A few aspects of life are inching toward some semblance of normal – fishing never really shut down, for example, and camping opportunities are increasing – but the COVID-19 pandemic continues to interrupt all of our lives. In many ways, the summer of 2020 will go down as the summer of “maybe next year.”
That’s disappointing, but it’s also reality.
The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel until at least June 21, which is a disastrous turn of events for Canadian fishing camps that rely on U.S. anglers for a large share of their bottom lines. Many visitor centers, museums and similar destinations also are closed, with opening dates uncertain.
Still, looking ahead can be comforting during these trying times, I’ve found, and some great destinations are out there to enjoy once the worst of the pandemic fears are in the rear-view mirror.
Here are five destinations worth putting on your list; this year, hopefully, but if not, “maybe next year.”
Kettle Falls Hotel
The historic Kettle Falls Hotel on Rainy Lake overlooking the Ontario border has been on my “Places I’d Like to Visit” list for years and for numerous reasons. Rainy Lake is a beautiful body of water, and from everything I’ve heard and read, the Kettle Falls Hotel is loaded with character and a history that includes tales of Prohibition-era bootlegging and Chicago mobsters.
A fixture in the north woods border country since 1913, the Kettle Falls Hotel today is part of the National Park Service and Voyageurs National Park. The hotel, which operates from June through September in a normal year, is accessible only by water. Oddly enough, the hotel looks south into Canada because of a twist in the border at the far end of Rainy Lake.
Here’s what the National Park Service says about the Kettle Falls Hotel:
“The history of Kettle Falls is as colorful as the red roof on the hotel. Constructed by timber cruiser Ed Rose and reputedly financed by Madame Nellie Bly, the Kettle Falls Hotel has accommodated and entertained travelers since 1913. Robert Williams bought the hotel in 1918 for $1,000 and four barrels of whiskey. From its somewhat scandalous past, grew a long tradition of hearty home cooking and hospitality served by the Williams family. This historic hotel was renovated by the National Park Service in 1987. ...”
The hotel often is called the “Tiltin’ Hilton” for the slanted floor in its Lumberjack Saloon and is operated by private vendors who manage the hotel for the National Park Service.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer definitely isn’t business as usual at the Kettle Falls Hotel. The NPS last week outlined what’s open and what’s not at the hotel as of Sunday, May 30:
What’s open and available:
Kettle Falls Rental Villas are available to overnight guests.
Recreational equipment rental in the Kettle Falls area.
Trading Post sales outlet.
Ferry service to the Kettle Falls area by the concessionaire.
As with other dining facilities in Minnesota, food service at the Kettle Falls Hotel became available Monday, June 1, but is limited to take-out food service with limited menu options, and barroom service will follow Minnesota state guidelines.
Hours of operation will be limited; call Kettle Falls Hotel for details at (218) 240-1724 or (218) 240-1726.
Portage service and marina fuel service continues to be available in the Kettle Falls area.
Kettle Falls Hotel rooms.
Walleye filleting and preparing in the restaurant.
Also because of the pandemic, the Kettle Falls Hotel shuttle service this year is only available for guests staying in the hotel’s villas, an employee said in an email. The shuttle, which runs from the hotel to the Ash River Visitor Center, will only haul one group at a time. The cost is $45 per person round-trip for the 13-mile ride to the hotel and takes about 25 minutes. Anyone interested in staying in one of the rental villas should contact the hotel for availability.
Visitors planning day trips also can access the hotel by private boat or by arranging a trip through a local guide or water taxi operator.
Voyageurs National Park once again is open for overnight tent camping and houseboat mooring sites; the park's campsites are only accessible by water. Visitor centers remain closed, but park staff now are available for visitor inquiries on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on the grounds of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. In addition, staff will be available Mondays and Tuesdays beginning June 30 at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center grounds, and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning June 30 on the Ash River Visitor Center grounds.
Lake of the Woods Museum
The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential traffic, and prospects for reopening are uncertain, but anyone interested in Lake of the Woods and its rich history should put the Lake of the Woods Museum in Kenora, Ont., at the top of their list once travel restrictions are lifted.
Known today as The Muse, a new building that combines the Lake of the Woods Museum and the Douglas Family Art Center that features local artwork, the facility remains closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this, too, shall pass, as the old saying goes.
Joe Laurin, a Lake of the Woods historian who developed a smartphone app highlighting points of interest on both the U.S. and Canadian portions of the big lake, has spent a lot of time at the museum in recent years looking for information on World War II prisoner of war camps, shipwrecks, petroglyphs and other points of interest on the Ontario side of the lake.
His Lake of the Woods digital guide is available for both iOS and Android platforms.
“I would say 50% of my app content comes from Lake of the Woods Museum research,” said Laurin, whose Flag Island Lighthouse cabin on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle is an attraction in its own right. “The museum also has some unique local history and examples of everything.”
According to The Muse’s website, the Lake of the Woods Museum dates back to 1964 and today holds a collection of more than 25,000 items relating to the history of the lake and the surrounding area. The collection includes “photographs, journals, documents, and other archival material that are directly related to the history of this area,” the website states.
More info: themusekenora.com.
Oak Hammock Marsh and Interpretive Center
I visited Oak Hammock Marsh and Interpretive Center on a blustery morning in May 2017 while en route to the Narcisse Snake Dens in Manitoba’s Interlake Region to view the spectacle of snakes that slither out of the limestone every spring and attract visitors by the thousands.
Not an option this year, of course, because of COVID-19. Nor is nonessential travel north of the border at this point.
While it was too cold and blustery to spend much time hiking the facility’s extensive network of trails or paddle the waterways that wind through the marsh that day in 2017, the Interpretive Center offered an indoor alternative with a variety of interactive displays and exhibits that were both educational and enjoyable.
Oak Hammock Marsh and Interpretive Center is currently closed because of COVID-19, but anyone with an appreciation for nature and the outdoors should put the site on their destination list once the border reopens and life gets back to something that more closely resembles normal.
Oak Hammock Marsh is located about 15 miles north of Winnipeg off Provincial Highway 67 between the communities of Selkirk and Stonewall in Manitoba. The Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area features nearly 14 square miles of wetland habitat and more than 18 miles of trails to explore.
More info: oakhammockmarsh.ca.
Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area
Unlike the previous destinations listed in this story, which are either closed or only open in a limited capacity, the Pembina Gorge Recreation Area near Walhalla, N.D., is open and available to enjoy right now as part of North Dakota’s “Smart Restart” guidelines.
Managed by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, the Pembina Gorge Recreation Area offers plenty of room to social distance, with more than 2,800 acres of public land and over 30 miles of multi-use trails.
No wonder, then, that the recreation area has become “a top destination for adventure seekers throughout North Dakota and the surrounding states,” as the Parks and Recreation Department’s website states.
If woodlands are your thing, the recreation area also has the largest undisturbed forest in North Dakota.
One offering that isn’t available this year, because of COVID-19 and staff shortages, is the kayak rental program, which offered paddlers the opportunity to paddle the Pembina River through the gorge, with transportation for a fee from either the Brick Mine Bridge or the city of Walhalla. Do-it-yourself paddlers can still make the trek with their own kayaks.
Visitors should check the recreation area’s Facebook page for the latest updates on trail conditions because staff temporarily close trails after significant rain events to minimize rutting and avoid long-term closures.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Late one October afternoon in 2008, I had the opportunity to hike the Wind Canyon Trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora, N.D., as the sun was dipping toward the western horizon. The golden sheen cast by the evening sun on the rugged Little Missouri River shoreline was, for lack of a better word, stunning.
The following spring, I was a last-minute replacement for a group that paddled the Little Missouri River from the South Unit of the park near Medora to the North Unit near Watford City, N.D. While the 90-mile trek was a bit of a slog at times, and we should have given ourselves at least one more day to enjoy the scenery and our time on the river, our surroundings certainly didn’t disappoint.
I haven’t been back since, and that needs to change.
According to the National Park Service, amenities within Theodore Roosevelt National Park remain limited because of the pandemic. The 14-mile North Unit and 24-mile South Unit scenic drives remain open for out-and-back travel. Trails are open in both units, and bathrooms are available.
For now, visitor centers and campgrounds are closed as part of the National Park Service’s phased reopening plan for the park. A timetable for return to full operations has yet to be determined, and visitor services will remain limited for now, the NPS said on its website.
Better days will come, though. Eventually.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at 701-780-1148, 800-477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.