Despite gas prices not being particularly agreeable, travel is the activity of the summer this year as people across the country have a lot of pent-up wanderlust after a 2020 that wasn't too travel friendly. Following that and a renewed sense among many Americans in supporting local businesses and small-town charm, Smithsonian Magazine announced a roster of 15 small towns across the United States that are among the best in the country to visit this year.
Aside from two, the list consisted of towns with a population of less than 10,000 people with various charms spread across the American map. One of those towns happens to be in our very own neighborhood, nestled in the wilderness of Northern Minnesota.
That town, the only one in either Minnesota or Wisconsin, is Ely. Anyone who has ever been to Ely can fully appreciate the cool small town charm that this BWCAW gateway offers.
The piece from Smithsonian Magazine identifies Ely as a town of 3,390 people, highlighting the proximity the town has to the Boundary Waters and the Superior National Forest. Beside warmer season outdoor adventures in the wilderness, the piece also points out winter activities like dogsledding during what they refer to as Ely's "long season" (which is a name anyone in Minnesota and Wisconsin can agree with for winter).
Locals always have a different view of what the cool aspects of a town are when compared to those who visit. Some of the items Smithsonian Magazine identified as highlights to check out during a visit include (in the order in which they appear in the story):
- Steger Mukluk
- Wintergreen Northern Wear’s
- Piragis Northwoods Company
- Brandenburg Gallery
- International Wolf Center
- North American Bear Center
- Stony Ridge Resort & Cafe
- Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant
- Northern Ground Coffee + Wine Bar
- Evergreen Restaurant
Not a bad list! If I may offer a couple of additional things while you're in the area to check out, may I recommend the following:
- Dorothy Molter Museum - Known as "The Root Beer Lady", she became famous to people around the region for her drink. Stop by the museum to learn about the history of Ely and the BWCAW as well as sample some of Dorothy's famous recipe root beer. The museum is just on the eastern edge of town.
- Kawishiwi Falls - Just east of town is a neat little waterfall between Fall Lake and Garden Lake. There's a parking area and a hiking trail to lead you to the falls.
- Ely's Old Fashioned Candy - Kid, or just kid at heart, who doesn't love something sweet? Find it right downtown Ely.
- The outdoors! Seriously, consider a trip into the BWCAW, or even just some of the hiking trails around the area. If you want to try out the canoe thing, either do day trips or plan a full multi-day adventure. There are a number of outfitters that can set you up with everything you need to enjoy the pristine wilderness the BWCAW has to offer.