Ely is home to abundant wildlife. On your drive up you might see a moose strolling along Highway 1. Just outside of town, eagles and ospreys nest in the trees, loons call to each other, residents do what they can to keep deer out of their gardens, and yes, you can often hear wolves howl at night. And best keep your pack of food stowed high enough in a tree to discourage bears from wandering into your campsite.

You might think it’s a reckless, adventurous sort who goes out looking for bears and wolves. But it's easy — and safe — to encounter wildlife here in Ely. With two world-class animal centers, Ely makes it easy to get close to some of North America’s most spectacular wildlife.

The North American Bear Center

Part museum, part educational facility, the North American Bear Center is dedicated to dispelling old myths about bears and educating the public on bear behavior, habitat and how they interact with humans.

It’s truly one of the treasures of our city. Exhibits include mounts of polar bears, black bears and over 35 other mammals and birds. One of these is a skeleton of a giant short-faced bear. Standing 6 feet at the shoulders and 12 feet on its hind legs, this extinct 1,500-pound bear could run as fast as 40 mph. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about these beasts rummaging through our camp at night!

If you want to see a kinder, gentler, modern cousin of the short-faced bear, there are four “ambassador bears” living in a 2.5-acre enclosure right behind the center. It’s common to see the bears swim, play, eat, talk bear and do the things bears do. One of them, Ted, is about as close to Gentle Ben as you can get. Only he's twice the size. Weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds, Ted is one of the largest black bears on record. Favorite treat: red grapes. He's so popular he even has his own bear cam, where you can watch him in all of his awesomeness.

The International Wolf Center

Long derided as fierce, blood-hungry predators, wolves might be the most misunderstood predator in North America, or for that matter, the world.

Dedicated to preserving wolf populations and habitats, as well as educating the public about these magnificent animals, the International Wolf Center is another of Ely’s world-renowned wildlife centers.

Like the bear ambassadors at the Bear Center, several wolf ambassadors live here as well. Seeing them roam in their enclosed area is a highlight for many visitors who end up sponsoring a wolf or peeking in on them by logging on to one of the Center’s nifty wolf cams.

Both of these centers showcase more than bears and wolves: They provide a panorama of the wildlife in northern Minnesota. More reasons why a visit to Ely is so much more than just a vacation