Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Ely, MN

  • Published 2022/10/08

Starting as a mining town in Saint Louis County in the late 1880s, the city of Ely offers plenty of things to do for outdoor lovers.

Campers and paddlers en route to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Duluth, Minnesota, use Ely as their jump-off point.

The same goes for folks wanting to explore the Superior National Forest just east of Ely’s city proper.

The Kabetogama State Forest is yet another landscape interacting with the natural environment of Ely.

However, don’t limit your visit to Ely to outdoor recreational activities like camping, boating, and fishing.

This city also provides plenty of shopping and dining opportunities, enabling access to local arts and culture destinations.

Pick the points of interest that appeal to you most on the following list of things to do in Ely, Minnesota.

Tour the International Wolf Center

Exterior of the International Wolf Center

karenfoleyphotography /

Located on Highway 169, the International Wolf Center features an Exhibit Pack where visitors can observe wolves.

The current residents here are Arctic gray wolves—Axel and Grayson—beautiful in their breathtaking white fur and bright yellow eyes.

Several times a day, the center’s staff naturalists introduce the pack to visitors through informative programs for adults and children.

If you’re lucky, you can watch the center’s pair of wolves play and wrestle with each other.

A wolf at the International Wolf Center

Jeffrey Wiles /

The center maintains a “Discover Wolves” exhibit presenting the importance of wolves over time in various cultures.

The exhibit also presents how scientists and researchers track and study wolves through radio telemetry.

The center hosts school group tours, hold field trips, webinars, and lectures, and organizes the International Wolf Symposium.

Drop by the National Wolf Center’s Wolf Den Store for a wide selection of souvenir items and wolf-themed gifts.

Have a Beer at Samz’ Place

This is an off-the-grid bar on Old Winton Road where its patrons receive excellent service and inexpensive beer.

The bar of Samz’ Place offers beer on tap and in cans, with choices of popular brands like Bud, Bud Light, MGD, High Life, Lite, and Premium.

Samz’ Place provides outdoor seating, a fire pit, and a great watering hole.

It is also an excellent place to connect with local outdoors people, as it is home to the Ely Winton Rod & Gun Club.

This club hosts ice-fishing tournaments and shooting events at its shooting range which is open for membership.

Enjoy the Ely Winter Festival

The annual Ely Winter Festival has existed since 1984, launched to promote the city’s outdoor activities and Ely’s rich history.

The center of activities of this festival, traditionally held in early February, is Whiteside Park on East Sheridan Street.

The attractions during the festival include mesmerizing snow carvings created as the highlight of this event’s international Ice Sculpting Symposium.

An amateur ice sculpting competition is also part of the Ely Winter Festival.

Another highlight of this annual event comes in an art walk featuring the works of local artists on display in local shops.

The Ely Winter Festival has been extended from its original three-day schedule to ten days, including musical concerts, sled dog rides, a crafts fair, and culinary delights.

Visit the North American Bear Center

A bear at North American Bear Center

Jeffrey Wiles /

The North American Bear Center is a nonprofit museum that features outdoor and indoor viewing areas for observing live black bears.

The center has four resident bears—Tasha, Ted, Holly, and Lucky—in a 2.5-acre forested natural habitat.

Here, the four bears have dens and areas to forage for food, an environment that includes a waterfall and a pond.

Besides bear viewing, the North American Bear Center offers various programs daily.

A man feeding a bear at North American Bear Center

Lilith Munck /

Allow at least two hours to enjoy and learn all this center offers, like its award-winning research documentaries and exhibits about bears.

Visiting kids will enjoy the center’s “Cub Room,” where they can learn about bears while playing.

The North American Bear Center grounds also feature interpretive nature trails for birding and wildlife viewing.

The center’s building is air-conditioned and features a shop for souvenir items.

Exterior of the North American Bear Center

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hike the Trezona Trail

You can have a pleasant hike on the Trezona Trail without straying too far from the city center in Ely.

Its trailhead and the parking lot are on the northeast corner of Pioneer Road and Miners Road East.

The Trezona Trail meanders around the six-acre expanse of the historic Pioneer Mine and its pit that’s now a lake.

This four-mile trail offers a stroll along flat to rolling terrain with scenic views of the lake and an old mine shaft.

The Trezona Trail’s southern stretch follows old mine haul roads and railroad grades, while the northern side traverses a white pine woodland and residential neighborhoods.

Join the Blueberry/Art Festival

This annual festival is the signature summer happening in Ely, sometime in late July at Whiteside Park, East Sheridan Street.

Sponsored by the Ely Chamber of Commerce, the Blueberry/Art Festival brings together over 200 crafters and artists and 25 food concessions.

Each year, this festival attracts some 30,000 visitors during its three-day extravaganza of fine art, creative handicraft, and mouth-watering food fare.

Blueberry pies are among the star offerings of the festival, along with pork chops on a stick.

Don’t miss out on festival samplings of tasty burgers, brats, kettle corn, waffles, seafood, and refreshing beverages.

Many of the Blueberry/Art Festival’s participating artists are regulars whose masterpieces include acrylic art, watercolor renditions, pottery, and woodcraft.

Paddle on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

A boat on the waters of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Travis J. Camp /

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness spreads east of Ely, covering nearly 150 miles.

The BWCAW holds the largest contiguous expanse of remaining uncut forest in the eastern U.S.

This pristine area is a paddlers’ paradise, with 1,175 lakes ranging from 10 to 10,000 acres.

All told, these bodies of water offer canoe routes of over 1,200 miles, plus more than 2,000 designated campsites and 12 nature trails.

The BWCAW draws about a quarter million visitors annually, making it the most popular wilderness area in the eastern U.S.

Paddlers and campers need a permit to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness around expert outfitters ready to help with visitors’ outdoor needs.

Gear Up at Cliff Wold’s Outfitting

Located on Fernberg Road in Ely, Cliff Wold’s Outfitting has provided services for visitors embarking on local canoe trips.

It can provide services to about 4,000 patrons a year and help them enjoy a great canoeing and camping experience.

Cliff Wold’s Outfitting is the place to go if you need canoes, paddles, tents, backpacks, and other provisions for an outdoor trip.

It also provides transportation to haul equipment and food to your points of departure landing.

This service provider is one of the most reliable outfitters in the Ely area, as it focuses solely on canoe camping trips and doesn’t run any other related business.

Watch a Burnout Competition at the Jake Forsman Memorial Car Show

Likewise, Ely hosts the region’s final big event of the year for car enthusiasts, the Jake Forsman Memorial Car Show and Burnout Competition.

Set every October, this event occurs on East Chapman Street, with free admission for all.

The day’s car show features classic models like the Mustang, Impala, Camaro, and Chevy.

The head-to-head burnout competitions start at 11:00 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m., promising the sights and sounds of smoking and skidding car tires.

This is an all-family event, with its sidelights including a silent auction, face painting, and kids’ activities.

Visit the Dorothy Molter Museum

Exterior of the Dorothy Molter Museum

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This museum is on East Sheridan Street and pays tribute to the legendary Dorothy Molter, the last non-indigenous BWCAW resident.

The Dorothy Molter Museum holds Dorothy’s three log cabins, where she lived for nearly all her 79 years.

Dorothy was known as the Root Beer Lady during her heydays at the BWCAW’s Knife Lake on the U.S.-Canada border.

Visiting paddlers enjoyed her hospitality and often stopped by her cabins for the homemade root beer she shared.

The log cabins of the Dorothy Molter Museum host various exhibits revolving around the theme of life in the wilderness.

Other museum features include pieces about the Boundary Waters’ history, traveling to the Isle of Pines, and root beer making.

Go Fishing on Miner’s Lake Pit

Anglers need not go deep into the wilderness to fish in the forest lakes in and around Ely.

They can do so within the city limits with a visit to Miner’s Pit or Miner’s Lake Pit off North Pioneer Road.

This fishing spot is among the 20 lakes formed out of the abandoned pit mines within the northern section of the Minnesota Iron Range.

These lakes were stocked with fish, mainly stream trout, after filling with water.

Miner’s Lake in Ely was formed in 1967 after Pioneer Mine abandoned its pit mining; the pit soon gathered the lake’s water.

This lake’s surface area is 140 acres, and its waters have a 140 feet maximum depth.

Besides trout, other potential catches in the lake include largemouth bass, green sunfish, bluegill, and hybrid sunfish.

This lake is ideal for ice fishing, as less snow accumulates on its surface during winter.

Enjoy the Ely Farmers Market

Ely holds the Ely Farmers Market each summer every Tuesday at Whiteside Park on East Chapman Street.

This market opens in the evening, featuring local farmers’ produce and the works of artisans in the region.

The goods on sale include fresh veggies, newly picked fruits, baked goods, jams, and maple syrup.

The Ely Farmers Market also features food trucks and musical performances by local musicians and the city band.

The kids’ play equipment in Whiteside Park further adds to the fun activities during the Ely Farmers Market.

Tour the Historic Pioneer Mine

Daytime view of Pioneer Mine

Jenny Leiviska /

The nonprofit Ely Greenstone Public Art Committee maintains the Pioneer Mine Museum, preserving memorabilia from the iron mining industry in Ely during the last century.

The Pioneer Mine Museum, operated as the Ely Arts & Heritage Center on North Pioneer Road, gathers its collection of artifacts and photos at the former mine’s shaft house.

A water tower and the old mine shaft headframe are two conspicuous structures next to the shaft house of the mine now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another point of interest in the historic mine is an underground miners’ dry house accessible via a stairway.

The Ely Arts & Heritage Center now uses this dry house for art exhibits and art classes.

Get Winter Gear at Steger Mukluk & Moccasins

Make an appointment for a fitting of either mukluk winter boots or moccasins at the Steger Mukluk & Moccasins on East Sheridan Street.

The many North Pole and South Pole expeditions and participants in Alaska’s famed Iditarod Sled Race have sourced boots from this Ely shoemaker.

Its mukluks are made from the best moose hides, making the footwear flexible and supple through the years.

Each pair also incorporates the best insoles and wool felt liners.

This shoemaker’s moccasins are likewise popular for their durability, flexibility, and comfortable wear.

Gear up for the winter at Steger Mukluk & Moccasins!

Dine with a Lake View at Evergreen Restaurant-Antlers Lounge

The two dining venues in the Grand Ely Lodge Resort & Event Center, Evergreen Restaurant-Antlers Lounge, are superb choices for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Both provide great picks from their respective menus, and their outdoor and indoor seating offers splendid views of Shagawa Lake.

These dining destinations open daily, offering a selection of more than 40 food items.

Their main fares include prime rib, walleye, seafood, pasta, chef features, and daily specials.

The Evergreen Restaurant-Antler’s Lounge’s host resort, accessible via North Pioneer Road, is on the southern edge of the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Final Thoughts

Ely is a remarkable destination, especially for outdoor enthusiasts with an eye for helping preserve the natural environment.

From a mining town exploiting the local natural resources, Ely has successfully shifted to more sustainable economic activities bringing delight and memorable things to do for its visitors.

Discover the best things to do in Ely, Minnesota!

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