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Ely, Minnesota proudly calls itself “the end of the road,” and it’s also one of the gateways to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Minnesotans from elsewhere in the state usually associate Ely with canoeing in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter; some Minnesotans haven’t heard of Ely, or just think of it as yet another small northern town and not much else. All of these associations have some truth, but there’s also a lot more to this place that we call home. In fact, those of us that live and work here know that Ely has a lot of incredible things going for it. We could ramble on and on about how great this town is, but here are seven awesome characteristics that top the list:
Lakes, lakes, and more lakes
Minnesota is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but that’s actually an understatement. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the state has 11,842 lakes that exceed 10 acres in size. Many of these lakes are concentrated in the northeastern corner of the state, and Ely is right in the heart of them. Want to go for a walk after lunch? Walk around Miners Lake in the middle of town. Want to go fishing in the morning? Head just a few blocks north to Shagawa. Want to travel all the way to Hudson Bay by canoe? That journey might take you a little while, but Fall Lake is a fine place to start. Ely is a fantastic home base for swimming, fishing, boating, waterskiing, inner tubing, sailing, or any other water-based activity.
The Ely Public Library
The Ely Public Library has a beautiful new building with plenty of reading and working spaces, two quiet study rooms, a great book selection, and lots of computers. In addition to having friendly, helpful librarians, the library always has a great calendar of fun events, often involving local writers, artists, and scholars.
The Ely area is full of dog mushers who have operations ranging from small hobby kennels to touring businesses to racing kennels. Drive around town any day of the week, and you’re likely to see a husky or two out for a little exercise. Whether you just want to pet a sled dog or you dream of going on a multi-night winter dogsledding expedition, Ely is the place to make it happen. Of course, we highly recommend Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge as a great place to hop on a dogsled for the first time.
Northern Lights (and the Milky Way!)
Did you know that you can see amazing Northern Lights displays in Minnesota? The Ely area in particular is an excellent place to view them, because the sky to the north is very dark and unpolluted by light from large towns. Even on nights when the Auroras aren’t very active, you can still often see the Milky Way, and chances are high that you’ll see a shooting star if you wait for a few minutes. In addition, you can get an unobstructed view just by standing on the shore of one of our many lakes in the area!
If you want to decorate your home with a picture of Northern Minnesota’s night sky, Ely is also home to many excellent photographers – including the locals at Root River Photography – who do a great job of capturing the sky at its finest.
Ely Folk School
The Folk School offers great opportunities to learn all kinds of skills and crafts while celebrating Ely’s unique heritage and wilderness culture. Courses are offered year-round in topics ranging from introductory herbalism to building your own fishing rod. The Folk School also sponsors dances, concerts, and other community events that celebrate the talent within the Ely community.
Most people visiting Ely know about the Boundary Waters, but they may not realize how much other public land is in the area, including on the Canadian side of the border. In addition to the absolutely massive Superior National Forest, the Ely area has access to Bear Head Lake State Park, Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Sand Lake Peatland Scientific and Natural Area, and much more public land. Just a little ways north in Canada, Quetico Provincial Park is stunningly beautiful and remote.
If time is a limited resource, small rural towns seem to have snagged more than their normal share. Here in the North Woods, the incredible wilderness surrounding us helps Ely slow down even more. After all, it’s hard to feel rushed when you’re living in a landscape carved from Precambrian bedrock. Head to the grocery store, the post office, or the fishing dock on Miners Lake, and you’ll learn firsthand how many Ely residents like to relax and socialize.
Come Visit Us!
These are just a few of the reasons that our team at Wintergreen Northern Wear loves this town. If you’re the kind of person who might structure an entire evening around watching the sun setting over a calm lake, someone who loves socializing with their neighbors, or you’d love to spend more time practicing traditional folk skills, you’ll probably love Ely. We sure do!
Saeward Schillaci is a professional writer and editor. She is the founder of Northwoods Editing , which specializes in helping businesses create quality written content. Currently, Saeward lives on a permaculture farm near Menard, TX with an assortment of animals including humans, dogs, cats, chickens, feral peacocks, and armadillos. In her spare time, she enjoys canoeing, climbing, creative writing, swimming, and whittling.