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National Geographic: Ely among top adventure towns in the world

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/29/16

ELY— When it comes to adventure, the folks at National Geographic have seen it all, and they know a great adventure town when they see one. And they like what they see in Ely, a lot. So much so, in …

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National Geographic: Ely among top adventure towns in the world

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ELY— When it comes to adventure, the folks at National Geographic have seen it all, and they know a great adventure town when they see one. And they like what they see in Ely, a lot. So much so, in fact, that the famed magazine named Ely as among the top adventure towns in the entire world.

The story, published Monday on National Geographic’s website: www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/features/worlds-best-adventure-hotspots/, ranks Ely number four in a list that includes Moab, Utah (#1, gateway to Canyonlands and numerous other national parks), Cairns, Australia (#5, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef), and Manali, India (#6, gateway to the Himalayas).

Ely earned the high ranking, not surprisingly, as the gateway to the 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent Quetico Provincial Park.

Here’s what National Geographic had to say:

Unlike Moab, Ely has all the classic hallmarks of a quaint outdoor town: log cabins, small-town diners, and ample wildlife trophies. Tucked on the edge of a lesser known but spectacular natural marvel in the U.S., Ely is within shouting distance of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, more than a million acres of wild terrain in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. The region comprises thousands of lakes and rivers that can be reached only by paddling and then portaging along trails winding through pine forest. Only a few of the lakes allow motor traffic, so you don’t have to go far to feel truly isolated. Silence is one of the most profound parts of traveling through the Boundary Waters, where on most mornings the stillness is interrupted only by the echoes of loon calls rippling across the lakes.

One of the great pleasures of canoeing or kayaking here is foraging; you can get a license to catch bass, walleye, or northern pike, or stop along the way to graze tiny, sweet wild blueberries. (You’ll share this pleasure with the black bears who also call the region home.) To get out on the lakes, you need a permit, and they’re easy to pick up in Ely. If you’ve forgotten flies or any other crucial equipment, the local tackle and gear shops have you covered. Jason Zabokrtsky, founder and head guide for the Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, says nearby hiking opportunities are often overlooked. “Kawishiwi Falls is a very short hike just outside of town,” Zabokrtsky says. “It’s a good opportunity to stretch your legs and capture a sunset.”

As for something to look forward to when the trip is over and you’re dreading returning home, Zabokrtsky says, “A ‘Bucky’ burger or a steak at the Ely Steak House in downtown Ely can’t be beat. And then stop for freshly made custard at Red Cabin Custard if you still have room in your belly.”

When to go: Summer’s the easiest time to access the lakes, but by going later in the season you miss the worst of the mosquitoes.

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