Ely a “small town to visit”

Smithsonian Magazine puts city in top-15 spots to see in ’21

by Tom Coombe
In the eyes of a national publication, Ely is a must-see destination for those looking to vacation in a smaller community.
Smithsonian Magazine named Ely one of the “15 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2021,” in an article published earlier this week.
As the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and travel ramps up even further, the magazine highlighted small communities and said “perhaps more than ever now is a time to appreciate small towns.”
The magazine assembled a list and added “the best small towns to visit in 2021 are prime examples of perseverance and preservation, and reminders of all that we love about small towns in the first place.”
Ely joins a list of iconic and lesser-known communities including Dyersville, Iowa, home of the baseball field from the movie “Field of Dreams.”
Among others on the list are Brevard, N.C., Goshen, N.Y., Council Grove, Kan., Fayetteville, West Va., Manitou Springs, Col., Bath, Me., and Nevada Hills, Cal.
Ely was noted for its proximity to the Boundary Waters and Canoe Area Wilderness and 1,200 miles of canoe and kayak-only water routes.
The magazine wrote “During the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian voyageurs used these channels to transport fur. Today, they’re a paddler’s dream.”
Readers were also urged to check out Ely during the winter, highlighting dog-sledding adventures, cross country skiing, ice fishing and more and the community’s downtown was also featured.
“The colorfully painted one- and two-story structures along downtown Ely’s Sheridan Street (its main thoroughfare) exude endless charm, especially when blanketed in snow,” wrote Smitshsonian’s Laura Kiniry.
Several local businesses were cited for their unique products, including Crapola!, Wintergreen Northern Wear, Steger Mukluks and Piragis Northwoods Company.
Brandenburg Gallery was called “the perfect spot for perusing the works of National Geographic photographer and local native, Jim Brandenburg.”
Also featured were Ely’s bookend museums - the North American Bear Center on the west entrance of town and the International Wolf Center to the east.
Dining spots including Stony Ridge Resort and Cafe, the Boathouse Brewpub, Northern Grounds, and the Evergreen Restaurant and Grand Ely Lodge were also mentioned.
The recognition by Smithsonian is just the latest in a long list of features and honors.
It was a decade ago that Ely was the runaway winner in worldwide balloting and named the “Coolest Small town in America” by Budget Travel Magazine.
Since then, Ely has been featured in numerous lists highlighting outdoors-related travel and top vacation getaways.