16 Incredible Fall Things to do in Ely Minnesota

Ely Minnesota is a destination for outdoor lovers, both on land and on water. In fall, the area transforms into vibrant colors as the seasons change. Here are 16 things to do in Ely Minnesota on a fall weekend getaway. 

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Where is Ely Minnesota?

Ely is approximately four hours to the north of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Situated just below the Canadian border, it is also around 110 miles directly north of Duluth. 

Map showing Ely Minnesota relative to Duluth and Minneapolis, along the Canadian border.

Ely, and the surrounding area, is known as an outdoor and adventure destination with thousands of lakes, the Superior National Forest, and several state parks to explore. This small town offers access to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), and is in the easternmost part of the Minnesota Iron Range.

Best Places to Stay in Ely Minnesota

Ely Log Cabin

Ely Log Cabin is the perfect blend of rustic northwoods charm and a comfy cozy vibe. Tucked away in the woods atop a hill just outside of downtown Ely, this log cabin has incredible sunset views in any season, and is just a short drive to downtown Ely. Thoughtfully furnished inside and out, the cabin provides all the essentials for a relaxing retreat. Traveling with your dog? No problem! They’re welcome too! 

Read my Ely Log Cabin review for all the details!

Cedars on Shagawa

Log cabin overlooking a lake near Ely MN

Unwind in this beautiful Shagawa Lake cabin, just a 5-minute drive from downtown Ely. Refresh with a dip in the lake, relax on the pier, or take to the water on one of the provided kayaks. 

This relatively new Airbnb offers a full kitchen, outdoor grill, and a soothing bathtub. Cuddle up by the indoor fireplace with a movie. Or head outside to the firepit to gaze at the stars while making s’mores. “The Cedars at Shagawa” is the perfect lakeside retreat!

Bear Head Lake State Park

Located just outside of Ely, camping at Bear Head Lake State Park is a great option in fall. Choose from electric, tent and backpacking campsites. All are reservable online through the state park website.

Best Things to Do in Ely Minnesota in Fall

Ely is a fabulous destination for a weekend getaway in Minnesota, in any season. These are the best ways to enjoy fall in Ely!

1 | Enjoy a fall scenic drive along Fernberg Road.

Bright yellow fall colors along a lake near Ely MN
The view from a roadside overlook 1 mile east of the Wood Lake sign on Ferberg Road in fall.

One of the best ways to experience the fall colors in northern Minnesota is with fall scenic drive. Fernberg Road is a great option! Stretching over 20 miles east of Ely and through the Superior National Forest all the way to Lake One, Fernberg Road is bursting with color in autumn. 

Take your time enjoying the views along this winding road. A few of my favorite stops include:

  • Kawishiwi Falls (more info below)
  • Roadside overlook about 1 mile east of the Wood Lake sign
  • Secret/ Ennis/ Blackstone Trail (more info below)

Pro Tip: The best time of day for this scenic drive is early or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky. The light comes through the trees and across the road for a particularly stunning view!

2 | Go canoeing in the Boundary Waters.

View of the fall colors from inside a canoe in the Boundary Waters near Ely MN.
Paddling on South Hegman Lake in early fall.

Ely is one of two gateways into the pristine wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Paddling through these waters in fall is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the fall colors and spot wildlife like moose!

There are many outfitters in Ely that can assist with gear rental but not all of them are open past the peak season. In fall, I recommend visiting Piragis or Spirit of the Wilderness. They will not only get you set up with the right gear, but also help you choose an entry point and load the canoe onto your vehicle. 

Pro Tip: During summer, permits and canoe rental reservations must be secured well in advance for entry into the BWCA. However, starting on 10/1 permits can be self-issued at kiosks at each entry point and reservations are less necessary due to the reduced number of visitors. The outfitter can assist with questions related to permits.

A great beginner entry point is Entry Point 77 (South Hegman Lake), which is about a 25 minute drive from Ely. From the parking lot there is a short ¼ mile portage to the lake. If you are up for a short portage to North Hegman Lake, you can paddle up close to ancient petroglyphs!

Pro Tip: To get to Entry Point 77, you will drive along the Echo Trail which is another excellent fall scenic drive (find more info on this below).

3 | Pick up picnic supplies at Mitzka’s Market.

A sandwich with a bite taken out of it held up in front of a lake
The turkey havarti sandwich from Mitzka’s Market is picnic perfection!

Make a day out of your adventures with picnic supplies from Mitzka’s Market. This organic grocery and deli has pre-made sandwiches, salads, fresh baked goods, fruit, and more on-the-go snacks. They also carry a number of local brands!

Mitska’s Market is located in downtown Ely with plenty of street parking nearby. Check their schedule online as they are not open every day of the week.

4 | Hike to Kawishiwi Falls.

Hiking near Ely MN in autumn at Kawishiwi Falls.
Kawishiwi Falls in early fall as the leaves begin to change color.

Located about 6 miles north of Ely off Fernberg Road, this 1.5-mile loop trail winds through the forest to Kawishiwi Falls. This is one of the best places to hiking near Ely MN! In fall, the forest surrounding the waterfall will be bright with fall colors. The trail is relatively easy, though be mindful of the large tree roots and rocks. There is a portable toilet in the parking lot. 

5 | Take a scenic drive along the Echo Trail.

Red and yellow leaves in fall along the Echo Trail scenic drive near Ely MN.
A portion of the Echo Trail is dirt and gravel and lined with beautiful fall colors.

Another fall scenic drive near Ely is the Echo Trail. This road winds through the forest and along several lakes for over 70 miles to the northwest of Ely. There are plenty of waysides and trailheads along the way to get out and take photos or stretch your legs.

Echo Trail is the way to get to South Hegman Lake (mentioned above), which is a great place for canoeing. However, it’s also a nice place for a short hike and lakeside picnic while enjoying the fall colors!

Pro Tip: Be mindful that a portion of the Echo Trail is gravel, while most of it is paved.

6 | Walk along the Trezona Trail.

Fall colors along Miners Lake as seen from the Trezona Trail in Ely MN
The view of Miners Lake from the Trezona Trail near downtown Ely in early fall.

Just a short walk from downtown Ely, this 3.9 mile paved path goes around Miners Lake. The lake you see today was once an iron ore mining pit, a piece of Ely’s long history as a mining town. Along the Trezona Trail there are interpretive signs and even a small museum where you can learn more about the history of the area!

The path is relatively flat and paved. Find free parking in a small lot at the south end of Miners Lake.

7 | Warm up with a delicious meal at Insula Restaurant.

Every time I visit Ely, I make sure to stop at Insula Restaurant for a delicious meal. On the menu, find Minnesota-inspired dishes, like the wild rice chicken pot pie, that feature locally sourced ingredients. There is a full bar with specialty cocktails and local brews. 

Pro Tip: Try the Bloody Viking, which is their version of a Bloody Mary!

Insula is located in downtown Ely. There is free street parking nearby. 

For a more casual alternative, grab a burger or sandwich at the Boat House Brewpub down the street. They brew their own beer onsite and rotate the brews available on tap.

8 | Enjoy the fall colors along the Secret/ Ennis/ Blackstone Trail.

View of Ennis Lake from above with yellow and red leaves in the foreground near Ely Minnesota.
The view of Ennis Lake from above while hiking in the Superior National Forest near Ely MN.

For more great hiking near Ely MN, explore the Secret/ Ennis/ Blackstone trail! This trail comes alive with vibrant yellow leaves in fall! It’s a sort of choose-your-own-adventure trail with several variations to choose from depending on how much time you have. The longer loop (4.3 miles) is the Secret/ Ennis Lake loop, which has stunning cliffside overlooks to lakes and the surrounding forest. There is a reasonable amount of elevation change on the trail, making this a moderate hike. However, the views of Ennis Lake from above are worth the climb!

Be sure to bring plenty of water. Find a small parking lot at the trailhead. There is no fee or permit required to access this trail. 

Pro Tip: Take a photo of the trail map posted at the trailhead to help navigate the different variations of the trail.

9 | Go hiking or paddling at Bear Head Lake State Park.

Hiking trail through red pine trees in Bear Head Lake State Park.
Red pine trees on the Norberg Lake trail at Bear Head Lake State Park.

Bear Head Lake State Park is located just outside of Ely and it happens to be one of my favorite Minnesota State Parks. It is a great place for hiking, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. 

The Norberg Lake Loop trail (3.1 miles) has incredible views of pristine lakes and beautiful red pines. For a longer hike, add on the Blueberry Lake Trail (additional 4.3 miles) to go further into the forest to another lake. Together, these trails total about 7.5 miles. 

Pro Tip: The park office has canoe and kayak rentals available!

10 | Climb the Jasper Peak Watchtower.

View of the fall colors from the Jasper Peak watchtower near Ely MN.
View from the Jasper Peak watchtower in early fall near Ely Minnesota.

Want to get a view of the fall colors from above? Head west of Ely to the nearby town of Tower to find the Jasper Peak Watchtower. From the parking area, it is a short and slightly uphill hike to the base of the watchtower. Climb up the steps and open the hatch to enter the enclosure at the top!

Pro Tip: The parking can be tricky to find. Search “Jasper Peak Watchtower Trailhead” in Google Maps to navigate to it. There are 3 small dirt roads just off of the main road that all have access to the trailhead. There are no signs for the trailhead from the main road. Watch for the turnoffs near the Lake Vermilion State Park entrance.

11 | Go stargazing and chase the Northern Lights.

Did you know that you can see the Northern Lights in Minnesota? Fall is one of the best times to catch them! Also, the Boundary Waters are a designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary. This means, that the Ely area is an excellent place for stargazing and Northern Lights chasing!

For the best view of the Northern Lights, head outside of downtown Ely to an area with minimal light pollution. Bear Head Lake State Park is a great option. 

Read my beginner’s guide to night photography for more tips!

12 | Grab a coffee or glass of wine at Northern Grounds.

Whether you are looking for a jolt of caffeine or a relaxing glass of wine, Northern Grounds is the place to go! At the front, you’ll find a coffee shop. Their coffee is locally roasted daily! For food, choose from fresh pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and other light bites. In the back, is a wine bar with wines available by the glass.

This is the ideal place to fuel up for the day or sit and relax a while after a long day of exploring. 

Pro Tip: There is a small market packed with local products. Grab items for a picnic or a charcuterie board back in your room or cabin!

13 | Hike the Bass Lake Trail.

Me standing on a large rock on the shore of Bass Lake near Ely MN
The Bass Lake Trail is beautiful in any season with lots of spots to go for a swim!

The Bass Lake Trail is another choose-your-own-adventure trail! Explore the Dry Lake Loop Trail (3.7 miles) for a shorter hike. At about the halfway point, where the trail connects with Bass Lake, there is a small waterfall called Dry Falls. If it’s a warm fall day or you’re feeling adventurous, this is a great place to go for a swim!

For a longer hike, add on the Bass Lake Trail to the Dry Lake Loop (6 miles total). 

The trails are well-marked with signs. Find free parking in a small lot off of Echo Trail. Technically this trail is just outside of the Boundary Waters, so no permit is required.

14 | Go shopping in downtown Ely.

Spend some time wandering through the shops in downtown Ely! One of my favorites is Mealey’s Gift & Sauna Shop which has a great selection of sauna essentials as well as Finnish and Scandinavian goods. Find a gift for someone special (or yourself) here!

Other places to shop include Piragis, Wintergreen Northern Wear, and Pengal’s Basswood Trading. 

15 | Watch the sunset from Evergreen Restaurant at Grand Ely Lodge.

View of the sunset from Grand Ely Lodge in Ely Minnesota.
The Grand Ely Lodge has a large deck overlooking Shagawa Lake, a perfect place to enjoy the sunset.

A cocktail from Evergreen Restaurant pairs well with a fall sunset view! While you’re there, enjoy an appetizer in this lively but casual bar area in Grand Ely Lodge. If it’s not too cold, head out to the deck to take in the view. 

16 | Take a class at Ely Folk School.

Ely Folk School provides all kinds of opportunities to learn about the “wilderness heritage, art, history, culture, and craft of the people of northern Minnesota.” They have classes throughout the year on topics like Anishinaabe culture, woodworking, outdoor skills, and more. 

What to do in Ely Minnesota: Fall Edition

Ready to book your weekend getaway to Ely to enjoy the fall colors in northern Minnesota? Hope you love it as much as I do!

Related content to read next:

Beginner's guide to snowmobiling in Ely MN

Beginner’s Guide to Snowmobiling in Ely MN

Dreamy Places to Stay in Ely MN: Ely Log Cabin Review

Why Bear Head Lake State Park is the Best in Minnesota

Visit my Minnesota travel page for more travel inspiration and tips!

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Me sitting on a dock wrapped in a warm blanket in Ely Minnesota in fall.
Fall weekend getaway in Ely MN with photos of yellow trees along a lake, a waterfall and the view of the fall colors from inside a canoe.

4 thoughts on “16 Incredible Fall Things to do in Ely Minnesota

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    We are really spoiled by how beautiful the fall is here in Minnesota! I’ve visited Kawishiwi Falls in every season except winter and it’s always flowing pretty strong. We do get impacted by snow melt, though it’s not coming from the mountains. Waterfalls tend to be even more strong in springtime but depending on the water source and rainfall, they can be strong from spring through fall!

  2. Melinda Medley says:

    It all looks so beautiful! I want to do it all: hiking, canoeing, wine drinking. You’re making me want to visit Minnesota!

  3. Josy A says:

    What an area! You really do get the best scenery in the autumn in Minnesota! I looove the look of the cabins, those beautiful lakes and of course the hike to the Jasper Peak watch tower!

    Weird question for you – is Kawishiwi Falls just big all year? I am so used to waterfalls that reeeeally swell in the spring and early summer from glacier melt, then are calm and serene in the autumn, but Kawishiwi Falls looks incredible for so late in the year! Is it just even bigger in the summer, or are minnesota waterfalls affected less by the mountain snow?

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