Located in the northwoods of Minnesota, the town of Ely sits amid an outdoor recreation paradise. The unspoilt wilderness that surrounds Ely makes this charming town a top outdoor adventure destination. Ely is the gateway to Minnesota’s iconic 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Make just one trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and your life will be changed forever. This pristine wilderness extends along 150 miles of the US/Canada border in Northern Minnesota. The region looks much the same as it did in the early 1900s when preservation efforts began. Water makes up 20% of the total area. It’s 1,100 lakes and hundreds of miles of rivers and streams makes it a one of a kind destination for canoeing, hiking, camping and fishing.
Days consist of paddling tranquil lake after lake, portaging canoes between the lakes on historic routes traversed by early fur traders and shared with wildlife, and setting up camp in one of the 2000 backcountry campsites perched on the glacial lakes. If you are lucky, you may spot one of the resident moose or hear wolves howling at night as you tuck into your tent. One incredible call you have a good chance of hearing is the haunting song of the loon. These aquatic birds are an iconic symbol of the Boundary Waters. They are also the Minnesota state bird. Their distinctive calls can be heard echoing across the lake in the early evening hours. The rich wildlife and intense solitude make BWCA an ideal destination for anyone who wants to reconnect with nature and the great outdoors.
Canoeing the historic routes of the BWCA you’ll find towering pines, enormous slabs of granite, marshes, and small streams connecting lakes. With thousands of miles of canoe and portage trails, the BWCA offers an adventure for all. For day trips or with kids, a great BWCA lake to take the canoe out on is Sea Gull Lake – an enormous, versatile, and extremely scenic lake that is easy, kid-friendly, and located close to several campsites near Entry #54. For overnight or mult-day canoe trips, there are hundreds of otions across the BWCA. Beginner friendly lake routes include Long Island Base Camp, Saganaga Lake, Red Rock Loop, and Granite River. Some moderate to challenging routes include Crossbay to Poplar Lake, Frost River Loop, and Tuscarora West. The Boundary Waters outfitters featured on TripOutside can help you plan the perfect route based on your experience and preferences. Whether you desire a challenging trip over many miles paddling dozens of lakes and rivers and taking in scenic waterfalls, or a peaceful paddle to observe ancient pictographs, the BWCA has endless options. TripOutside can help you find your ideal route with outfitters based both in Ely and on the Superior shore in Tofte, who provide complete outfitting for your BWCA adventure.
The BWCA is just over 200 miles away from Minneapolis / St. Paul – so you can fly into MSP airport and drive up to Ely, or fly directly to Duluth airport for a shorter commute to Ely and the Boundary Waters.
The summer months between May and September are the most popular, but the BWCA is visited year round. Our favorite time in the Boundary Waters is late August and early September. The mosquitos that are in full force in the peak summer months have typically eased off by late August. The days are usually still warm enough to enjoy a swim in the pure, warm water. Winter is an excellent time to visit if you are prepared with the right gear. With the right gear and knowledge, winter camping in the Boundary Waters can be an extraordinary experience. There are far fewer visitors, and you will have the solitude of this incredible wilderness to yourself – including no bugs! Seeing this pristine wilderness covered in snow is an incredible experience. Enjoy it by snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or dog sledding for a truly unique winter adventure.