Scenic attractions include views of the rolling Northwoods forest, lakes, wetlands, rivers, stands of wild berries and wildflowers, and granite outcroppings.
Road quality varies along the route, changing from smooth to broken two-lane blacktop to gravel road with soft shoulders. Watch for slow-moving vacationers, fast-moving logging trucks and an abundance of wildlife.
The nearest motorcycle service shops include LaBarge’s Used Motorcycle Parts in Hibbing, Dave’s Sales & Service in Hibbing and Five Seasons Sports Center in Eveleth.
Ely is a popular entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and its main street is lined with outfitters, outdoor clothing stores and restaurants. But it wasn’t always that way.
The name “Ely” was chosen in honor of mining executive Samuel B. Ely. Although the Lake Vermillion Gold Rush of 1865 brought the first large numbers of pioneers to the area, the big treasure unearthed came in the form of large deposits of iron ore.
The first frame building in Ely was built in 1887 and, when the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway laid tracks extending the rails from Tower to Ely in 1888, the first mining operations began with the opening of the Chandler Mine. Other mines soon opened, too: The Pioneer Mine (1889), the Zenith (1892), the Savoy (1899) and the Sibley (1899). The Pioneer, the most productive, closed in 1967 and now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the host site for the Ely Arts & Heritage Center.
Speaking of art. In the early 1970s, in the decade following the 1964 establishment of the BWCAW and ending of multiple major mining operations, Ely became a community divided by lifestyle. On one side of the divide were long-time inhabitants who worked the mines over multiple generations. On the other side of the divide were newcomers to the community – the “back to nature” crowd – who sought out Ely’s remote location for outdoor or artistic pursuits.
Be sure to visit the International Wolf Center (on the east side of town) and the North American Bear Center (on the west side of town). Both are open to guests.
The unincorporated community of Soudan was established in 1885, three years after mining first took place there in 1882 and soon after the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad had been built to the area. The Soudan is Minnesota’s oldest iron ore mine.
By 1903, the town was reportedly completely on the property belonging to the mining company and had no stores or saloons for its 500 to 700 miners.
Today, the Soudan Underground Mine State Park contains the University of Minnesota’s Soudan Underground High Energy Physics Laboratory, which has been taking cosmic ray and atmospheric neutrino data from 2,340 feet below the earth’s surface since becoming operational in 2003. Both the mine and the underground laboratory are open for tours ($12 Adult), allowing you to travel a half-mile underground to the deepest area that was mined.
Tower was incorporated March 13, 1889, which makes it the oldest city in the Arrowhead region north of Duluth.
The 500-person community owes its establishment to the Soudan Mine and was named after mining financier Charlemagne Tower. Those miners were a hardy bunch. Evidently, Tower and the Embarrass area to the south are the coldest inhabited locations in the Lower 48 states, based on average winter temperatures. In 1996, Tower set the Minnesota record for coldest temperature when the thermometer plummeted to -60°F.
Want to make a stop here? Check out the Tower Train Museum and nearby McKinley Monument – the first erected in honor of former U.S. President William McKinley shortly after his assassination in 1901.
Established in 1903, the community now known as Cook was initially named Little Fork, for its location next to the river of the same name. Its name was changed in 1908 in honor of Worth Cook, an owner of the railroad that was constructed through the community four years prior. It would take another 18 years for Cook to become incorporated, in 1926. Today, the community is home to approx. 575 people and considered “The Gateway to Lake Vermillion”.
An unincorporated community, Buyck is at the junction of Hwy24/Crane Lake Rd. and CR23, on the edge of the Kabetogama State Forest. Stop at the Sportsman’s Last Chance restaurant for a burger and conversation.
The Echo Trail (CR116) is a 72-mile asphalt and gravel road that stretches from Orr to Ely, through the Superior National Forest and Kabetogama State Forest. Dozens of trailheads and canoe portages along this remote road provide access to the lakes of the western BWCAW. Watch for logging trucks, deer, moose, bear, wolf and a host of other creatures during this journey through the deep forest. Our path joins the Echo Trail 12.7 west of Lake Jeanette Campground.
Lake Jeanette Campground
Located near the western end of the Echo Trail, within the Superior National Forest, this campground is situated on the southern shore of Lake Jeanette and provides scenic views of the lake. Sound inviting? Maybe that’s why the area is known for its Bigfoot sightings. Once the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp which operated in the 1930s, the terrain is covered with granite rock outcroppings and a mix of pine and spruce trees. There are 10 drive-in sites. Traveling with a group? There’s a maximum of 9 people allowed per site.