About Ely, Minnesota

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. Various legislation and executive orders were enacted over the years to protect the area, culminating in the Wilderness Act of 1964 that designated the BWCA as a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. This act recognized the unique history and character of the BWCA and provided for special management considerations.

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.

Of course, summer seems an obvious time to take advantage of the area’s natural bounty, but winter holds its own beauty and attraction. Once snow falls in northern Minnesota, the stately pines forests and expanse of lake are layered in white, which, contrasted with the sky, a color of blue that you will not see anywhere else, creates a scene of quiet unparalleled magnificence.

True to its love of nature, Ely is the home of the International Wolf Center and Bear Center. Special events celebrating winter activities are scheduled throughout the winter season: The Fun Run in January (snowmobiling), Ely Winter Festival in February (art in the streets, snow sculpting in the park, performances and dances, crafts fair, ski events, ice fishing, Voyageur encampment), the Wolftrack Classic in March (dog sled racing).


Is it cold up north in Ely? Well, yes. But it’s all relative and the cold here may not feel as frigid as the cold two or four hours’ drive south. Ely has what they call “dry cold.” With little moisture in the air, the cold stays on the outside of your clothing, it doesn’t chill you to your bones like moist cold does. Not only that, but northern Minnesota has the sheltering trees to keep the wind from roaring down open spaces. These factors, together with the many sunny days, you have a winter that can actually feel temperate. The most important thing is wearing the proper clothing: the right boots, jackets, scarves, hats, socks and mitts. When you take a dog sled trip with one of the experienced Ely outfitters, they will make sure you are bundled up properly. They watch for body language that signals exposure. When camping, the tents are heated with wood stoves and the sleeping bags and other gear are “arctic tested.” Ely is home to two manufacturers of winter clothing and their products, made in Ely, are guaranteed against the kind of cold weather you will find here.

Traveling to Ely

Roads leading into Ely include Highway 169, Highway 1 and County Road 116 (Echo Trail). Ely is located approximately 110 miles north of Duluth, 102 miles east of International Falls, and 255 miles north of Minneapolis / St. Paul.

Northwest Airlines flies into Duluth and Hibbing. American Airlines flies into Duluth direct from Chicago. Rental cars are available at each of the airports. Some  outfitters and lodging facilities provide ground transportation from the Ely, Duluth and Hibbing airports for their customers.

Private planes can utilize the Ely Municipal Airport which has a 5,600′ paved runway with VOR/DME, TACAN, PAPI lights, strobe lights, lighted runway, and charter and jet capabilities. There is a passenger terminal, cargo buildings, tiedowns, airframe, power plant, and a repair hangar.

In northern Minnesota, we are used to having snow and the roads are kept in good driving condition throughout the winter.  Blizzards are an uncommon occurrence, so driving is not as nerve-wracking as in some urban areas in wintertime.  If renting a vehicle, it might be a good idea to request an all-wheel drive SUV for the most driving security.