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Detour to Ely?

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Melbourne, Florida
Level Contributor
3 posts
15 reviews
Detour to Ely?

Hello, All -

We are heading to Minn to see the fall colors. A real treat for us Floridians. Plan so far is:

Fri, 9/29 - arrive MSP and drive to Duluth. 3 nights there at Radisson with scenic train to two harbors on Sun.

- first question is things to do on Sat - wondered about driving the lake into WI to Cornucopia?

Leave Duluth Monday and head up N Shore. Currently thinking to stay at Harbor Inn for 1 or 2 nights in Grand Marais.

- any feedback on Harbor Inn?

- should we stay 1 night or 2?

- any reason to continue up to Thunder Bay? (I think my hubby just likes the name)

Leave GM and head back towards MSP, but have either 1 or 2 nights to spend on the way depending on how much time we stay in GM.

- was thinking of side trip to Ely - is that worth doing? Wolf Reserve? Other interesting sites?

- recommendations for places to stay in Ely?

Any other must sees on way back to MSP? Or good places to stay?

Or other suggestions?

Get back to MSP on Thurs and have 3 nights before we leave for home on Sun. Two full days. Want to explore lakes near town, maybe go to a flea market, have to see the Mall of America.

- any other don't miss things to do or suggestions for meals? We are staying at an Marriott in Bloomington.

Very much looking forward to seeing beautiful MINN. it's been on our list for a long time and we are happy to finally get to come and visit.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.


Destination Expert
for Illinois, Chicago
Level Contributor
5,058 posts
208 reviews
1. Re: Detour to Ely?

driving into WI is very doable as it's less than 2 hours from DLH... cornucopia is a very small town with a small fishing harbor and not much else going on.... drive a little further to bayfield instead---very quaint and pretty harbor town.... perhaps take a hike along the coast from meyer's beach in the apostle islands national lakeshore...... it's located about 5 miles east of cornucopia....

stay 2 nites in GM.... there is so much to see in the area, it would be a shame to skim thru.... or, better yet, stay 1 nite further west as you leave DLH and explore that area, then move onto GM and stay the 2nd nite...... many mom and pop resorts along the way....

time permitting, you could go up to thunder bay, altho, the city itself has nothing much to offer---it's basically an industrial, wood pulp based town... you can, however, visit nearby sleeping giant provincial park, which is awesome in the fall.... went there twice in the fall about 20 years ago and it was beautiful, with great views from the top....

other things to do in the area is the lutsen ski resort gondolas.... we just did it over the summer, but we heard it's beautiful in the fall... there are many waterfalls and small canyons along the 160 mile stretch of highway 61, so it's worthwhile to stop at many of them, which is why spending at least 2 nites along this most beautiful coast is justified....

*********an FYI---IF you have more time to dedicate to this trip, say 9-10 days total, i think i would skip the train ride and spend maybe your first 1-2 nites in DLH and explore the area---if you're into maritime history, there are a few museums worth checking out, in addition to the ships coming and going out of the harbor.... then do the COMPLETE lake superior circle tour.... you are going to be doing a pretty good chunk from bayfield to thunder bay, so you might as well do the whole thing, instead of back tracking.... by the time you're finished with the backtracking, you would have done the equivalent of 1/3rd the circle tour... TRUST ME, the lake superior circle tour is STUNNING and prolly one of the most underrated driving tours in the USA.... while you're up there, you might as well do it!!!!!!


here's a TA article from the road tips forum on the subject:


and here are 2 slideshows i put together of our trips to lake superior:




and here's a thread with my reviews and links related to our recent northshore trip:


Edited: 12:44 am, September 12, 2013
Proctor, Minnesota
Level Contributor
192 posts
63 reviews
2. Re: Detour to Ely?

I agree with Strange Tripper on Bayfield. Although,that's a full day trip with all the shops in Bayfield. If you do go there, I'd take the ferry to Madeline Island, too.

If you go up the north shore, you have the usual touristy places like Gooseberry and Split Rock Lighthouse, but I'd suggest stopping at Palisade Head and Temperance River, also. Then, definitely spend some time around Grand Marais. Take a drive up the Gunflint Trail. Hike up Eagle Mountain, if you're into hiking. Stop at Lake Superior Trading Post and Artist's Point. If you do go to Thunder Bay, take the half hour drive out Kakabeka Falls.

I love Ely, so I'd say for sure detour on the way back. Take Hwy 1 off 61, then from Ely, take 169 to 53 South, then 33 to I35 to get back to Mpls. All nice highways and some nice scenery along 169. Ely has the Wolf Center & Bear Center, plus great shopping and places to eat. Lots of places to stay, including resorts, cabins, and b&bs. We've stayed at Grand Ely Lodge twice and have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Ely on 169 in Soudan, check out Soudan Underground Mine State Park. I believe the tours will still be going on when you're there. The tour brings you over a 1/4 mile down below the earths surface to an underground mine. Bring a sweatshirt, though, it can be pretty cool down there!

Destination Expert
for Minneapolis, Minnesota
Level Contributor
1,017 posts
166 reviews
3. Re: Detour to Ely?

That's a great itinerary, whether you do the circle tour or head of to Ely!

One thing to keep in mind is much of the color along the lakeshore is yellow. You can find the reds around there, but to really see them saturated, you'll need to go further inland. Luckily, northern MN has had lots of rain, so the colors should be good, as long as storms don't blow the leaves off. Therefore, I would recommend a side trip to Ely, just to get further inland to see more color. It's an amazing and quaint area, check out the state parks & stargazing in addition to the town. Also, we did find an awesome little road in Grand Marais with the most spectacular view of sugar maples - I believe it was called Sugar Mountain or Sugar Road. Ask the locals, that's who told us about it. If you time it right, it's jaw-dropping! Also, if you can make it up to Carlton Peak north of Tettegouche State Park, that's a pretty spectacular 180°+ view of the mountains and the shoreline.

You'll be up there during peak tourist season. So if you'd like to avoid the crowds, I'd say go out early or late in the day, the trails & parking lots can get pretty busy, and Hwy 61 past Duluth turns into 2-lane. There was construction last year around Duluth & Tettegouche. Not sure if that's finished yet but it can be hairy.

Destination Expert
for Minneapolis
Level Contributor
3,100 posts
19 reviews
4. Re: Detour to Ely?

If you do Thunder Bay, hit the new waterfront, Kekabekka Falls (sp?), and north a bit for Terry Fox monument.

See the waterfall at MN/Ont border.

The Wolf Center and Bear Center are great in Ely.

Do 2 nights in Grand Marais.

Burnsville, MN
Level Contributor
538 posts
2 reviews
5. Re: Detour to Ely?

If you want to visit the Bear and Wolf Centers, be sure to check their websites for the days/hours they are open. I believe on October 1st the Wolf Center is only open to the public on weekends, and I think it's the same with the Bear Center.

Melbourne, Florida
Level Contributor
3 posts
15 reviews
6. Re: Detour to Ely?

Thank you all so much for your recommendations. I'm looking at al your suggestions on the map and making notes!

I am looking forward to seeing your beautiful state and meeting some MN-sotians!


Level Contributor
250 posts
13 reviews
7. Re: Detour to Ely?

Hi Janet, in order to see the peak colors these web sites will lead you to the peak areas. www.mndnr.gov. www.exploreminnesota.com. I like to drive along the Minnesota River and visit New Ulm the first weekend of October to explore the town and absorb a little of their Octoberfest. There are lots of oak trees along the river and some less than busy roads to cruise on. I know it's not on your itinerary but leaf color peak times are fluid.

Melbourne, Florida
Level Contributor
3 posts
15 reviews
8. Re: Detour to Ely?

Thank you. We'll look it up on the map and try to squeeze this in.

Eagan, Minnesota
Level Contributor
1 post
22 reviews
9. Re: Detour to Ely?

Hello. We just got back from a week in Grand Marais and loved it. Personally, if you haven't made your reservation yet at the Harbor Inn, I wouldn't stay there. If you end up with a room on the first floor, your bed is literally 10 feet from the sidewalk out front with everyone walking by as the town & the Lake are right there. If you can get a room on the 2nd floor, that would be MUCH better. A plus to the Harbor Inn is that it is attached to the Pie Place, and their food & desserts there are awesome. I would stay 2 nights in Grand Marais for sure, and yes, visit the Pigeon Falls at the Minnesota/Canada border for sure. (an easy 1/2 mile hike on a paved surface, right at the rest stop before the border crossing) If you need any more help with places to stay or eat in Grand Marais or the surrounding area, let me know!

Destination Expert
for Minneapolis
Level Contributor
3,100 posts
19 reviews
10. Re: Detour to Ely?

Consider The Devil's Kettle hike to those falls, and Minnesota's deepest canyon - Devil's Track Canyon.

Step back in time in Grand Marais with a visit to Ben Franklin.