The primary reason for Ely ’s popularity is that recreational opportunities in the surrounding wilderness are nearly limitless. The four-mile Trezona Trail is a generally easy paved route around Miner’s Lake. A spur at the east end connects it to the International Wolf Center .
Trezona’s south side follows an old rail line and is part of the new Mesabi Trail (www.mesabitrail.com , www.boundarycountry.com ) that will someday stretch 132 miles across the Iron Range  from Ely to Grand Rapids. As of late 2009, 102 miles were complete.
Some mountain bikers ride the rough-surfaced Taconite State Trail that stretches 165 miles to Grand Rapids, although it’s principally a snowmobile trail. The Hidden Valley Recreation Area has 12 miles of hilly loops through a mix of birch stands and pine plantations just a mile east of town off Highway 169.
Though designed for cross-country skiing, the trails are open to mountain bikers in the summer. Maps are sometimes available at the trailhead, but it would be best to pick one up at the chamber of commerce. In fact, the chamber distributes maps for most area ski and bike trails.
Spirit of the Wilderness (2030 Sheridan St. E., 218/365-3149 or 800/950-2709, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily May–Oct.) rents mountain bikes.
Follow the bridges for a scenic walk around the rocky islets at Semers Park. Though the swimming season is short, the park also has a sandy beach for those summer days when you need to cool off. Semers is on the shore of Shagawa Lake, just west of town.
The Kawishiwi Falls Hiking Trail offers a pretty big pay-off for not a lot of effort. The trail is less than a mile long and leads to an up-close view of the dramatic falls. While the trail is easy, the ledge over the falls is unprotected, so this might not be the best hike for small children. To get there, take Highway 169 northeast from downtown Ely until it turns into Fernberg Road, and watch for signs on your left.
At last count there were over 20 outfitters in Ely , all waiting to set you up with everything you need for a Boundary Waters canoe trip. About half are members of Ely Outfitters, whose helpful website (www.canoecapital.com ) lets you choose an outfitter from a map or a comparison chart. The following three, each conveniently located right in town, are some of the most highly recommended.
Ely’s very first canoe company, Wilderness Outfitters (1 Camp St. E., 218/365-3211 or 800/777-8572, www.wildernessoutfitters.com , 6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily May–Oct.) started leading travelers into the wild in 1921.
Piragis Northwoods Company (105 Central Ave. N., 218/365-6745 or 800/223-6565, www.piragis.com , 6 a.m.–8 p.m. daily summer, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily winter) also operates a large outdoors store, so you can test a canoe on your trip before purchasing it.
Voyageur North Outfitters (1829 Sheridan E., 218/365-3251 or 800/848-5530, www.vnorth.com ) has their own bait shop.
It seems a shame to spend any time golfing when you are so close to such wonderful wilderness, but if you must, the nine-hole course at the Ely Golf Club (901 Central Ave. S., 218/365-5932, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, $18 for 9 holes, $25 for 18 holes) is there for you.
Although canoeing dominates the Ely  outdoors scene, dogsledding is the area’s fastest growing sport, and half a dozen companies—more than any other town in the world, according to Ely’s Chamber of Commerce—can take you out for a canine adventure.
Trips run anywhere from a few hours to a week, and even if you’ve never seen a sled dog before, you’ll get to mush your own team of huskies through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness , though you can always take it easy and just ride in the basket. For overnight options you can choose to experience true winter solitude and beauty with a camping trip, or pick a deluxe lodge-to-lodge option and refresh yourself each night with four-star meals. Remote yurt camps offer a middle option.
The first name mentioned with Ely area dogsledding trips is almost always Paul Schurke, who runs the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (1101 Ringrock Rd., 218/365-6022 or 877/753-3386, www.dogsledding.com , 3- and 4-day packages from $600/person Dec.–Mar.). The noted arctic explorer—part of the first confirmed team to reach the North Pole overland without resupply—has a reputation for not only offering top-notch fun and adventure, but also leading the most educational trips around.
Also recommended are White Wilderness (218/235-1300 or 800/701-6238, www.whitewilderness.com ) and White Wolf (2141 Hwy. 1, 218/365-6815 or 888/804-0677, www.whitewolfdogtrips.com , $200 adults half-day trip).
No matter who you choose, expect to pay $150–200 for a day-long trip and a whole lot more for lodge-to-lodge or camping trips. In most cases, appropriate winter clothing can be rented through the trip provider.