Adventures In Ely, MN: A Weekend Guide

exploring Ely Minnesota

Believe it or not, I had never been to Ely, Minnesota before this trip. I don’t know what took me so long to get up there, but I’m so happy that I finally did. I knew I was going to love it before I even got there. How, you might ask? Well, it’s one of the entryways in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), which is an incredibly remote and beautiful area within the Superior National Forest that a lot of Minnesotans are fond of. So I knew going into it that the area surrounding Ely was going to be that fantastic combination of clear blue waters and green pine trees that I love.

I decided to head up north for a long weekend as more of a scouting trip to see if it was a place I’d want to explore again in the summer or fall. At first, I was a little nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to find enough to do to fill up the long weekend. But after going through my normal research routine, I was able to find plenty of activities to keep busy. But I’ll tell you more about all of the things you can do in Ely, Minnesota in a second.

The verdict of the trip came easily: This is indeed a spot I’d love to go back to later this year. And now I’ll share with you all of the reasons why.

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Things to do near Ely, MN

Even though the city of Ely, MN itself is quite small, there’s so much you can still do right in town and within the surrounding area. I was pleasantly surprised to see my list continue to grow after doing research and asking friends for some recommendations. Ely feels very much like an outfitter town, so as you can imagine, there are a lot of outdoor activities you can do. On top of that, there are some great spots for shopping, grabbing a bite to eat, or catching a movie. So let’s get into it. Here is my list of recommendations for things to do:

Go hiking: Lace up your boots and take your pick at a trail to explore. Keep in mind, that some trails are more frequently trafficked than others. For those that are more remote side, make sure you’re carrying food and water with you just in case. Also make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots, as these trails are rugged. There are a lot of tree roots and large rocks to climb over.

Hiking was one of my favorite activities to do while there. The forest is so beautiful and quiet up there. Sometimes that can be a little eery, but that’s because you’re in a more pristine area, which I think is pretty special. Some hiking trails that I’d recommend are:

  • Kawishiwi Falls (1-mile loop) if you’re looking for an easy trail to chase a waterfall.
  • Bass + Dry Lake Loop (6.3 miles) has rugged trails but it’s also very serene. It also includes lake overlooks.
  • Angleworm Lake Trail (12.9 miles) is a remote hike that you can get to from the Echo Trail. I didn’t go on this one, as it mentions the best time to trek is May through September, but it was a recommended trail that I’d love to try.
  • Blackstone, Secret, and Ennis Lakes (4.3 miles) are similar to the Bass + Dry Lake loop in that it has lake overlooks. It’s more lightly trafficked though, which makes it feel like you have the place to yourself.

Pro Tip: Even though spring can be on the cooler side, it’s a great time to explore waterfall locations in Minnesota.

Take a canoe trip in the BWCAW: There is a reason the editor of National Geographic Traveler included the Boundary Waters in their “50 Places of a Lifetime” roundup. It’s one of the few places in the United States which is still relatively untouched, and I hear it’s quite awe-inspiring. There are no roads here. To travel through, you can only access by canoe.

If this is something you want to do, make sure to get a permit beforehand to explore BWCAW. Once you have that, you can make the trip what you want it to be. Some people go in for a day trip, while others make it a longer camping trip that can last up to two weeks. Ely is a great spot to gain access as it has several outfitter stores in town. They can help supply permits and gear and even set up a guided canoe adventure.

If you’re looking for that once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I’d look into a BWCAW canoe trip while in the area.

Go dogsledding in the winter: I just missed the dog sledding season. It typically runs from December through March and may extend depending on how much snow is in the area. I would have loved to do this. Beautiful huskies and a winter wonderland. Yes, please. Trips can be from just a few hours up to half-day adventures. If I go up in the wintertime, this will be on my to-do list. You can set up a trip with either Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge or Chilly Dogs.

Explore downtown Ely: Most of the shops and galleries on the main drag through town (E Sheridan St). You find gift shops, a candy shop, and photo galleries, to name a few. I’d recommend checking out:

  • Brandenburg Gallery: Here you’ll find wilderness photos of the surrounding area from photographer Jim Brandenburg. He’s worked as a photographer for National Geographic magazine for over 20 years, so his gallery will not disappoint.
  • Pebble Spa Company: I made an appointment for a massage and wrap. It was fantastic! Next time I’m in town I’m for sure booking another appointment. The spa also has a nice selection of clothing, jewelry, bath salts, soaps, lotions, perfume, and more.
  • Mealey’s Gift + Sauna Shop: Head here if you’re looking for knick-knacks, home decor, and pottery. Plus, they have a line of sauna accessories that will complete your up-north trip.
  • International Wolf Center: If you have the kiddos with you, they might like a visit to the Wolf Center that’s right outside of town. And if they prefer seeing a bear, you can head on over to the North American Bear Center, also nearby.

Drive the scenic roads: Another activity that I enjoyed was being able to drive around and explore the scenic roads in the area. There are several that you can choose from, including Echo Trail (definitely recommend), Fernburg Road, and Highway 1. Echo Trail may have been my favorite. For the first part of it, you’re on pavement, but then at some point, it turns to gravel roads winding through a tall pine forest. It’s a great drive if you’re on the lookout for wildlife.

Pro Tip: While driving these scenic roads, make sure to stop at any lake accesses that you pass along the way. You can find some really pretty views that make for a great picnic spot.

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Places to eat near Ely, MN

If you planning to stick around Ely for a few days, I have a few recommendations for places to eat or grab a drink right in or around downtown Ely. I few of my favorite spots included:

  • Insula: I stopped in for breakfast and had their spinach frittata. It had wild rice in it, which I would have never thought of but it was quite tasty. Insula is a great spot for breakfast but they have lunch and dinner menus as well.
  • Northern Grounds: I stopped in for coffee one morning. I assumed it was just a coffee shop but I was pleasantly surprised that they have a wine bar inside too. I’d love to go back for happy hour the next time I’m in town.
  • The Boathouse: I didn’t try the food here. The only reason I stopped by was that I had heard that they had a yummy blueberry beer, which sounded intriguing. I got it. And it was delicious. The perfect sip for those warm days up north.
  • Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium: Check to see if it’s still temporarily closed before going. This was on my list but they were closed during my visit. The menu looks quite yummy and the venue looks super cute.
  • Log Cabin Coffee Drive-through: Before heading out on the trail in the morning, stop at this cute drive-through on Sheridan St. to grab a coffee and a muffin for the road. You can find it here: 1340 E Sheridan St, Ely, MN 55731.
  • Grand Ely Lodge: This lodge is situated above Shagawa Lake in Ely. I’d recommend heading here for dinner. It has spectacular sunset views, which make for pretty reflections on the lake. Plus, the food was quite good, which surprised me.

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I always realize as I write these travel guides that I didn’t take enough pictures. That feels like the case here, too. But I guess that just means that I’ll have to make the trip back and add photos and details to this post when I can.

I felt so refreshed after visiting Ely, Minnesota. And thankful to have discovered and visited such a beautiful place. Right in my home state for that matter. Everyone that I’ve talked to, both here in Minnesota and friends out of state, has only good things to say about Ely and the BWCAW. It sounds like a summer staple for a lot of people and I can now see why.

Here’s to my next adventure up north.

Let’s go places,

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Have you been to Ely, Minnesota, or the Boundary Waters? If so, share your favorite place or experience in the comments section below.

All photos on this blog post are mine. Feel free to share but please credit me with a link back to the blog. Much appreciated and thank you for your support!

4 thoughts on “Adventures In Ely, MN: A Weekend Guide

  1. Amazing clicks of pictures! we have done with the same place and its look like a heaven on the earth and we enjoyed our trip. Before visiting this place, we consulted with Boundary Waters Catalog about the place and bought some tools from them. We got some information from some blogs and our trip was amazing.

  2. Minnesota is such an enthralling state to visit! It is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and natural wonders. All of the activities in Ely, Minnesota, that is on this list are fun and interesting. It makes you want to pack your luggage and head to Ely for a fantastic travel adventure.

    1. Yeah, it really is a beautiful place and I can’t believe it took me this long to go visit! Also, thank you for reading and commenting. Much appreciated! 🙂

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