Minnesota: Koochiching County

Traveling east from Lake of the Woods County along the Rainy River and Minnesota Highway 11, you come to Koochiching County (pop. 13,311). Koochiching is the second largest county (in square miles) in Minnesota.

Smokey Bear Park, International Falls

How did it get that unusual name? Apparently, it came from either the Ojibway word “Gojijiing” or the Cree word “Kocicihk,” both meaning something like “at the place of inlets.”

Koochiching County is actually  known less for its name than for its climate. The county seat, International Falls (pop. 6,424), calls itself “The Icebox of the Nation.” In the winter, it often has the coldest temperature in the continental United States.

International Falls in winter

The average high temperature in January is 15.5, and the average low is -5.6. The record low is -55. The fictional town of Frostbite Falls on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle” TV show was based on International Falls.

Frostbite Falls’ most famous residents, other than Bronco Nagurski

Of course, in the summer,  Koochiching County – like all of the North Woods country – is green, beautiful, and full of fishermen and fisherwomen. International Falls is a gateway to Rainy Lake (which is in both Minnesota and Ontario) and Voyageurs National Park.

Iowa State University had a civil engineering camp on Rainy Lake in the ’20s and ’30s.

Voyageurs National Park, which includes much of Rainy Lake, was created in 1975. Most of the park can be reached only by boat; it is named for the French-Canadian fur traders who first explored the area.

International Falls is the home of Rainy River Community College, the only college in Minnesota along the Canadian border.

The hockey team at the only U.S. college with  a “Voyageurs” nickname

The largest employer in Koochiching County is the Boise Cascade paper mill in International Falls.

Boise Cascade plant and Rainy River

The International Bridge between International Falls and Fort Frances, Ontario, is a major north-south route. It is a privately owned toll bridge for both road and rail traffic.

The Koochiching County Courthouse (1909) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the Beaux Arts style

Two U.S. highways have their northern termini in International Falls: Highway 71, which goes southwest to Bemidji and then south to Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana; and Highway 53, which goes southeast to Duluth and ends in La Crosse, Wisc.