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Highlights of Minnesota's North Country

Northern Minnesota, a vast expanse of lakes, streams and woods that stretches along the Canadian border, offers a quiet respite from urban life.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

At the northeastern tip of Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness qualifies as a backpacker's paradise, where paddles and boots replace motors, campfires replace ovens, and loons provide the background music. Travelers paddle from lake to lake, portaging gear in between. Solo trips are common, but outfitters in getaway towns, including Ely, Crane Lake, Grand Marias and Tofte can provide able guides and supplies to orchestrate the trip. Sharp-eyed visitors spot moose, black bears and bald eagles (218/626-4300; www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/).

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

At the northeastern tip of Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness qualifies as a backpacker's paradise, where paddles and boots replace motors, campfires replace ovens, and loons provide the background music. Travelers paddle from lake to lake, portaging gear in between. Solo trips are common, but outfitters in getaway towns, including Ely, Crane Lake, Grand Marias and Tofte can provide able guides and supplies to orchestrate the trip. Sharp-eyed visitors spot moose, black bears and bald eagles (218/626-4300; www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/superior/).

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Voyageurs National Park

How do you get around a 218,000-acre national park that doesn't have any roads? The answer is the main reason people visit this park on the Canadian border: boats.

To explore Voyageurs' 30-some lakes (Rainy and Namekan are the biggest) and find the solitude this park is famous for, you need something that floats. Some folks spend a day on a guided walleye-fishing trip and stay at a resort in one of the shore towns of International Falls (population 5,900) or tiny Ranier (population 200). Others motor around on houseboats, watching for moose by day and anchoring at a different island each night for sunset and a campfire.

Pictured: Rainy Lake's numerous bays and islands provide plenty of private berths for houseboats and campers.

Rainy Lake, International Falls and Ranier Convention and Visitors Bureau

Kabetogama Lake Association and Tourism Bureau

Voyageurs National Park

North American Bear Center

Minnesota's largest known bear and several other big 'uns reside at the North American Bear Center in a forest setting in Ely. Observe the bears; also, explore myths and truths through interactive exhibits. Experience a bear's strength, study a bear skeleton, and watch videos of bears playing, digging a cave and hunting for food (877/365-7879; bear.org).

North American Bear Center

Hull Rust Mahoning Mine

The "Grand Canyon of the North" in Hibbing shows the scale of mining on the Mesabi Iron Range. At Hull Rust Mahoning Mine, visitors see what is billed as the biggest operating open pit iron ore mine in the world -- more than 3 miles long, 2 miles wide and 535 feet deep. A walking trail, observation building and mine exhibits round out the experience. Free (218/262-4166).

Hull Rust Mahoning Mine

International Wolf Center

This impressive interpretive center near Ely lets you watch the resident pack up close. Observation windows at the International Wolf Center allow you to look into a 1.25-acre enclosure that serves as the wolf pack's home. Because the wolves are accustomed to visitors, they often come up to the glass. The center also offers great programs (learn how to howl!) and learning vacations (218/365-4695; wolf.org).

International Wolf Center

Mesabi Trail

A rail-trail conversion through the Iron Range mountains, the paved Mesabi Trail starts at Grand Rapids and runs toward Ely through communities such as Keewatin, Hibbing, Chisholm, Mountain Iron and Virginia. When completed, it will connect more than 25 communities along 132 miles. It's designed for hiking and biking; some sections are open in the winter for snowmobiling. Check the website for the current status of trail construction and for a list of nearby activities (877/637-2241; mesabitrail.com/).

Mesabi Trail

Soudan Underground Mine State Park

The park, 20 miles southeast of Ely, offers two rare and fascinating tours: Underground Mine and the University of Minnesota's High Energy Physics Lab. Venture by elevator as you descend 2,341 feet below ground and then ride a battery-operated train to visit the Soudan Underground Mine, the first, deepest and richest iron-ore mine in Minnesota. The physics lab tour takes you to a football field-size cavity where high-energy experiments are conducted (218/753-2245; mndnr.gov/soudan).

Soudan Underground Mine State Park

Minnesota Discovery Center

This museum and cultural center celebrates Iron Range history and the heritage of its miners' home countries. Learn about taconite mining, hear stories of miners' working conditions and see a Depression-era shanty. The Iron Range History Players at the Minnesota Discovery Center give 20-minute interactive presentations on the history of northeastern Minnesota on summer Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Also in the summer, antique trolleys (left) circle the rim of Glen Mine, now a deep, spring-fed canyon (800/372-6437; mndiscoverycenter.com).

Minnesota Discovery Center

Dorothy Molter Museum

This little Ely attraction pays tribute to one of the area's legends: The Root Beer Lady. Dorothy was the last resident of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and was known for offering root beer and first aid to travelers (218/365-4451; rootbeerlady.com).

Dorothy Molter Museum

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