Ely is a city of 3,400 people (2019) in Northeastern Minnesota. Ely is best known as a popular entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the International Wolf Center, and the North American Bear Center.
The first Europeans to explore the area were fur traders who made their way into the wilderness in search of furs. But it was the Lake Vermillion gold rush that brought the first groups of pioneers to the area in 1865. Although hardly any gold was ever found, it was discovered that the area did contain large deposits of iron ore. Many immigrants arriving in America came to the area later to be known as the Minnesota Iron Range, looking for work.
When the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway was extended to Ely in 1888, mining operations begsn with the opening of the Chandler Mine. Ore was shipped by rail to docks on Lake Superior in Two Harbors and Duluth. From there it was shipped by lake freighter for processing in Ashtabula and other points in Ohio.
The name "Ely” was chosen in honor of mining executive Samuel B. Ely, a big promoter of Vermilion Range ore who lived in Michigan. (He was not known to have visited the namesake town.)
Eventually eleven mines opened near Ely. In 1967, the Pioneer mine closed. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and its offices now house the Ely Arts & Heritage Center.
The first mines were open pit operations, but when the abundant ore was mined out, deep shafts were made to start mining underground. With the need for wooden support beams to keep the tunnels from collapsing, along with the need for lumber to meet the needs of the ever-expanding growth in the area, the logging and milling industry grew. Logging continues in the region, though on a limited scale and only for paper pulp—the major operations virtually disappeared by 1920 when the area's tree reserves were depleted.
Plan to spend some time getting to Ely. They don't call it the "End of the Road" for nothing! If you take a commercial flight to Minnesota, plan to rent a car to get to Ely. It's about four hours from the Twin Cities, or two hours from Duluth. Ely is 100 miles (160 km) north of Duluth, 117 miles southeast of International Falls, and 244 miles (393 km) north of Minneapolis – Saint Paul.
State Highway 1 (MN 1), State Highway 169 (MN 169) and County Road 21 (Central Avenue) are the main routes in Ely.
Primary highways are wide and well-maintained summer and winter, but secondary county roads in the vicinity of Ely are often narrow, hilly, and have a gravel or dirt surface. The scenic Echo Trail (County Road 116) heading north of town is beautiful, but especially rugged.
- 1 International Wolf Center, 1396 Hwy 169, ☏ , email@example.com. (TTY relay service dial 711). Summer schedule from mid-May through mid-October open daily (hours vary). Winter schedule from mid-October through mid-May open weekends only. $8.50-4.50 (kids under age 3 free).
- North American Bear Center, 1926 Hwy 169, ☏ , toll-free: . Summer schedule from May-Nov daily (hours vary). Winter schedule from Dec-May open Saturdays only except by appointment. $8.50-4.50 (kids under age 3 free).
- 2 Ely Arts and Heritage Center (Pioneer Mine).
In the winter: Dog sledding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and a variety of other winter activities, since the lakes have frozen over and are covered with snow. One place to book winter trips is through Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge
- Dorothy Molter Museum. Just north of Ely tells about the life of the Root Beer Lady. Here you can learn about how she lived in solitude on Knife Lake, and how she made and sold root beer.
- International Wolf Center, along the Fernberg Road just north of Ely. Here, learn about wolves and even see them up close. This is also one of the places where you might want to watch the safety video about the Boundary Waters, so why not pop into the Wolf Center and learn something!
- Canoeing This is why most people venture all the way up to Ely in summer. One of the options is of course to bring your own canoe and gear. But, if you don't own this type of outdoor gear, there are plenty of commercial canoe outfitters in Ely. Also, the Girl Scouts' Northern Lakes Canoe Base is a perfect way for Girl Scout troops or individual girls to go on canoeing trips, and is great for girls ages 11 and up and their mothers/troop leaders as well. The Boy Scouts have a similar program at the Northern Tier Boy Scouts High Adventure Base. And fishing is a possibility too (remember to get a permit). In the summer: Besides canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and the Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.
- When you go out into the Boundary Waters, winter or summer, make sure that you have an up-to-date map and compass with you, and someone who knows how to use them. Be prepared for all types of weather, but pack as light as possible. No need to bring a fresh shirt for every day you are out there. A lighter load will make those portages enjoyable. Still, though, bring enough food. You will be surprised how much more you eat out there since you are constantly doing things. Also be aware that there may be a fire ban in the summer due to extreme dry weather. If this is the case, use a camp stove and bring enough fuel. But mostly, enjoy yourself out there, relax, and enjoy some of the best things that nature has to offer!
- In town, there are homely, casual amusements and a relaxed atmosphere -- a bowling place, mini golf, karaoke club, and several parks.
- Boundary Waters Guide Service, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, toll-free: , email@example.com.
- Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base.
- [dead link] Northern Tier National High Adventure Base (Boy Scouts), 14798 Moose Lake Rd, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
The main street of Ely is lined with outfitters, outdoor clothing stores, and restaurants.
For all of your outdoor needs, there is Piragis. To save some money, check out their outlet shop, a block away on Sheridan Street. There also is Wintergreen, which also offers outdoor supplies. Steger Mukluks will keep your toes warm. And there are probably two dozen other outfitters and equipment suppliers where you can get good quality and a good selection of most any outdoor stuff you want.
There are many fun gift shops as well. Some feature woodsy and down-home items, some have lovely artistic decor items, or furniture, or quirky widgets. There's plenty of fun shopping.
- 1 Zups. And the usual utility things: For groceries, there is Zup's right in the middle of town.
Along the main street you also find two dry cleaners. There is a hemp store, also called Music Outfitters, and an army surplus store. Good food at a variety of restaurants and eateries.
Ely is a small town, it's fun just to walk around the town and explore these places for yourself.
- Piragis Northwoods Outfitters, 105 N Central Ave, ☏ , email@example.com. Every kind of gear, equipment, maps, clothing, gifts and more. You can shop in town or online. There's also an outlet store a block away on Sheridan Street, featuring end-of-season discounts, "experienced" equipment, etc. You can even get a shower there when you come off the trail!
- Wintergreen Northwoods Apparel, 205 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Brandenburg Gallery, 11 E Sheridan St, ☏ . Photo gallery by Jim Brandenburg, renowned National Geographic photographer who lives in Ely, and whose work includes lush views of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
- BaskeTree, 34 W Sheridan St, ☏ . Gift shop and bakery. Also the registration office for A Stay Inn Ely (look below in Sleep).
- Chris Perry Gallery, 447 E Sheridan St, ☏ . Chris Perry Gallery features photography of the Ely area and Boundary Waters by local photographer Chris Perry. Find fine art prints of the northern lights, Minnesota landscapes and all of the treasures of the north woods!
- Canoe Country Outfitters.
- 1 Britton's Cafe, 5 E Chapman St, ☏ .
- The Chocolate Moose, 101 N Central Ave, ☏ . A unique spin on traditional dishes. Ingredients include fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits. Daily pasta and pizza specials. Burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas. Gourmet dinner specials. Famous pie baked fresh daily, in many flavors, and other great, tasty desserts!
- Ely Steak House, 216 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Evergreen Restaurant, 400 N Pioneer Rd, ☏ .
- Journey's End Cafe, 528 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Northern Grounds Cafe, 117 N Central Ave, ☏ .
- Sir G Italian Restaurant, 520 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Burntside Lodge, 2755 Burntside Lodge Rd, ☏ .
- Boathouse Brewpub, 47 E Sheridan St, ☏ . 6AM-10PM.
- Boathouse Brewpub, 47 E Sheridan St, ☏ . Bar 11AM-1AM.
- Dee's Bar & Lounge, 17 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Adventure Inn, 1145 E Sheridan St, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Grand Ely Lodge, 400 N Pioneer Rd, ☏ , fax: . Doubles $90-160.
- Motel Ely Budget Host, 1047 E Sheridan St, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- The Paddle Inn, 1314 E Sheridan St, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM.
- Shagawa Inn Resort, 1973 W Shagawa Rd, ☏ .
- A Stay Inn Ely, 112 W Sheridan St, ☏ .
- Super 8, 1605 E Sheridan St, ☏ .
|Routes through Ely|
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