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Pack the Bathing Suit AND the Snow Gloves For Northern Minnesota: Girls Trip Edition.

When referring to the great dogsled girls trip of 2019, I’m not sure if the people that I talked to about this were more shocked on the destination itself or the fact that it was a girl’s trip. Quite possibly, both??

“Dogsledding?!?”.. *insert confused looks and shocked faces here* Like someone about to take a drink of what they think is water only to discover that it’s actually vodka.

THREE TIMES this conversation ended by said person responding to me with, “wow, you’ve got some bad ass friends.” Yes. Yes I do.

That’s right folks. We went to WAY THE HELL UP NORTH Minnie-soda (said with my best Scandinavian accent attempt) to a teeeeeeny tiny cutesy Hallmark movie looking town called Ely. Myself and five of my most willing friends flew to Duluth, Minnesota, rented our T-PAIN style Suburban (just kidding because T-PAIN’s probably has a fancy Cristal cooler inside), and drove to Ely for the weekend.

Picture of Snow Jeep
Not exactly our Suburban, but I can Imagine you’d need this here in January/February.

Our ~2 hour drive from Duluth took us to our Stay Inn Ely (literally, our house for the weekend), and it was perfect. It had a kitchen, plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room with a fireplace with a picture above it of women walking on wood…. or rocks… we’re still not sure but totally spent way too much time trying to figure it out. Stay Inn Ely, being right on the main drag, meant that we could walk each morning to Northern Bounds Coffee basically next door for an Americano and a pistachio muffin. Plenty of delicious non-chain eating places all right in our trekking path. We thoroughly ate our hearts out and enjoyed every place that we ate at, especially Insula. Please order the walleye if available.

Picture of Northern Grounds Coffee Sign
The best cup of coffee and muffin in Ely.

Sooooo, two main points that matter about this entire trip are (1) even though Ely is COLD, we decided to gamble at going at the very, very beginning of the season (early December) and this worked perfectly (THANK YOU Mother Nature) weather wise. We didn’t want to get caught driving in some huge snowstorm, but they had recently enough got plenty of snow to do our highlight – dogsledding. Also, the high temps were in the 20s but since northern Minnesota is much drier, it doesn’t feel like a Pittsburgh 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

And (2) what can you possibly do you do in Ely, MN?

A LOT. Ely is sitting nicely amongst the over million acres of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This fairy tale wonderland is part of the Superior National Forest. You don’t have to be an expert fisherman, hiker, or Yukon Cornelius kinfolk in order to thoroughly enjoy what this area has to offer. Do of course you’re wondering what DOES a million acres of forest have to offer a group of girls in December? Besides a lot of animal poop and BEAUTIFUL scenery straight from a North Face add, it has dogsledding…in the winter. Ethically done (Yes I’ve done research – no animals were harmed in our adventure). I’d love to go back and canoe in the summer or fall. But alas, we are here in winter because we are set to drive a dogsled ourselves.

Dogsledding with Wintergreen.

This was far far far more fun than I even thought it would be. Turns out, Wintergreen is one of the few places that lets you completely drive your own dogsled vs. a guide driving for you while you ride along in the sled basket – and ethically so (dogs are harnessed, nothing is hurting them, they were happy, everything was voice commands…etc., etc). These Inuit Husky dogs LOVE to pull sleds. They LOVE the snow. You’ll learn all about this in your intro before you see it come true before your eyes. You’ll also learn the commands used for go, “Ready, Hike” (go), “Gee” (left), “Haw” (right), “Whooooah” (stop). We never once got any bad vibes about the entire experience or the people handling the dogs.

Inside a lodge, we spent about forty five minutes of introduction going over and reciting the rules together before heading outside to the dog kennels. It was insanely loud. Like 70+ dogs barking in excitement, some harnessed onto the sleds and the rest just cheering from their little houses/kennel area, probably jealous that it wasn’t their turn. It was quite the amp up. On foot, we followed the guides and the sleds down a short distance to the frozen lake. With four dog sleds tied up and ready to go, we were asked to pair up and pick a sled. Driving a dogsled is much like riding a bike. There is a brake and you lean into the turns. You also have to “help” the dogs up the hill(s) by pushing the sled during those parts. Our guides cross country skied between the dogsleds as we went in a train formation. Tip: try not to be the “caboose” as the more dogs in front of you, the more dog poop you get to sled over in the woods. 🙂

Picture of Inuit Husky Dogsled

I’ll never forget how quickly the dogs took off. Once the dogs are pulling the sled, they stop barking and are happily trotting along. We stayed out about 2.5 hours or so, which felt like the perfect amount of time on our half day trip. We got to pet our dogs and learn their names. Sven’s waddling strut is forever etched into a giphy in my mind.

Ely Steam Bath.

After a day in the cold, we ate dinner (at Insula *drool* and headed to the Ely Steam Bath. The Steam Bath is essentially an old school sauna. Scandinavians are big on “hygge” (the art of being cosy and simple). They feel that not even 10 showers in a row can make you feel as clean as the real sauna experience, which is sitting in the sauna, and jumping in the cold lake and repeating this sequence a handful of times. I’ll pass on the frozen lake, but I would try to do the sauna the “right” way. We were going for a local experience, and this is exactly what you get with the Ely Steam Bath.

Picture of lava lamp and stack of towels
Grab a towel and a bar of soap and experience this 100 year old local Steam Bath.

It felt like walking into a living room straight from 1970. Dark, a fish tank that was empty, a lava lamp, a huge bearskin on the wall, and an orange and white flowered couch. We were greeted by a guy maybe in his late 30s, paid the small entrance fee, grabbed a bar of soap and a towel, and headed down to the women’s public sauna. We showered, sauna’d, showered, sauna’d. And honestly, my face never felt so radiant and refreshed when we were ready to leave. My whole body felt PERFECT. Extra Feature: Locals may or may not wear clothes, so again this is truly an authentic experience. You’ve been told.

International Wolf Center.

This was a quick pop in to learn something about the wolf population and see one up close. It only took about an hour or two to do the short meander through the center. It was very interesting and crazy to see a wolf up so close. Lesson learned- they are more massive creatures than I thought & cute too. Thankful for large planes of glass & for facilities like this to learn about animals. If we can’t see animals, we generally won’t learn to respect them.

Picture of a White Wolf

Pebble Spa.

Since dogsledding seemed like it was going to be both physically and mentally stimulating, I thought – what is the exact opposite of that? *googles “spa in Ely”*. Alas, Pebble Spa with it’s very nice staff and a fully loaded menu of spa selections – and the cutest little store in the front to shop at. We ended up doing their sampling menu to get a little bit of everything, but we all agreed that we definitely could have spent more time here being blissed out.

I must mention too that based solely on my own experience of that times that I’ve traveled to Minnesota, the people are SO. NICE. When they tell you otherwise somewhat lackluster phrases like, “have a nice day” – I truly feel like they mean it.

My favorite question of all when discussing this trip was “where did you find THIS at?!” The answer – it’s just what I dooooo. I think up the most random awesome looking stuff and the best people to do it with. Trips where the purpose to experience something painfully specific (I.e. dogsledding) leave a much deeper mark than going somewhere for a social media picture. I’ll admit that I do spend a lot of time thinking and planning these types of trips, but the real of it is that we don’t know what ANY of it is like by thinking of it. We know what it’s like by trying it.

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