After that, you have to stop at Sherry's Northwoods Homemade Ice Cream, 1114 E. Sheridan St., an outdoor ice cream stand. (Order the two-scoop lemon custard waffle cone.)
On Tuesday nights, folk singer Pat Surface performs at the adjoining pavilion along with local artists and others passing through town. The concerts start at 7 p.m. and last for a couple of hours, depending on how bad the bugs are.
You can spend a good chunk of the day at the International Wolf Center. In addition to a nicely detailed exhibition of the history and legend of the wolf, several classes are held there daily.
The most popular lets you watch the center's five wolves through windows overlooking an enclosure intended to resemble natural habitat. During the summer, the alphas get the best shade (and anything else they darn well please) as the rest of the pack jockeys for position.
In fact, one of this summer's sagas is the reintroduction of one of the wolves, whose place in the pecking order had been hotly disputed by the two other betas in the pack.
A couple of nights a week during the summer, the center offers van tours on the back roads of St. Louis and Lake counties to listen and look for signs of wolf activity.
The Dorothy Molter Museum is down the road and features the cabin in which the North Woods legend lived on Knife Lake's Isle of Pines. The primitive cabin, with many of her possessions, was moved to the edge of Ely in 1993 and turned into a tourist site much easier to reach than in its deep-woods BWCA incarnation.
A Leo Kottke-narrated video tells Molter's story and, here, too, the guides are well-steeped in tales of her fascinating life. As the story unfolds, a visitor gets a sense of wilderness politics -- the emotional battles still being fought between visitors to the region and those who live, work and play there.
Knockoffs of the root beer Molter brewed are for sale ($6 for a six-pack), and there are old photos of Molter with visitors, including a group of campers that includes a teenage Julia Roberts in baggy rain gear.
About a half-hour west of Ely is the Soudan Underground Mine, a state park that features a 90-minute descent by elevator and train into an abandoned iron mine.
Tours are offered from Memorial Day into the fall and the mine, with its constant 50-degree temperature, is a cool escape from summer heat. There's also stuff to see above ground for folks squeamish about making the 2,400-foot descent, even with a hard hat.
Also offered there are tours of the physics lab at the bottom of the mine, which is staffed by scientists from the University of Minnesota and elsewhere. (Check out the new three-story mural completed earlier this year on the mission of the lab.) The depth of the lab shields out cosmic rays, permitting research that can't be done at ground level.
Bet on it
Once upon a time, former Gov. Rudy Perpich suggested that Ely be the site of a state-run casino. It didn't happen. But the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa runs Fortune Bay Casino outside of Tower, a couple miles west of Soudan. It's a 24-hour casino with a resort also operated by the band.
Back in Ely, a nice rest stop is the Jim Brandenburg Gallery, 11 E. Sheridan St., where the famous photographer's work is for sale in an environment that doesn't make you feel guilty for being a casual browser.