Ely sits on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), over one million acres of interconnected lakes and streams, uncut forest and remote wetlands that just last year became the world’s largest internationally certified Dark Sky Sanctuary. Tucked within the boundaries of northeast Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, the BWCAW features more than 1,200 miles of canoe- and kayak-only water routes. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian voyageurs used these channels to transport fur. Today, they’re a paddler’s dream.
Winter is Ely’s longest season. While dogsled adventures are a popular pastime (the town’s moniker is actually “Sled Dog Capital of the World”), cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and even family-friendly kicksledding, a mix of both skiing and dog sledding that involves propelling a chair through snow by kicking, all take center stage over approximately seven months of the year.
The colorfully painted one- and two-story structures along downtown Ely’s Sheridan Street (its main thoroughfare) exude endless charm, especially when blanketed in snow. Ely’s storefronts are also home to a wealth of locally made goods, like the warm winter boots and moccasins of Steger Mukluk, Wintergreen Northern Wear’s outdoor apparel (all designed, cut, and sewn onsite), and even Crapola!, Ely’s own uniquely named granola company that’s known for its signature cranberry and apple mix. Piragis Northwoods Company offers all the supplies you’ll need for a fully outfitted paddling trip, while the Brandenburg Gallery is the perfect spot for perusing the works of National Geographic photographer and local native, Jim Brandenburg.
Moose, black bear, beaver and timber wolf can be seen in the greater Ely region. Pay a visit to the town’s International Wolf Center, a 17,000-square-foot facility where you can watch gray wolves frolic and hunt. Or get a close-up look at the North American Bear Center’s resident black bears Ted, Holly, Lucky and Tasha during daily behind-the-scenes tours.
Hungry? Don’t miss the massive burgers at Stony Ridge Resort & Cafe (which doubles as an RV and tent campground), or pair a Blueberry Blonde ale with a beef brisket sandwich at Ely’s Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant. Join local residents for coffee roasted onsite and vino by the glass at Northern Ground Coffee + Wine Bar. Evergreen Restaurant is known for its all-day selection of fine casual cuisine, including corned beef hash for breakfast and broiled walleye at dinner.