Beginner’s Guide to Snowmobiling in Ely MN

Ely is known as the gateway to the Boundary Waters. It’s some of the most pristine and stunning wilderness you can find. In the winter, the Ely area transforms into a haven for winter adventures. One of the most popular Ely MN winter activities is snowmobiling across the seemingly endless frozen lakes and through the snow-covered forests.

Snowmobiling in Ely MN isn’t just for the pros. It’s also a great destination for less experienced riders with several snowmobile rental options available.

Me sitting on a snowmobile with a pine forest blanketed in snow behind me.

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Where is Ely Minnesota?

Ely is located about 4 hours north of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. It’s also about 110 miles directly north of Duluth, just below the Canadian border. 

Map showing Ely Minnesota relative to Duluth and Minneapolis, along the Canadian border.
Ely is in northern Minnesota, about 4 hours north of Minneapolis and St Paul.

Ely and the surrounding area is home to literally thousands of lakes, Superior National Forest and several state parks. This makes it a popular destination for fishing, camping, hiking and paddling in the warmer months. In addition to being the gateway to the Boundary Waters, Ely is also in the easternmost portion of the Minnesota Iron Range.

When to go Snowmobiling in Ely MN?

Ely is just about as far north in Minnesota as you can go, which means the winters can be quite cold. The ideal time to visit for cold weather adventures is around mid-November to late March. As with any snowy destination, the weather varies from year to year so always check the weather and conditions before going (especially early or late in the season). 

Average temperature by month in Ely Minnesota
The temperature in Ely usually drops below freezing in November, but the lakes may not be frozen until January.

While there may be snow in Ely by mid-November, it can be some time before the ice on the lakes is thick enough to safely snowmobile on. Many of the snowmobile trails cross over frozen lakes and so aren’t fully “open” until they are safe.

Pro Tip: For beginner snowmobilers, I’d recommend visiting in January, February or early March to ensure the lakes are frozen.

Snowmobile Rental in Ely Minnesota

There are two main places to rent snowmobiles near Ely. You may find resorts that offer snowmobile rental, but many of them are provided through these two rental companies. Both options are comparable in price with half day, full day and multi-day options.

Your Boat Club 

Your Boat Club has two locations: one in downtown Ely and the other about 20 miles west in the town of Tower. At first glance you may be drawn to rent from downtown Ely, and that’s not a bad option. However, the office is right in the city which means you will start your journey on the street with other cars nearby. For beginner’s this could be intimidating.

Alternatively, the location in Tower has easy access to the network of trails on Lake Vermillion right behind the building. There are no cars to navigate around and the trails on the lake are well-marked for easy navigation. This is my recommendation for snowmobile rental in Ely MN.

Snowmobile rental in Ely MN at Your Boat Club
Your Boat Club offers snowmobile rental in downtown Ely and the nearby town of Tower, located on Lake Vermillion.

Pro Tip: Pay attention to what’s included in the rental rate. Your Boat Club includes a helmet and has an option for additional insurance. Lossing’s charges a helmet rental fee and does not offer insurance coverage.

Lossing’s Cat Shack (also called Lossing’s Power Sports)

Located about 20 miles south of Ely, in the town of Babbitt, Lossing’s Cat Shack is another great option for renting snowmobiles near Ely MN. Babbitt is well connected to the network of snowmobile trails so there’s lots to explore nearby.

Pro Tip: If you are looking for a guided snowmobile experience, contact Lossing’s to ask about availability.

Renting a Snowmobile: Before You Go

Before you hit the snowmobile trails in Ely, there are a few things you should do.

Reserve a snowmobile.

This may sound obvious, but book your snowmobile! It’s a popular winter activity in Ely and, especially on weekends, they can be in high demand. When you book, choose between a single person or two person snowmobile. Personally, I love the rush of driving my own sled, but that’s definitely not for everyone!

Pro Tip: Save money and avoid the crowds with reduced pricing for mid-week rentals!

Get extra insurance.

Not all snowmobile rental companies offer extra insurance, but it may be worthwhile if it’s available. It’s likely that your personal vehicle insurance doesn’t cover damage to the snowmobile so that would be an out of pocket cost. When I rent boats and other powered sport equipment, I tend to purchase the extra insurance (and have had to use it several times).

Review safety videos and tips.

Be sure to review the safety videos and other resources the rental company shares with you. They offer helpful tips such as what to do if you roll the snowmobile over, how to navigate steep hills or bowls, and more. 

Plan your transportation to and from the rental place.

For half day or full day rentals, it’s common to leave your vehicle at the snowmobile rental company. However, if you do an overnight rental and plan to ride the snowmobile back to wherever you’re staying be sure to factor that into your plan. Do you plan to go out for dinner? Is the place you are staying accessible by snowmobile? 

Pro Tip: Snowmobiles are not meant to drive for extended distances on paved roads. Minimizing the distance from the snowmobile trail to where you’re staying will be important to consider.

Wear windproof gear from head to toe.

It’s likely that you’ll be driving more than 40 mph on the snowmobile. Even on a warmer winter day, at that speed you’ll feel the cold in your bones if you don’t wear windproof gear. Remember to cover your neck with a gaiter or something similar!

If you are wondering what to wear for winter adventures, read my advice on what to wear for hiking in the winter.

Snowmobiling across Lake Vermillion in Ely MN
Be sure to wear wind-proof pants and jacket over warm layers of clothing when snowmobiling in Ely MN.

Bring along a fully charged power bank and phone charging cable.

The goal is to not have any sort of mishaps or accidents on the snowmobile. But, there’s always a chance that something can happen. Well, did you know that phone batteries drain extremely fast in cold weather? The last thing you want is for your phone battery to be dead when you need to call for help. Carrying a fully charged power bank and phone charging cable is a simple way to be prepared in case of an accident.

Pro Tip: I always recommend carrying a paper map as a backup in case your phone (or other electronic navigation) fails on you. The snowmobile rental companies in Ely should have these available.

Renting a Snowmobile: What to Expect on the Sled

You’re all suited up, helmet on, motor running. Now what do you do? What is it actually like on a snowmobile trail?

Breeze across the intricate trail system on the frozen lakes.

I was blown away to discover how well marked and intricate the snowmobile trails are on the frozen lakes near Ely! On Lake Vermillion, there are colored posts sticking out of the ice that serve as a lane marker to show you where the trails are. Just like on a regular road, snowmobiles stay to the right of the posts. Anytime the trail splits, there is a large laminated color-coded map showing where you are located to help you navigate!

Large maps located on Lake Vermillion for navigating snowmobile trails in winter.
There are maps posted at snowmobile trail intersections to help you navigate on Lake Vermillion.

As you breeze across the frozen lakes, it’s not uncommon to come across intersections with stop signs and plowed  ice roads for vehicles to drive out onto the ice. These are all indicated with easy to see signage!

Heated handlebars will keep your hands nice and warm.

Did you know that the handlebars on snowmobiles are heated? It’s a gamechanger! Your hands will be nice and warm inside your gloves or mittens as you cruise along on the sled. 

Ride the Taconite Trail through Bear Head Lake State Park.

Bear Head Lake State Park just happens to be one of my favorite Minnesota State Parks. It’s located just outside of Ely and along a popular snowmobiling trail. The Taconite Trail traverses the northernmost end of the park where you’ll ride through beautiful red pine forests blanketed in snow. 

Snowmobile through red pine and birch tree forests in Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely MN.
Snowmobiles can follow the Taconite Trail through the red pine forest in Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely MN.

Connecting Ely to Grand Rapids, the Taconite Trail extends over 170 miles in addition to several spur trails. This is the primary groomed trail to get from Tower or Lake Vermillion to Ely. The terrain is primarily through forest and prairies with very few frozen lakes and waterways to cross. The trail is well-marked with signage.

Stop for a hot beverage or bite to eat.

Be sure to make a stop along the way to grab a bite to eat or warm up with a hot beverage. There are several convenient options in the Ely area that are snowmobile friendly.

Northern Grounds is a coffee shop and wine bar located in downtown Ely. They have a nice assortment of pastries, salads and light lunch options in addition to an assortment of coffee and tea. 

Pro Tip: Snowmobiles are only allowed on certain streets in downtown Ely. Ask for a paper map at the snowmobile rental place or watch for large maps along the snowmobile trails just outside of town. For Northern Grounds, you will have to park about a block away.

Antler’s Lounge at Grand Ely Lodge is located on the north side of Ely on Shagawa Lake. Aside from the great views, the menu also features appetizers, sandwiches, beer, wine and cocktails. 

Vermillion Club and Bayview Bar & Grill are sister locations both located on Lake Vermillion, near the Your Boat Club rental office in Tower. They have an extensive appetizer menu along with burgers, sandwiches, pizza, steak and walleye. Check the website for their most up-to-date winter hours.

Explore the Tomahawk Trail on the way to Isabella.

From downtown Ely, the Tomahawk Trail extends over 85 miles southeast towards Isabella and beyond. This is a beautiful stretch of trail that winds through forests and across the Kawishiwi River, just outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Watch for wildlife along the trail.

It’s probably no surprise that the area surrounding Ely is rich with wildlife. In just one afternoon on the snowmobile, I saw several bald eagles, osprey and falcon! Also common in the area are black bear, moose, wolves and fox. It’s unlikely you will come across any of these on a snowmobile trail as they are either hibernating or steering clear of the noise, but be mindful of your surroundings. 

If you’re nervous about a potential bear encounter, read my bear safety tips!

Wear windproof gear from head to toe when snowmobiling in Ely MN!
Taking a break to enjoy the view along the Taconite Trail while snowmobiling in Ely.

Fill up the gas tank on the snowmobile before returning it.

Just like a rental car, be sure to fill up the gas tank on the snowmobile before returning it. Remember, snowmobiles are restricted to certain streets in downtown Ely so not all gas stations are accessible. 

The Cenex station on Sheridan Street is accessible by snowmobile  via N 2nd Ave and cutting through the alley just before Sheridan Street. Here’s a detailed map of snowmobile routes in downtown Ely to help you navigate. 

Similarly, the Cenex Station in Tower is also accessible for snowmobiles. The gas station is located on Main Street, but can be accessed from Adler Street which runs parallel one block south. The snowmobile routes in Tower are on the same map linked above.

Pro Tip: The gas caps on snowmobiles can be difficult to remove, especially if the tank is below half. Ask for help at the gas station if you have difficulty removing it!

Are you ready for your Ely MN Snowmobile rental?

There’s something magical about gliding across the frozen chain of lakes. Enjoy the thrill of snowmobiling in Ely MN this winter! 

For more info on snowmobiling and other things to do in Ely MN in winter, check out the Visit Ely website.

Related content to read next:

21 Breathtaking Winter Wonderland Destinations

What to Wear Hiking in Winter: A Prepared Girl’s Guide

Check out my Minnesota travel page for even more inspiration and tips!

Me sitting on a snowmobile with a pine forest blanketed in snow behind me.
Snowmobile Ely Minnesota, a guide to rentals and more!

19 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Snowmobiling in Ely MN

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    That makes me so happy to hear! I love introducing people to all the adventures here in Minnesota.

  2. This Big Wild World says:

    I hope you get to try it soon! It’s an absolute blast. Ely is the perfect place for beginners due to the well-marked and extensive trail network!

  3. This Big Wild World says:

    Ely is an outdoor lovers paradise all year round! Glad I could introduce you to it 🙂

  4. This Big Wild World says:

    Ha ha yep every inch covered! I left the flap on my helmet cracked open every once in awhile to feel the cool breeze, but the rest of my body was covered. Sounds like you’re familiar with these conditions from Colorado though!

  5. This Big Wild World says:

    So glad you found this helpful! Hope you experience the thrill someday. It’s so fun!

  6. This Big Wild World says:

    I can imagine that snowmobiles can be expensive to own. It was really nice to just rent one and know that I was responsible for maintaining and repairing it! That’s awful to hear about that crash. Unfortunately I can see how even if you are driving carefully, it can happen! It’s just not worth risking it without insurance in my opinion.

  7. Erin says:

    Your post brought back some happy memories of snowmobile riding when I was a child. I have never explored Minnesota, but now I really want to! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Krista says:

    I haven’t actually been snowmobiling yet, but it’s a winter activity that I really want to try. It looks like a great area to do it!

  9. Megan says:

    I had not heard of Ely before, so this was great to stumble upon. Snowmobiling here looks like so much fun!

  10. Ashlee Fechino says:

    I really enjoy seeing your adventures up north on your blog and Facebook page! Thanks for sharing.

  11. simplyjolayne says:

    There’s not much skin showing! Colorado isn’t quite so cold, but we bundle up just the same when we go snow hiking.

  12. Lasma says:

    Wow, these snowmobiles look so fun, I would love to try it out! And will save this article, because you have some great tips… well done!

  13. MK Dymock says:

    Renting is so much better than the cost of owning one. Glad you mentioned the insurance. We were out once and another guy crashed his into a tree. He did not have insurance.

  14. Kristen says:

    I was just in Ely last week for my first time, and it really is so beautiful! I hope to go back soon so I can experience more. There is so much to hike and see.

  15. This Big Wild World says:

    I was amazed at how well marked the trails are, even on the frozen lakes. Made it so much easier to enjoy my time!

  16. This Big Wild World says:

    Ha ha yep, not a ton of avalanches here in Minnesota but there are issues with folks getting stranded out on the water or breaking through when the ice starts to melt in springtime (and when it’s first forming in early winter). There’s different risks to think about wherever you go!

    And, yes, heated handlebars make the whole experience so much more comfortable! My hands were even a little sweaty!

  17. Melinda says:

    How fun and adventurous! I love that the trails are so well marked because that I would worry about getting lost but clearly that is not an issue. Love that you spotted all those birds too!

  18. Josy A says:

    Oooh this looks so fun (and so chilly!) There were a few snowmobile users on our AST course about avalanche awareness so it’s a thing here too – but I love the idea of snowmobiling on lakes, so you don’t have to worry about avalanches!

    I didn’t know the handlebars are heated!? That is genius!

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