Ely is a small town in Northern Minnesota and has quite the reputation. Ely is known as the “end of the road”, “the gateway to the Boundary Waters”, and is pretty good at April Fool’s Day pranks (bidding to host the 2016 Olympics, for example). That’s a lot to be known for, but wait, there’s one more. Ely, Minnesota is now going to be known as the “town where your kids had the best vacation ever”. No way, you think, there can’t be that many fun things to do in Ely. I disagree, and here are 10 reasons why your kids are going to love Ely, Minnesota.
Top Things to Do in Ely, Minnesota That Your Kids Will Love
1. The International Wolf Center – A visit to the International Wolf Center will be fun, educational, and totally interesting to the whole family. The International Wolf Center has exhibits, programs, and of course, wolves!
The Wolf Center is home to four ambassador wolves, and you are very likely to spot them during your visit. The International Wolf Center features an impressive live wolf exhibit that will have your kids on the lookout for their new favorite wolf.
Take in one of the many educational programs held throughout the day in the auditorium, or visit the theater for more learning experiences. You can visit their website here for a schedule of programs and more information.
2. North American Bear Center – If you’re lucky, you may see a bear or two in the wild during your travels in Northern Minnesota. Can you imagine how excited your kids will be to see a bear? We see black bears wandering around our property a few times each summer, and it’s always a big deal. Anyways, if you don’t see a bear in the wild, you are guaranteed to see a few bears during your visit to the North American Bear Center.
The North American Bear Center is full of displays that will teach you everything about bears that there is to know. It is quite the place! You can sit on the benches and observe the bears that live at the center, or take a tour that has you walking (behind a fence) within a few feet of the bears and their homes. Besides the exhibits that feature bears, there are displays about other animals of the Northwoods. Don’t miss one of the Center’s daily programs to learn even more.
3. Dorothy Molter Museum – There’s a story behind almost everything, and wow, is there a story behind Dorothy’s Root Beer. If you haven’t heard of this delicious bottled root beer, you will by the end of your getaway to Ely. Dorothy Molter was the last full-time resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and while living in solitude, she served homemade root beer to the thousands of canoers every single season. And it is some delicious root beer. Your family can visit the Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely and learn about her story and history. It’s truly amazing. Don’t leave the museum without buying a bottle or two of her famous root beer.
The Dorothy Molter Museum is made up of the buildings that Dorothy called home as well as her belongings. Besides touring the buildings, don’t miss a short walk on Dorothy’s Discovery Trail and explore a piece of the Northwoods.
The Dorothy Molter Museum is also home to a multi-stage geocache. If your family hasn’t geocached before, than you need to bring a GPS and try it! You can read our guide to geocaching here. Seriously, who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt!
4. The Trezona Trail – No matter what season it is during your visit to Ely, there are plenty of fun things to do in Ely out in the great outdoors. You’ll be busy in the winter snow-shoeing, dog-sledding, skating, or ice fishing. But summer is the time when the kids can really run around. There is the perfect walking and biking trail in Ely that will get your family moving after eating all of that delicious food in town. The Trezona Trail borders Miners Lake and is just under four miles long.
It’s a mostly flat trail and is paved so even the youngest of bikers in the family will not have any problems. The trail is mostly through the woods, although there are a few spots you can stop and take in the lake view.
Or your kids might like the mine view. The Pioneer Mine is along the Trezona Trail, and a great way to learn about the mining industry that is so important to Northern Minnesota.
5. The Great Outdoors – Since the summer season is so short in Ely, visitors and residents want to be outdoors as much as possible. A visit to Whiteside Park, on Sheridan Street, is a must for your family. The park is home to the weekly farmers market, Ely’s big Blueberry Festival takes place there every July, and of course there is a playground. It’s a very nice area to let the kids run around, or the perfect spot to enjoy that ice cream cone.
Do your kids get out on the water very often? There are a lot of lakes in the surrounding area and don’t forget that Ely is the last stop on the way to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Ely has a variety of outfitters that can set your family up for a day trip or even an overnight, or two, in the Boundary Waters.
If you are staying close to town, don’t forget that there is public access to Miners Lake and Shagawa Lake. If you are staying at the Grand Ely Lodge, your family has free access to kayaks and canoes to get out on the water. Maybe catch a few fish or spot some wildlife wandering the shores.
6. Shopping on Sheridan Street – Drive thru Ely and your family will start yelling out all the shops that they want to stop at. Ely, Minnesota is a shopper’s paradise! Seriously, the streets of this small town are lined with almost every kind of store there is, and they are all local small businesses. You’ll be wandering into clothing stores, book stores, sporting goods stores, coffee shops, quilt stores, art galleries and art supply shops, antique stores, kitchenware stores, and gift shops. See, just about everything is covered. Some shops that you really can’t miss are Piragis Northwoods Company, Steger Mukluks, Ely Old Fashioned Candy, Brandenburg Gallery, and the Piragis Outlet.
7. Ely’s Old Fashioned Candy Store – Every town that caters to it’s vacationers needs to have a candy shop right? Stop at the Old Fashioned Candy store and let your kids fill a basket with their penny candy favorites. Don’t forget to introduce your kids to some of your own favorite candies that you ate at their age. At least this is some advice that they’ll be sure to listen to.
Where to Eat in Ely That Will Satisify Even the Pickiest Eaters
8. Gator’s Grilled Cheese Emporium – Do you have a kid who could eat mac n cheese every single day? Or maybe they can’t live without their grilled cheese sandwiches? Well, they are going to love a little restaurant in Ely called Gators! Gators specializes in mac and cheese and is also known as the grilled cheese emporium. Yep, your dinners while visiting Ely are now planned!
Now tell your kids they can eat a mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich…they probably won’t believe you, but it’s true! This is the place to start with your basis mac or grilled cheese and then add something a little bit different. The combinations and possibilities are endless!
If you sit in the front section of the restaurant, there’s entertainment! Look up and you’ll see a model train circling above your head. Just a little something to watch while your kids are waiting for their bowl of mac.
9. Ice Cream and Frozen Custard – Your family’s filled up on mac and cheese and maybe has had a few too many grilled cheese sandwiches, so now it’s time for dessert (maybe after a walk around Miners Lake). Ely won’t disappoint even the pickiest eater in the candy or ice cream departments. Drive the main road (Sheridan) and you’ll spot a couple of ice cream (Northern Expressions) and frozen custard shops (Red Cabin). These shops may not be open every day, outside of Ely’s busy tourist season of July and August, but you should be able to find a treat or two somewhere in town.
Where to Stay in Ely for the Perfect Family Getaway
10. Grand Ely Lodge – Unless you’re taking a day trip to Ely, your family is going to need a place to stay, preferably with a swimming pool. There are a few options in Ely, but our absolute favorite is Grand Ely Lodge. Your family will love this resort because there is so much to do, both indoors and outdoors. You can read all about this perfect family resort and take a look inside the lodge here.
While I’ve given you ten reasons that you and your family will love Ely, there are many more. Ely, and the surrounding area, has so many fun things to do and see!
Every family makes their own adventures, so start planning your visit to Ely, Minnesota today!