In 2021, Smithsonian Magazine shared Ely, MN as one of the best small towns to visit in the United States. Since then, I have visited Ely twice and have never run out of things to do. When I want to reconnect with nature and slow things down, Ely is one of the places I escape to. Save this list of 10 relaxing things to do in the cozy town of Ely MN.

1. Design a Canoe Route in the Boundary Waters with Boundary Waters Outfitters

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or BWCAW is located in Minnesota in the northern third of the Superior National Forest. At over one million acres in size, the BWCAW extends nearly 150 miles along the international border adjacent to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park and is bordered on the west by Voyageurs National Park. The BWCAW contains 1175 lakes varying in size from 10 to 10,000 acres, more than 1200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and over 2000 designated campsites. The BWCAW contains the largest contiguous areas of uncut forest remaining in the eastern United States (credit to Ely.Org).

Ely, MN is home to 22 canoe outfitters who can help you navigate the 1,500 miles of water routes. They assist with selecting campsites, designing a wilderness route, finding the best fishing spots and making sure you have all the food and equipment you need. Make sure you also research on permits for camping, read the rules and regulations and save a list of entry points for your canoe adventure in the Boundary Waters.

2. Hike or Drive the Kawishiwi River (Great Fall Color Views!)

The Kawishiwi River runs 10 miles outside of Ely MN from the Boundary Waters to Birch Lake. We love hiking to the waterfalls, which is about a 1 mile hike. The trail starts in the parking lot and winds through a wooded area with minimal elevation. The parking lot is located 6 miles east of Ely on the North side of Fernberg Road. There is also a map of the trail at the trailhead. The Kawishiwi Falls is 70 feet high and provides a stunning view with fall foliage.

3. Rent a Cozy Cabin Under the Pines

One of my favorite things about Ely MN is getting to slow life down. My visit to Ely is not complete without booking a stay at a cozy cabin where I can have slow mornings and cozy evenings. We stayed at Piney Woods Cabin located near Bear Head Lake State Park. This cabin has it ALL, from a sauna, additional guest house, campfire area, fully equipped kitchen and wrap around porch to the one of a kind glass house. The cabin can host up to 8 guests and there are 4 bedrooms and 7 beds. The view from the upstairs bedroom is like waking up in a tree house under the pines. If you want a perfect view of the starry night sky, this place is it!

4. Relax at Pebble Spa

Photo credit to Pebble Spa.

Pebble Spa is a perfect way to pamper yourself, can host multiple guests or even host spa parties. They have numerous facials such as microdermabrasian scrubs, enzyme peels and signature facials. There are various massage packages to choose from (including hand and foot treatments), holistic healing services, acupuncture and massages for children. Pebble Spa is located downtown Ely.

5. Visit the North American Bear Center

The North American Bear Center is a program one of its kind. They have three bears that you are able to see during their daily programs, known as the behind the scenes tour. You will get to watch a presentation about bears, then get an up close view of their environment. They also have cub room critter time (we got to meet one of their snakes!) and you are able to explore their amazing Ecology Hall. Plan your visit know by checking out their admission details.

6. Warm Up With Northern Grounds Coffee

Northern Grounds Coffee is the perfect first stop for any itinerary. They have a great breakfast menu and you can even buy local goods and you can even set up some wine tasting events for later in the day. Northern Grounds Coffee is located downtown Ely MN.

7. Explore the International Wolf Center

If you liked the idea of the North American Bear Society, I encourage you to add the International Wolf Center to your itinerary for Ely as well. They are open daily (9 am to 5 pm) , with film presentations in the theater, daily programs and opportunities to view the live ambassador wolves. We had the opportunity to view the wolf pups up close and personal for behind the scenes.

8. Enjoy Insula Restaurant

The food at Insula Restaraunt tastes delicious and that’s because everything is locally sourced. They have delicious comfort food such as chicken wild rice soup, fried chicken and various sandwiches. My favorite is their Canadian Walleye and Superior Salmon with a maple glaze. They also have an extensive drink menu (cocktails and mocktails) and a kids menu to go with their trendy atmosphere.

9. Explore Bear Head Lake State Park

Bear Head Lake State Park is located in the Northwoods just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Activities are swimming at the beach, renting a paddle board from the Park Ranger Office, canoeing the shoreline, hiking trails, fishing, bird watching, picnics at the pavilion. Trails connect with the 14 mile Taconite State Trail. There are options for camping, canoe camping, RV camping, guest houses and cabins.

10. Downtown Shopping

Downtown Ely has adorable shopping options. We parked and walked all over downtown Ely and found stores that are unique to the Northwoods. Are favorite clothing and gift shops were Piragis Northwoods Co., Ely Wear, Portage North, Mealey’s Gift & Sauna Shop, Pengal’s Basswood Trading, Blue Loon Gallery and Gracies Plant Works and Ely’s Old Fashioned Candy.

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