Need a reason for a road trip? Got a taste for adventure (or just fudge)? Here are 10 small towns—from Ely and Walker to Luverne and Lanesboro—that feature artisan gems, tasty eateries, historic treasures, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. Grap a map and go.
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For nature nuts, Ely is the last civilized stop before you reach the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But it’s more than just an outfitters’ town. Budget Travel named it one of the “coolest small towns in America,” and the burg even scored a spot on National Geographic Traveler’s list of “50 places you must see.” The E in Ely stands for everything: breathtaking lake views, satisfying food, and relaxing spa treatments.
Get the morning started on a sweet note with a kolacky at Plum Bun Bakery and a steaming cup of locally brewed Gene Hicks coffee at the Chocolate Moose. Before the heat of the day hits, hike the five-mile Trezona trail overlooking Miner’s Lake or the six-mile Bass Lake Trail, full of unique rocks and plants. If you’re recovering from a hard paddle (or get blisters just thinking of canoeing), indulge at The Pebble Spa Company with a lemongrass hand rub or a wild-rice-and-spice scrub. And don’t miss the shopping treasures along Sheridan Street, from Piragis to Steger Mukluks to Mealey’s. Get up close to wildlife at the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center (featuring Ted, Honey, and Lucky Bear). Or, for a special experience, call for a tour of Listening Point—the writing shack and cabin that once belonged to ecologist and author Sigurd Olson, the man who basically made the Boundary Waters.
For happy hour, nurse a pint or get a growler of Joel Carlson’s microbrew to go at Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant. For dinner, tuck into the wild-rice-and-walleye cakes at Rockwood Bar and Grill. Finish your meal with a shot of Pelinkovac, an Eastern European wormwood-based digestif that Ely old-timers swear by. For dessert, bring the day full circle and head back to the Chocolate Moose for pie and another mug of coffee.
When it’s time to hit the hay, book a room at A Stay Inn Ely B&B. Or, for a classic Northwoods experience, stay at the century-old Burntside Lodge. Focused on eco-friendliness? Check out the newly constructed Adventure Inn.
Where to go: Plum Bun Bakery, 147 W. Chapman St.; Rock Wood, 302 E. Sheridan St.; Chocolate Moose, 101 N. Central Ave.; Boathouse Brewpub, 47 E. Sheridan St.; The Pebble Spa Company, 232 W. Sheridan St.; International Wolf Center, 1396 Hwy. 169; North American Bear Center, 1926 Hwy. 169; Listening Point tours, 218-365-7890; A Stay Inn Ely, 112 W. Sheridan St.; Burntside Lodge, 2755 Burntside Lodge Road; Adventure Inn, 1145 E. Sheridan St.
4 Iron Range towns worth a visit
Hibbing is home to the world’s largest open-pit iron-ore mine—the entire town moved south once Frank Hibbing discovered that the settlement was sitting on the motherlode. Along with the iron ore, miners tapped into a wellspring of enterprising spirit: Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale, Roger Maris, author/attorney Vincent Bugliosi, and Jeno Paulucci—the founder of Michelina’s, Chun King, and Jeno’s Pizza Rolls—are all Hibbing natives.
Hull Rust Mahoning Mine
The entire town moved for this 3-mile-long, 2-mile-wide, 535-feet-deep pit, earning the nickname “Grand Canyon of the North.” And no, that’s not a blast from the past you see: the mine is still in use. To date, more than 800 million tons of ore have been shipped from it. 401 Penobscot Rd.
Greyhound Bus Museum
Betcha didn’t know the main bus system in the United States was invented right in Hibbing. View vintage Greyhound buses and their inner workings, then relax in the rose garden. 1201 Greyhound Blvd.
Hibbing High School
Built for $4 million in 1922, Hibbing High School is a sight to behold—no expense was spared. Among the highlights: six David Ericson murals, solid marble steps, and Belgian cut-glass chandeliers in the auditorium, which are insured today for a quarter-million apiece. 800 21st St. E.
Paulucci Space Theatre
Named after food entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci, this planetarium gives names to all the night-sky sparklers you can actually see when in Hibbing, plus Imax-format films. Call a couple of days ahead for schedules or tours. 1502 E. 23rd St.
Hibbing Public Library
This library houses all the Bob Dylan memorabilia a fan could want, including a copy of his birth certificate, yearbook, and a life-size papier-mâché Bob. 2020 Fifth Ave. E.
Sunrise Bakery at the Lybba
Pick up the essential three P’s of Hibbing here: porchetta, pasties, and potica. Note: Bob and pals used to hang here and watch movies when it was still a working theater. 2135 First Ave.
Bob Dylan’s Childhood Home
It’s not open for touring, but when in Hibbing… at least drive or walk by. You can’t miss the Mediterranean two-story where Bob discovered rock ’n’ roll—look for gawkers trailing by with cameras and the garage door painted to look like the cover of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album. 2425 Seventh Ave. E.
Built in 1897 for Oliver Iron Mining Company’s superintendent Pentecost Mitchell, this was the first house moved to South Hibbing in 1918. Today, after much rehabilitation, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a gorgeous B&B. 2125 Fourth Ave. E.