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Overview

One of the pamphlets in Northeastern Minnesota tourism racks contains a check-off list of more than 100 things to do in the Ely area. Many of the suggestions are seasonal, such as picking hazelnuts and winter camping in an igloo or ice cave. But a good number of the activities and attractions are important enough to make Ely one of the most interesting towns in Minnesota — even though its population is just over 3,500. These attractions range from the world-class North American Bear Center just west of town to the quirky Dorothy Molter Museum, which chronicles 50 years in the life of a woman who lived on a Boundary Waters island and sold ...

One of the pamphlets in Northeastern Minnesota tourism racks contains a check-off list of more than 100 things to do in the Ely area. Many of the suggestions are seasonal, such as picking hazelnuts and winter camping in an igloo or ice cave. But a good number of the activities and attractions are important enough to make Ely one of the most interesting towns in Minnesota — even though its population is just over 3,500. These attractions range from the world-class North American Bear Center just west of town to the quirky Dorothy Molter Museum, which chronicles 50 years in the life of a woman who lived on a Boundary Waters island and sold homemade root beer to passing canoeists. Other major points of interest include the International Wolf Center and the Forest Service’s Kawishiwi District Office Complex (built entirely with recycled materials).

The little city is historically interesting, too. In the early 1700s, the area’s first inhabitants — the Ojibwe (Chippewa) — were followed by fur trading voyageurs. When in 1883, veins of iron ore were discovered, miners came in droves. Timber was needed for mine shafts, so the lumbering industry flourished and by 1930 the town’s population grew to almost twice of what it is today. Though Ely’s last mine closed in the 1960s, underground tours of Minnesota’s first iron mine at nearby Soudan are conducted daily (detailed brochures outlining a self-guided tour of Historic Ely are available at the local Chamber of Commerce). Since Ely is also one of the main gateways to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, it’s a favorite with people who thrive on close-to-nature experiences. The Boundary Waters connection is apparent even to motorists just passing through town along Highway 169 (Sheridan Avenue), as the street is lined with canoe rentals and wilderness trip outfitters, sporting goods and outdoor clothing stores.

Fishing and water sports at surrounding lakes plus dozens of special events throughout the year, such as the Ely Jazz Festival (late July), the Loon Calling Contest (August)and January’s snow sculpting sessions assure that there's something for everyone on the check-off list.

Connie Emerson
About the Expert

Connie Emerson is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Cheapskate's Guide to Branson, Missouri and Eyewitness Top Ten Travel Guide – Las Vegas.

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Connie Emerson for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    June through early September