“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”. – John Muir
About five hours north of Minneapolis and 14 miles short of the Canadian border lies Ely, Minnesota, population 3,460. Despite being near the notoriously named Embarrass, Minnesota which often wins the award as the coldest place in the US during winter, Ely is a magical place. Laying on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and the Superior National forest, Ely is one of a handful of launching off points into the some of America’s great outdoors.
Named by National Geographic as one of the 50 places to see in a lifetime, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is blessed with some of the most pure and raw nature you will ever see. Stretching over one million acres of pristine wilderness and graced with over 1,000 untouched lakes and streams, the BWCAW offers over 1,500 miles of canoe routes where you will likely not see a soul except the lone moose, wolf or black bear. The BWCAW has been a rite of passage for many adventurous souls who search for both challenge and peace as they set off portaging through the various pristine lakes and natural beauty of this amazing place.
My family and I set off for the small northern town of Ely after a few days stay along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Lutsen, Minnesota. The North Shore is beautiful in its own right with stunning views of the gigantic blue Lake Superior and tons of waterfalls, uninhabited lakes, deeply wooded forests and beauty through its numerous State Parks and hiking trails.
Despite visiting the North Shore and the edge of the Boundary Waters near Grand Marais many times, I had never been to Ely before. I had no idea what to expect but once we arrived at the tiny, rustic Northern Air Lodge on Mitchell Lake and checked into our small wood cabin I understood why this place is so incredibly special. It is one of the most naturally beautiful places I had ever seen.
Each night was a magical display of color and light as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon of the lake. It amazed me how every moment of the sunset was different. The clouds, the light, the reflections on the water…everything. And every sunset was different.
I would sit there and stare in awe and wonder, listening to the melodic sing-song of the loons or the gentle rustle of the blowing trees. In that moment, I was finally able to fully unwind and relax. I realized how important it is in life to truly get away from it all and there is no better place than in the wilderness. Once you got inside the Boundary Waters and took a hike, you were in the wild. There is no motorized boats, no electricity, no telephone lines or no roads to the inner lakes. And we were just on the edge of it. I can only imagine how I’d feel after a week inside there. Truly free.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from our three days spent at the Northern Air Lodge.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”. – Edward Abbey
My favorite time was sunset and I could hardly wait for it each night. My heart would beat in anticipation for the gorgeous sight I was about to experience. As the sun began to slowly set at well past nine, the sky light up in a magical show of light, color and splendor. Every night was completely different and it was stunning.
Some nights the sunset was yellow and orange, and the other nights were pinks and purples. Even when it was cloudy and gray, it was equally lovely and mesmerizing.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”. – John Muir
Then at last, a little past ten the sun said its goodnight and another beautiful day came to an end.
As we packed up the car to leave, I couldn’t help feel a little bit sad. I wondered why life couldn’t always be as simple, easy and pure as it was here. My chest tightened up a notch when I thought of going home, back to the city and the way too fast pace of life. To the overwhelming headlines and the constant worry. At least I now know that I don’t need to hop a plane and fly for hours to get away from it all. Beauty and peace can be easily found only five hours away, at the opposite end of the state.
If you go:
The BWCA is a true wilderness experience, without motors, no electricity, no telephone lines, and no roads to the inner lakes. Each season has its own unique characteristics, making them wonderful times to visit the Boundary Waters and its surrounding award-winning resort communities of Ely, Gunflint, Grand Marais, Isabella/Finland, and Crane Lake. Ely is located 244 miles (393 km) north of Minneapolis – Saint Paul.
Recreation opportunities include canoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and primitive camping in the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters. Wildlife includes bald eagles, ospreys, moose, bears, wolves, and beavers. The area also offers blueberry and other wild berry picking and wildflower viewing.