Photograph by Layne Kennedy, Corbis
GPS: 47°54'N, 91°50'W
This North Woods burg, set within three-million-acre (1.2-million-hectare) Superior National Forest, is the gateway to thousands of interconnected lakes within Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a refuge for wolves, bears, eagles, and moose. It’s no wonder world-renowned naturalists like Will Steger and Lynn Rogers call Ely home.
A bit of bait and maybe a handle of whiskey are all it takes to catch trout—and the northern lights—in a heated ice-fishing hut on Snowbank Lake ($60 a day; www.smittys-on-snowbank.com). Mushers heed the call with Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge; overnight runs pass spruce bogs, pine stands, and frozen lakes ($775 for three nights; www.dogsledding.com). When the weather warms, there’s no better place to launch a canoe trip. Ply the quiet coves of nearby Shagwa Lake or strike out into Boundary Waters (rentals from $22 a day; www.wildernessoutfitters.com).
Many a Boundary Waters expedition begins with homemade cinnamon-raisin bread and stuffed hash browns at Brittons Cafe (+1 218 365 3195).
Timber Trail Lodge and Resort is a cozy base along the Tomahawk snowmobile trail (cabins from $110; www.timbertraillodge.com). In town, A Stay Inn Ely has handcrafted white-pine-paneled rooms with a fieldstone fireplace in the common area (doubles from $60; www.astayinnely.com).