EDITOR’S NOTE:
Since this story was published, U.S. public health officials have advised Americans to stay at home to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Thus, traveling anywhere is not recommended at this time. You also
can read this Star Tribune story on the concerns of communities that typically get visitors from around Minnesota, including Grand Marais.

Kerri Westenberg, Travel Editor

 

Spring break feels broken. Canceled vacations are as numerous as grains of sand on a beach (maybe the one you hoped to visit). Airlines are slashing service. Health experts tell us to stay 6 feet apart from one another. In such a time, we’re lucky to live in Minnesota, where self-isolation is a walk in the park. Here are three spots where you are likely to bump into wildlife — but few humans.

 

1. North Shore

When a global pandemic quashes tropical getaways, the dramatic beauty of Lake Superior may be a fitting substitute for, say, the Caribbean Sea. Crashing waves are a mesmerizing sight, no matter the latitude.

Many stops along the North Shore — from state parks to overlooks along Hwy. 61 — offer an opportunity to commune with the Great Lake. When the sun shines bright and warm, a person could close her eyes, listen to the waves and be transported south.

Getting there: Find a secluded stop along the shore in Duluth or beyond. Duluth is about a 2½-hour drive from the Twin Cities.

2. Frontenac State Park

One of the paths at Frontenac State Park zigzags down a bluff and then straightens to follow the Mississippi River, where it has widened to form Lake Pepin. Before the footpath cuts upward again, a wooden bench faces the water, nestled among trees. This makes a nice place to contemplate the power of nature — something impossible to ignore these days.

Frontenac is a gorgeous piece of land, home to bluffland, prairie, flood plain and upland hardwood forest. Trails cut across prairies, bluffs and forests, many with views of the rivers. Exploring there may feel solitary, but hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers are not alone. About 260 species of birds flit and soar at the park. A doe once led the way down the switchbacks to the river, a quiet and distant companion on the trail.

Getting there: In Frontenac, Minn., this park is a little over an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities.

More information: dnr.state.mn.us/frontenac; 1-651-345-3401. State parks remain open, though they have shut down places where groups might congregate, such as visitor centers. Frontenac has no such spot.

Alternatives: Find a state park near you at dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/map.html

3. Pipestone National Monument

In the southwest corner of the state, a milelong loop trail leads to a red-rock outcropping that rises above the prairie. Wind whistles almost nonstop. Atop the ridge, small offerings of tobacco sway in the branches of trees — a nod to the history that unfolded on land that now holds the 282-acre Pipestone National Monument. For more than 2,000 years, in a tradition that continues today, Plains Indians have dug beneath the prairie to reach the malleable red stone known as pipestone, which they use to carve ceremonial pipes.

Last summer’s brittle grasses poke above melting snow. Birds land in trees that line an icy creek. In such a place, it’s easy to reflect on the vast arc of time or the beauty of the prairie. Or both.

Getting there: The monument, in Pipestone, Minn., is about a 3½-hour drive from the Twin Cities. The visitor center is closed, but the grounds remain open so that visitors may access the trail.

More information: nps.gov/pipe; 1-507-825-5464.

Alternatives: Find other national park offerings in Minnesota at nps.gov/state/mn/index.htm.

@kerriwestenberg