COVID-19 | WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU HEAD NORTH

You may notice many changes that have happened along the North Shore as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Things are going to be quite a bit different here for quite some time. We do not know yet the extent of the changes and when things will be back to “normal”. We do expect that the summer of 2020 will be unlike any we’ve ever seen before. Here is an idea of what to expect.

Still Full of Beauty

Things are changing. Many things will be different. But one thing that will stay the same is the beauty of the North Shore. The area boasts nine state parks, several state forests, the Superior Hiking Trail, the Superior National Forest, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the most part, access to these places will not change for the Summer of 2020.

One current exception to that is the Grand Portage State Park located near the US/Canada border. At this time, the park is closed to all visitors. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is also currently closed to overnight camping through May 18th. Camping in National Forest lands are also not permitted until after May 18th. Day use is still allowed. More things are expected to open up once Stay at Home orders end, but that has yet to be confirmed. Campgrounds in State Parks will remain closed past the May 18th date. Only overnight camping at dispersed sites will be allowed.

One thing is still true- there are many miles of hiking and biking trails that you are free to enjoy. The North Shore is outdoor recreation at its finest. If you are planning to come up to hike, fish, go boating, and explore, you are in luck! Those options are still readily available.

Changes in Lodging

This will likely be the first change many notice. Where you can stay, when you can stay there, and for how long. Plus, noticeable changes from the moment you step into your room or rental. All of these things will see changes in the summer of 2020. In addition, how each resort and lodging service is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic will be different business to business. In order to re-open, many were asked to create a “Best Business Practices” plan. These plans were not submitted to the state, but rather written as a way for the companies to decide what changes they needed to make to re-open their businesses. 

Some of these changes include requiring 3-7 night stays. Leaving gaps between stays, which will limit availability for mid-week check-ins. Later check-in times, earlier check-out times to allow for more cleaning time. The removal of bedding, linens, and throw pillows from rooms and homes. Staff members wearing masks. Changes in cancelation policies. You should check the website of, or call, the resort, lodge, or business you are staying with to find out their policy changes before you arrive.

Other changes you will notice have been dictated by the State of Minnesota. These include the continued closure of public gather spaces. Pools, hot tubs, game rooms, and dine-in restaurants will remain closed until the State of Minnesota allows them to re-open. Even after allowing it, some places may choose to keep their community areas closed through the summer. Again, you should reach out the the place you are staying to see what changes will affect your stay.

As stated earlier, established city and State Park campgrounds are currently closed. Their opening dates have not yet been announced.

Visit Cook County is a great resource for knowing what lodging options are available.

Changes in Dining

At this time, all in-dining options are closer per State of Minnesota orders. Many restaurants are offering curbside pick-up and delivery. Please refer to our COVID-19 Business Operations Changes page for information on what restaurants in the area are doing. Things change frequently, and we may miss some updates from time to time. So, we recommend you visit the website or Facebook page of the restaurants you plan to visit to find out what their current policies are.

We expect that once in-dining options are allowed to resume, they will do so at a limited capacity. This could mean as low as 25% of past capacity. This will results in in-dining options being harder to come by. So, even once in-dining options resume, it may be best to plan for curbside take-out in case in-dining is not available for the time you wish to dine. 

Some restaurants have already decided that they will not re-open their dining rooms even when allowed to do so by the state. Some places are opting to open only outdoor dining spaces. For that reason, it is important to check first before heading out, especially if the restaurant of your choice is a distance away.

Changes In Retail

Like the dining options, many non-essential retail options remain closed for in-store shopping by State orders. Curbside pick-up and other arrangements are required for non-essential retail that has remained open. Grocery stores in Cook County are also operating on a curbside pick-up structure, although that may change for the summer. In St. Louis and Lake County grocery stores do allow in-store shopping.

These things may change at any moment and we will do our best to maintain our list of COVID-19 Business Operations Changes as they come up. Currently we are only keeping track of retail stores in Cook County and grocery stores in Lake County.

Other Closures/Delayed Openings

Businesses have had to make many tough calls in regards to how and when to re-open. For some, the decision was made to delay opening, just a little. Others have decided to remain closed for the remainder of the summer. 

An example of a delayed opening is Split Rock Lighthouse. The popular historic destination located between Two Harbors and Beaver Bay will not open until July 1st. Note that the Lighthouse is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and is operated separately from Split Rock State Park, which remains open to visitors.

Another example is the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. They have canceled courses and activities through June 19th, although they are offering many on-line opportunities to learn traditional crafts at home. 

Finally, an example of a business that is currently closed for the remainder of the summer of 2020 is the Grand Marais Art Colony. They have canceled all classes through August 31st.

Whatever your plans are for heading north, it’s best to double check that they are still going to be available. We will add delayed openings to our COVID-19 Event Cancellations Page as we hear about them.

Event Cancellations

This has been the hardest one for many of us on the North Shore. We love our annual celebrations, and love celebrating them with you. In Cook County, Fisherman’s Picnic in August can more than triple the population of the county. It’s a fun, vibrant weekend filled with food trucks, live music, a parade, and events. Sadly, this year, it will not be happening. Nor will many of the other celebrations you have come to love.

Most large gathers have been canceled. Check out our COVID-19 Event Cancellations Page for a list of events that have already been canceled. These include Grandma’s Marathon, the Lutsen 99er, the Le Grand Du Nord, Bay Days, the Grand Marais Art Festival, events at Duluth’s Bayfront Park, and more. If you planned to come up solely to attend a festival or race, you may have to change your plans. Live music will also be harder to find than usual, although local artists are trying to think of ways to continue in-person performance while practicing social distancing.

Border Closure

Currently, the US/Canada border is closed to non-essential travel. US citizens cannot travel to Canada and Canadian citizens cannot travel to the US. This includes access the Quetico Provincial Park, a popular area located near the BWCA in Canada. This closure is currently set to expire in May, but is expected to be extended until late-June. 

If your plans included travel to Canada, you may need to change your plans. Keep an eye on the news coming from the border as closures may even be extended longer. 

This will affect travel in the BWCA. Some lakes, like the popular lakes Gunflint and Rose, are partially in Canada and passports are required for travel on these lakes even during non-COVID times. Until the border closure ends, canoers in the BWCA need to be aware that travel into Canadian territory is not allowed. Use caution and be vigilent when traveling on border lakes. What forms of travel will be permitted as we head into the summer of 2020 is unclear. 

Road Construction

The end of Stay at Home orders in Minnesota just so happens to be the same day that a major road construction project is starting on Highway 61 in the Grand Marais area. The project is expected to last from May 2020 to October 2021. It will cause detours and potential traffic delays in and around Grand Marais during this time. If you’re heading to or past Grand Marais, give yourself some extra time to get around the road work. You can visit the MDOT website for more information and the scheduled work and detours.

Availability of Medical Care

It is important to realize prior to coming to the North Shore that health care is limited here. There is one hospital in Grand Marais that services Cook County. There is one hospital in Two Harbors that service Lake County. That is it. Both hospitals are limited as to what they are able to accommodate as far as treatment is concerned. Neither are capable of helping a patient in need of an ICU bed. These patients will be transferred to Duluth for care. As the influx of visitors grows throughout the summer, we may start seeing a strain on the services available in Duluth. For that reason, they are requesting that if you start feeling ill during your trip, you plan to leave sooner rather than later and return to your home for care, especially if you live in a larger city with a health care system that has been equipped to care for those needing ICU beds.

Our hospitals are still here, available, and capable in caring for those needing emergency care for injuries, accidents, and other health concerns. Just as they always have been. The staff at our hospitals are wonderful. Our services are just limited due to our size and location. 

General Atmosphere

Many places on the North Shore have been practicing an abundance of caution during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We still have an incredibly low number of COVID-19 cases (as I write this on May 13th, Lake County has one confirmed case and Cook County has none). For this reason, many are proceeding with caution in regards to welcoming guests back. At the same time, we love our visitors and you’ve been greatly missed by many these past several months. Many on the North Shore realize that our economy depends on tourism. This means many jobs and livelihoods will suffer if our visitors do not return. We do realize this. You may have witnessed some discouraging visitors from coming North, but we want to make it clear that these are primarily due to the State’s Stay at Home orders. The vast majority of residents are anxiously awaiting the return of guests once the orders have ended.

When you come up North, especially into Cook County, you will notice that wearing a mask in public has become a social norm here. We have embraced the idea of wearing a mask to help protect essential workers and our elderly and at-risk populations. Don’t be surprised to see people standing around even outdoors wearing masks. And do not be caught off guard if a business requires a mask for in-store shopping. Many will be requiring this. So please, plan to pack some cloth masks in with your luggage.

We Hope to See You This Summer

Change is never easy, and there has been a lot of changes lately. We understand many of these changes will be hard to adjust to. But, as stated earlier, many things are still the same. Lake Superior is still her same, beautiful, moody self. The trees stand tall, the lupine will still bloom, and the lakes will continue to be here. As they always have been. Waiting for you to visit. We hope you come. See you soon!

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