Ely, Minnesota, voted coolest small town in America in 2010, is a favorite summer destination for thousands. As the gateway to the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness), Ely is an unusual small town, population of just under 4,000, that attracts many of its visitors to become area residents, business owners and artisans.
Ely has a rich history of lumberjacks and miners flocking to partake of the area’s natural resources. Along with industry, resorts popped up around the many lakes and Ely became a favorite tourist destination. A 1927 "Souvenir Booklet" names the Superior National Forest "The Playground of a Nation." In 1987, Ely was designated The Canoe Capital of the World!
The area has an indisputably unique beauty. “Anyone who has known the deep woods and the blue lakes, for a week or a season, puts himself to sleep ever afterward with memories of Ely,” wrote the late television personality Charles Kuralt, who at one time owned the local radio station WELY.
On each end of your canoe trip, there are accommodations in town and out in the woods, whichever is your liking. Some outfitters offer their own lodging. Great eating, shopping and entertainment are available in Ely, as well as a great selection of wines, microbrews and other amenities you might not necessarily expect of a town that calls itself the “end of the road.”
True to its love of nature, Ely is the home of the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. And true to its love of the arts, each Tuesday night throughout the summer, various merchants in Ely host live music or other arts activities. Two festivals are held during the Ely summer: the Blueberry Arts Festival in July and the Harvest Moon Festival in early September.
Dorothy Molter was an interesting character who lived in the Boundary Waters and was allowed to continue living there until the end of her life. Her cabins were carefully transported to an area outside of Ely and now constitute the Dorothy Molter Museum, an interesting place to spend some time while in the area.
Take a quick video tour of some attractions in the Ely area: