mount Rainier in Washington state.
The Destination Fort Frances website offers details across the border.
Look for the .ca in website addresses, so you know you’re on a Canadian website.
Your first stop should be Koochiching County Historical Museum and Bronko Nagurski Museum in Smokey Bear Park.
This group of historical locations celebrates the centuries of history in the region and the NFL sensation from the 1930s.
You’ll learn about the fur trade industry origins, gold mining, and milling history that shaped this entire region.
For those who can’t get a hunting license or don’t want to go through the trouble, scratch that itch by visiting the Sportsmen’s Service Wildlife Museum.
More than 150 land and airborne animals are preserved here for viewing.
Waters of the Dancing Sky scenic drive starts at the entrance to Voyagers and runs to the western border of the state along the Rainy River.
The drive runs nearly 200 miles, and you can take it at your own pace to enjoy all the stops and scenic vistas along the way.
Plan your adventure in advance to Voyagers National Park.
There are more than 218,000 acres, 30 lakes, and 900 islands to explore.
You can’t just show up and hope for the best.
There are three ranger stations, one at the entrance and two within the depths of the park.
If that sounds intimidating to explore solo, you can look for guided tours in the fall and summer.
City Beach and Ranier Beach are off the coastline just east of Ranier, less than five miles from the central part of International Falls.
Places to Avoid in International Falls
While crime concerns aren’t rampant here, you should use all the same safety steps as you would in a large city.
The bigger “avoidance” issues come with insider knowledge.
First, the city can stink.
Those paper mills on both sides of the Rainy River are known to put off an odor from faint to fierce.
The closer your hotel is to the river, the more likely you’ll smell it in the summer, but winds can carry it inland too.
You should also check the daily air quality before heading outdoors if you’re sensitive to airborne particles.
While much has been done to clean up industrial pollution from the Rainy River, it’s still important to check the water quality in any body of water you’ll be swimming in.
Blue-green algae have been a problem in Minnesota lakes, especially the Lake of the Woods, just 90 minutes west of International Falls.
Nearly 20 dogs have died from playing in algae-bloomed water, and several people have gotten sick.
If there’s a green filmy substance with a blue tint, don’t touch the water, and don’t let a dog anywhere near it.
Most dogs expire within hours of contact.
That risk differs from non-toxic tannins that can turn lake and river water shades of brown or red.
Tannins come from tree bark and are even used in some popular drinks
When in doubt, check the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website for water quality results and location-specific risks.
Algae blooms are most common during the heat of summer.
Safety Tips for Traveling to International Falls
- International Falls has its own police force and use its Facebook page for updates as it’s much more current than the website. Outside of the city (but still in the U.S.), the Koochiching County Sheriff’s Office is the law enforcement agency to call.
- Make sure your Weather Emergency Alerts (WEA) are working on your mobile device since neither the city nor county offers its own emergency alert app. Bring a NOAA battery-powered weather radio with you into the wilderness since mobile service will be hard to find anyway.
- Anglers need a license from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. There are nearly 20 non-resident license options, so pay close attention. For example, trout and walleye fishing require additional purchases than the standard license.
- The United States uses the imperial measurement system, which means distances are calculated in miles. In Canada, they use the metric system, so you’ll use kilometers. To help with the math, one mile is 1.609 kilometers.
- Reserve snowshoes, kayaks, or other rentals at Voyager’s National Park in advance. Availability isn’t guaranteed, but you’ll have a better chance with prior reservations.
- Know GPS coordinates and how to use them to get to different locations, as Google Maps isn’t going to give you step-by-step directions in wilderness areas. Major outdoor brands like REI have great resources like GPS for Beginners and lists of different weather and emergency options you can get on a device.
- Black bears roam the wilderness here, and you should know basic bear safety before leaving town. While bears are normally going to avoid you, the 2019 death of a woman after a run-in with a bear near International Falls showed a worst-case scenario. You must bring bear-proof containers, throw all trash in bear-proof trash bins, and bring bear spray with you in case of an imminent attack. The bear spray is overly cautious, but the first two are critical for both you and the bear.
- Moose are most common near the Kabetogama Peninsula, about 30 miles from I Falls. Cruise Lake in the summer brings the best moose sightings in the region. Don’t ever get close enough that a moose know you are there. These animals can run up to 30 miles an hour and prefer to stomp their prey.
- Watch out for moose crossings on the road, as too many accidents happen yearly between cars and moose. While usually, the moose bear the brunt, it can be deadly for drivers, too, when a 900-pound animal impales your windshield.
- For those hoping to see the Northern Lights while visiting, you should review that section on the Voyagers website. There’s an Aurora Forecast link to see when the lights are most likely and a NASA sky calendar to review the clarity of the sky since clouds can block the beautiful sight.
So... How Safe Is International Falls Really?
International Falls might be struggling, but it’s not unsafe.
Even before looking at crime statistics, you’ll see the news headlines from the past six months surrounded flooding, infrastructure, and wildlife sightings.
We do need to keep an eye on the crime statistics as the years go on.
From 2011 through 2019, violent crimes raw numbers never went above 16 incidents, with three of those years seeing six or fewer violent crimes.
In 2021, the number was 33 (mostly aggravated assaults).
This happened at a time when the population was down 10%.
A growth pattern like that could make the city a higher risk in the next 10 years.
At the same time, just 14% of violent crimes happen against strangers.
The city hasn’t seen a homicide since at least 2000 and no more than two robberies have occurred in a year since at least 2011, with just two between 2017 and 2021.
Thefts have been down 285% since 2011, and the majority were from buildings or businesses.
The weather and wildlife bring the biggest risks here, from extreme cold to unprepared visitors heading out into a region with 900 lakes.
The region has also seen some rare wildlife sights, like a lone blonde wolf and a moose with two calves.
Calves face so many predators, they only have a 34% chance of surviving to adulthood.
That’s what made the sighting so unique.
The town also faces a certain apathy with deteriorating roads and ongoing water main breaks that need to be replaced.
Without the budget for such endeavors and a shrinking population cutting into those much-needed tax dollars, there’s a rundown aspect a town with so much potential shouldn’t have.
If you’re prepared for the outdoors, ready to explore a unique region with the right tools, and have an adventurous spirit, you’ll find nothing quite like the northern Minnesota wilderness.
How Does International Falls Compare?
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- Visas - Passport and visa requirements differ between Canada and the United States. For U.S. visas, follow the new regulations in 2023 from the U.S. State Department. For Canadian requirements, visit the Canada Border Patrol Services Agency. Please note that even minor criminal infractions like a DUI can make you ineligible to enter Canada and will require extra processing for consideration.
- Currency - There might be some businesses on either side of the border that accept the U.S. Dollar and Canadian Dollar but prepare only to use the currency for each nation. There is a Duty-Free Americas store right before you get to the border crossing on the U.S. side.
- Weather - Brrrr. Layer up from October through April with base, middle, and outer layers designed to keep your body warm and dry. You'll need snow or hiking boots and extra socks. Bug spray and sunscreen are advised. From June through August, you'll get great weather in the 70s during the day and 50s at night.
- Airports - International Falls Airport (INL) has commercial flights to and from Minneapolis. It's faster to take the flight than drive the rural five hours to Minneapolis.
- Travel Insurance - You'll need travel insurance that covers your flight, baggage, and health, but also consider if your policy will stay in effect if you cross the Canadian border. You should also get extra rental vehicle insurance due to the road risks from weather and wildlife.
International Falls Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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