I have a cabin on Burntside Lake in Ely, Minnesota. I have been going to the cabin since 1988 when I met my husband, Kurt Johnson. Ely is a special place. Besides being the birthplace of Jim Klobuchar (whose daughter, State Senator Amy Klobuchar marched in the 4th of July Parade this year), explorer Will Steiger and actress Jessica Biel (wife of Justin Timberlake) are also Ely natives. Because of its proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you get lots of people traveling through town to shop, eat and visit the various outfitters in town. There are many great day hikes around Ely. There are three annual festivals in the city, with the Blueberry Arts Festival in July, The Harvest Moon Festival in September, and the Winter Festival in February.
Here are a few of my favorite things to do in Ely that I share with my family and friends who come through town to visit me throughout the Summer and Winter.
The 5.6 mile Bass Lake trail is an ideal Spring and Fall hike. The terrain starts out in a forested trail but takes you up along a rocky outcrop with beautiful views of the lake and ends at a refreshing waterfall feature that is fun to swim in. This is a medium challenging hike that takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
A shorter hike is the paved path around Miners Lake that is a bit less than 3 miles and is located super close to town and is an excellent spot to walk after picking up a cup of coffee, or you can cross country ski it in the Winter Months.
The Kawishiwi Falls Trail is 1.3 miles and is an easy walk in the woods to see the Falls – a 70 foot drop that makes for a great spot to take some pictures of the falls and native plants.
Ely has both the International Wolf Center with a wolf pack on-site, and the International Bear Center has 3 bears that live on-site and can be observed from an observation deck. Both locations make for an excellent rainy day trip into town if you get inclement weather at the cabin.
Not many towns have their own folk school that teaches you North woods skills and crafts like how to make Strudel, Build a canoe out of birch bark, or a chair out of Willows, in addition to many types Fabric Arts like crocheting, embroidery, and knitting.
Some of the best outfitter stores in the country are located in Ely, including Piragis that specializes in outdoor camping, gear, clothing and has the best bookstore with a deep selection of Minnesota and outdoor authors.
Potluck is a kitchen store that has both vintage and new kitchen wares. It is a blast to look at old cookie cutters, cast iron pans and linens while shopping for new cookware or knife sets. Mealy’s is a high-end gift store that features everything from furniture to pottery and jewelry and novelty items for the sauna and cards and cames for the kids.
Legacy Toy Store is the perfect spot to take the kids on a rainy day. Don’t miss the Old Fashioned Candy Store on Chapman street to pick up some Wacky Wafers, Boston Baked Beans, Salt Water Taffy, or any of the over 40 varieties of soda pop they have on-site. No trip to Ely is complete without a stroll through Wintergreen Northern Wear that makes the world’s finest outdoor gear on-site that is sewn right in Ely and worn on the Will Steiger expeditions as the store is owned by Sue Schurke, whose husband Paul was Will’s expedition partner. For groceries and the best smoked polish sausages, head to Zup’s.
Eats and Drinks:
There are many places to eat and drink in Ely. For exceptional occasion dining, Burntside Lodge can’t be beat. Set in a 1920 logging resort, the lodge is the area’s best dining with a wine list that ranked them on the wine spectator list. Every diner gets the bread basket with delicious pumpkin muffins made in-house and maple rosemary butter. There is no better place to grab a gin and tonic and a piece of their vegetable lavosh pizza in the bar and watch the boats leave the marina. Insula is a delicious restaurant in town with delectable fried chicken and waffles and a huge northern pike fish sandwich. The Boathouse Brewpub brews its own beer and has delightful onion rings. Try the Blonde Blueberry Lager that comes with blueberries floating in the beer. Two foodies from the Twin Cities have re-opened Ely’s fabled Chocolate Moose Café for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sherri’s Red Cabin Custard opens every day at 3pm with over 15 delicious brands of house-made Custard and the $1 pup cup that I have been known to get for myself and toss the dog biscuit to my nearest doggie companion. Their Rootbeer float made with Ely’s Dorothy Molter Rootbeer is also fantastic. Finish your trip into town with a cup of coffee from Northern Grounds who also happens to have the best free WiFi connection. If breakfast is your jam, try the homemade quiche at the front porch coffee shop or the giant breakfast omelet at Brittons Café. If you find yourself needing a Karaoke fix, head to Zaveryl’s for a beer and a “plink.” A plink is short for Pelinkovac, a bitter cherry liquor made from wormwood and native to Croatia and Serbia that is a favorite local shot at the bars in Ely.