Go to Ely this summer!

For those of you who are regular readers of my column, you may have come to realize that I’m not an urban city dweller. 

Although these pages are published in the metro area, my monthly contribution to Minnesota Parent magazine originates several hours away from the hustle and bustle of big-city life. From my own little corner of the world, nestled in the pines, I type away on my Macbook each month, sharing insights and ramblings of my parenting journey from my perspective as a Northern Minnesotan, teacher-mama of four.

As we approach the peak of the summer, I thought I would share some fun highlights and insider tips from my neck of the woods. 

Why not take a road trip up north, to visit the popular Minnesota summer travel destination I call home: Ely, Minnesota. 

Family-friendly hikes

  • The Kawishiwi Falls Trail is a kid-friendly hike (less than a mile). You’ll have the opportunity to see a beautiful set of waterfalls. You can extend the hike by walking the portage down to Fall Lake.
  • Hike to Dry Falls and back (1.7 miles) on the rugged Bass Lake Trail north of Ely. Many visitors pack a picnic and jump in the lake for a swim. 
  • Semers Park and Beach: Play on the beach, let the kids run around on the playground and take a short hike across a bridge that connects to two wooded islands in Shagawa Lake. Semers Beach is also an ideal place to watch U.S. Forest Service float planes take off from a nearby seaplane base.

Beaches, campgrounds and more

  • Bear Head Lake State Park: This park has a great swimming beach, nice campgrounds and family-friendly hiking trails. My kids have a lot of fun catching fish off the dock.
  • Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park: Located in Soudan on the shores of Lake Vermilion, about 30 minutes southwest of Ely, this park features Minnesota’s oldest, deepest and richest iron mine. Tours of the historic mining facilities — and an active underground physics laboratory — are also open to the public. Camp at the newly developed Vermilion Ridge Campground sites, which offer electricity, screened picnic shelters, modern shower buildings and WI-FI.
  • Fenske Lake Campground: Set up your basecamp here for exploring, fishing, hiking and canoeing in Superior National Forest and the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I spent many hours at this beach with my kids when they were younger. There’s a fishing pier near the beach as well.
  • South Kawishiwi River Campground: Paddle on the river and enjoy the picnic area and swimming beach. This campground also has a boat landing and a 1-mile hiking trail. The Kawishiwi River provides access to Birch Lake to the south and the BWCAW to the north.
  • Fall Lake Campground: Perched on the shores of the lake, this campground provides direct access into the BWCAW and is a super place to camp or just visit for a afternoon. There are plenty of opportunities for swimming, hiking, boating and fishing. Bonus: There’s a playground near the beach as well.

Shop and dine 

Check out all of the fun, unique stores and restaurants lining Sheridan Street and Chapman Street. Here are a just a few of my favorites:

  • Legacy Toys: If you’re shopping for (or with) kids, you have to check out this extra-special toy store. It has a large selection of playthings, games and books, a 400-gallon saltwater aquarium and a whole room full of candy treats. 
  • Ely Bike and Kicksled: Stop in here if you’re looking to purchase — or rent! — mountain bikes or fat tire bikes (for both children and adults). Check out their selection of kicksleds if you’re looking to try something new this winter. Described as “scooters on skis,” these self-propelled riders (made with renewably sourced Finnish birch) come in all sizes and make for unique gifts ($195–$320).
  • Crapola Bakery: Swing by this beloved destination for a good cup of coffee and a snack. Watch how Brian and Andrea Strom make their granola. Then pick up a bag to snack on — and grab another to bring home.
  • Sisu Designs: If you’re a knitter, be sure to check out this quaint and cozy yarn shop, which sells a large selection of natural fiber yarns and patterns. There’s always someone knowledgeable on hand to answer questions and it’s also one of the few places in town that sells Tara Boerst’s popular, locally made Grey Duck Bags (like the below).

Grey Duck bag

  • Ely Pebble Spa: Schedule a treatment or just explore the fashion and gift boutique. Spa services include massage, facial treatments and a variety of body treatments such as a Lake Superior Hot Stone Massage, a Fragrant Forest Wrap, a Northwoods Facial (my fave, on special this month) or Blueberry Pie for the Feet. They also offer saunas, spa parties and even “ginger snap” options designed for ages 3–13. 
  • Insula Restaurant: This is my favorite place to eat in town! Featuring a warm family-friendly atmosphere and locally sourced menu options, this fusion-dining experience is a sure win for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Spirit of The Wilderness: If you’re looking to get outfitted for a canoe trip into the BWCAW, need bait or are looking to rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, check out this store — stocked with fishing gear, camping supplies and even ENO hammocks, water tubes and Beth Ohlauser’s locally made Gypsy Bandanas products. You’ll also find nets for kids to catch minnows, jars for capturing bugs and butterfly nets. 

Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog — Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines — at megdevine.com.