“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.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota


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.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Morning kayak ride

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

My daughter gazing out at the pure blue water

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

My son and our puppy

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Winter at four months. He is a true water and hiking dog. He loved it up north.

“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.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

It was time for an evening Kayak ride

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

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.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

My budding photographer, Sophia.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”. –  John Muir

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Then at last, a little past ten the sun said its goodnight and another beautiful day came to an end.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

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.

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Opposites.


  1. Beautiful photos and description of the expansion and lightness of being that comes from directly contacting Nature’s majesty. It is always wonderful to recognize we are at home on this beautiful planet…


  2. As a teen-ager,we spent several family vacations on Lake Vermilion, near Ely. At that time in the mid 60s, there were still resorts and commercial properties on the lake. We did have electricity and plumbing. No TV or phone. Still, it was remote, only accessible by boat. The water was freezing, of course we swam in it anyway. I was in awe with the beauty of the area, and the fish were amazing. We picked wild blueberries, had picnics on rocks, and hunted for exotic wild flowers. Great memories for this Iowa girl, thanks for reminding me.

    1. Wow Sara that must have been amazing! I didn’t make it to Lake Vermilion but would love to next time. It was so incredibly beautiful there. I really felt free. Hope you are enjoying your summer! So relieved the fire is under control now! Nicole

      1. Oh yes, I’ve been to Ely a few times, but not recently. We stayed on Burntside Lake and canoed north of there. Did you see recent story about Gunflint Lodge selling (about 50 mi NE of Ely)? About 25 yrs. ago my wife and I raced our daughters across Gunflint Lake to Canada and back again to the Lodge. Now I have grandsons I take out on the trails, and a new grand daughter who will get her turn in a few years! Time flies. Enjoy it! I have some travels planned that you’ll soon be able to read about. 😉

      2. Wow how is the Burntside Lake? Sounds wonderful. I did not hear the Gunflint Lodge was selling. We had looked into staying there but it was $600 a night! So we chose a different place although I’ve always wanted to go. Just a little out of our budget. 🙂

      3. When we went years ago we stayed in what they called Camper Cabins; sparse rooms w/ bunk beds and a bath as I remember. They were pretty affordable. We used their excellent dinning facilities, but went elsewhere as well. We knew the owners of another nearby lodge, but we couldn’t stay there because they would not allow dogs. We did go there to eat on occasion, but always had lots of options. We had a black lab that learned to swim at Gunflint Lodge! The memories are great! 😉

      4. Wonderful memories indeed! That is how I felt about the Northern Air Lodge! Our puppy loved it as it was filled with dogs all off leash and so much fun.

  3. Looks like a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful place to plop down for a week or so. I miss packing up the kids for a summer trip off the grid!

    1. It was so wonderful Lexi. I felt way more refreshed than I did in Prague. I think getting out in nature was so amazing and so necessary. 🙂 I bet you will feel that way after Mongolia.

    1. Oh thanks Amy! They were all taken with my phone too! I have more on my big camera posting soon. You would love this part of the country.

  4. That daughter of yours is becoming quite the young lady, Nicole! 🙂 🙂 I adore your opening shot, and then those sunsets of course. Happy July 4th!

    1. Thanks Jo! I don’t take as many photos of Max anymore as he is 11 and as tall as me! I’m tall for a woman so that says a lot. Yes, Sophia is growing up so fast. She is nine and so sweet. We had a wonderful trip together. Love these moments.

  5. I can understand you feeling sad leaving behind so much beauty. Whenever I’m amongst nature it makes me realise how uncomplicated life can be when we embrace life and get back to the basics. John Muir was a wise man and you, my friend, have captured some truly magical moments. A beautiful post Nicole. xo

    1. Thanks Miriam! Yes I LOVE John Muir’s quotes and what he has done. I feel so much better after this trip. Life just gets so busy and I personally feel a bit caught up lately with all the news and the political situation. Gun violence, war, grief….sometimes I am too much of a bleeding heart. Getting away from it all in so much raw beauty with no wifi was amazing and so much needed for the soul.

      1. I understand totally what you mean Nicole. I think we all need that escape from the harsh realities of the world every now and then … it’s definitely good for the soul.

    1. Thanks so much Tammi! I really needed this trip. I realized how stressed out I’d become for no reason. Just being somewhere with the basics and so much beauty was truly amazing for my soul. And good family time too!

  6. Nicole, we fell in love with the boundary waters when we visited a couple of years ago. I would love to take a kayak trip through the boundary waters up into Canada. Your photos brought me back there…so lovely. Your puppy is adorable!

  7. Wow Nicole what a place! I think I recognize some of the photos from IG. congrats on the puppy. what a sweetie. Your kinds must be head over heels in love.

    1. Yes I put most of them on IG. It was so gorgeous there Sue! You and Dave would love it given your love of the outdoors. Our puppy is wonderful. He has added so much fun to our lives and has gotten me out even more! The kids love him too!

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