Located in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, Ely is a two hour drive north from Duluth and four hours from Minneapolis. North of Ely, by way of lakes, is Hudson Bay. After that, the North Pole. Ely isn't a pass-through town; Ely is a destination.
Locally known as the "End of the Road" (from here you have to paddle), the Ely area includes millions of acres of forest and thousands of lakes. These canoe routes were once traveled by the Native American Ojibwa tribes and the Voyageurs of the fur trade, 400 years ago. Today over 250,000 vacationers annually paddle and camp along these lakes and portages. People from around the world come to Ely, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for true adventure.
Ely is a quaint town that was voted one of the "'10 Best Small Towns" by Outdoor Magazine in 2009. Budget Travel named it the "Coolest Small Town in America" in 2010, and National Geographic listed it in "Towns Around the World for Outdoor Thrills" in 2016.
After the last iron mine closed in 1967, Ely saw many years of economic decline. But today Ely is on the upswing. Outfitters, retailers, resorts, service providers, and small manufacturing are keeping the town alive. Tourism is the number one business driver. Thanks to the visionary spirit of the John Ott family, many of the historic buildings in Ely are being restored and renovated, ready to be occupied by entrepreneurs. Their latest transformation is the State Theater, ready for new tenants to open a cafe and movie house.
If you're visiting Ely and looking for something to do, you're here in the best season. In summer, everything is open. You can howl with the wolves at the International Wolf Center and learn about bears at the North American Bear Center. Visit the legendary writer Sigurd Olson's famous Listening Point, and travel back in time when you walk through Dorothy Molter's original cabins, which were moved from the Boundary Waters when it became a protected wilderness. You can spend hours on a rainy day at the Ely-Winton Historical Society's museum, located at Vermilion Community College. Local mining history is told live, in person, at the historic Pioneer Mine, now home to Greenstone Arts and Heritage Center. If you're feeling creative or curious, you can learn a new craft at the Ely Folk School. Tuesday night the Farmers and Artists Market is open at Whiteside Park, and live music is heard at a dozen places around town. There are more than twenty restaurants, twenty-seven canoe and fishing outfitters, several bars and coffee shops, thirty-eight lodgings, four art galleries, twenty-five retail stores, two grocers, twelve churches, and six canoe towing services. And of course, the main attractions: 5,000 lakes, rivers, and streams to drop in a fishing line, or jump in yourself for a dip in the cool pools of the north.
Everyone comes to Ely for a different reason. But one thing is certain: if you're in Ely, you really want to be here. So soak it all in, and come back soon.