Great Outdoor Towns for Families

Ely, Minnesota

Sure, Charles Kuralt named it one of his favorite places, but that doesn't stop us from liking this tiny northwoods town, too. Unpretentious and relatively undiscovered, this is a meat-and-potatoes, flannel shirt, Ford pickup kind of place. On top of every truck is a canoe or kayak and a couple fishing poles. (Okay, the canoe may be replaced with a dead deer or moose . . . but we avoid the place during hunting season.)

Ely is the jumping-off spot for the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, sitting on the doorstep of Voyageurs National Park and surrounded by more than 1,000 lakes, rivers, and streams. We especially love it in the fall (tourism often drops up to 75 percent and average daytime temps stay around 70 degrees): no bugs, no crowds, great weather, and extraordinary color. Of course, Old Man Winter brings his own diversions: cross-country skiing, dogsledding, ice skating, animal tracking . . . call (800) 777-7281 or visit for more information.

Don't Leave Town Without:

1. Taking a trip into the BWCA with Tom & Woods Moose Lake Wilderness Canoe Trips (800-322-5837, You want a guide, they'll give you one. Need equipment, they have it. Maps, licenses, permits, food, advice . . . it's all here. With kids, we like the four-day route along the Kawishiwi River into Lake One, Lake Two, and Lake Three, then through Horseshoe, Harbor, and North Wilder Lakes, up to Hudson and Fire Lakes, and down into Lake Four.
2. Joining a nighttime wolf howl with the International Wolf Center (800-359-9653). Stand at the edge of the forest and let 'er rip: A-oooo, A-oooo. Sometimes, the wolves even answer back. You can also track wolves on guided snowshoe programs or hop aboard a small plane for telemetry tracking of area packs. Very cool.
3. Driving a team of sled dogs. There are more dogsledding trip outfitters in Ely than in any other place in the country. Try a lodge to lodge with Wintergreen Dog Sled (800-584-9425) or pick from two hours to multi-day getaways with Whispering Pines (800-510-2947,

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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