Ely, Nevada is an attraction-packed mountain town along the Loneliest Road in America. What began as a Pony Express outpost and 1900s copper mining center, Ely is now home to loads of art, historical sites, and outdoor recreation galore. With its scenic railway, walkable mural tours, and close proximity to a number of parks—including Great Basin National Park—Ely, Nevada is an ideal HQ for exploring this part of the state.
Four Seasons, Infinite Adventures
Ely Nevada is one of those towns that truly offers something for every kind of visitor. History buffs go bonkers for the area’s Wild West and mining-era history, seasonally accessible ghost towns, and frozen-in-time museums. Art lovers adore ogling murals and perusing the local gallery. While outdoor recreationalists flock here for its exploding mountain biking scene, fishing and hunting hotspots, and easy access to unique parks—especially Great Basin National Park.
History of Ely, Nevada
Ely Nevada kicked things off with copper strike in the 1900s, which steamed up into a veritable boom with the creation of the Nevada Northern Railway (NNR). While you can’t just show up to the area’s remaining, still-operational copper mine you can still explore the NNR’s sprawling, still-working railyard. Tour 70 original buildings and structures—including a shop housing thousands of tools—while you check out 14 diesel and steam locomotives and dozens more pieces of rolling stock, some of which you can ride or even operate yourself.
For a deeper dive into the region’s history, visit White Pine Public Museum, which highlights America’s first coast-to-coast highway (the Lincoln Highway, now US-50), the Pony Express Route, American Indian art, and more with numerous artifact-packed displays. Or step into the past yourself at the McGill Drugstore Museum, located 15 minutes north, where a time capsule-esque small-town business looks exactly the same as it did when it closed four decades ago.
If you have a suitable vehicle (and you’re acquainted with Nevada’s Dirt Road Code), Ely is also close to some of Nevada’s most relic-replete ghost towns—Belmont Mill, Cherry Creek, and Hamilton—where the remains of mining operations mesmerize and conjure up both images and questions about Nevada’s unique mining-era history.
Before you hit the yard, though, be sure to swing through the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum, the rightful starting point to experiencing this property. This historic railway office invites you to pore over equipment, documents, and other artifacts that sit just as they were left more than 80 years ago, along with historic photos and other NNR ephemera.
As Ely continued to grow, so too did its cultural richness, as people immigrated here from all over the world. The “melting pot” nature of Ely’s heyday is proudly on display at Renaissance Village, a “neighborhood” of small historic cabins, each done up differently to showcase what homelife looked like for Ely residents from various ethnic backgrounds, including English, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Slavic, and more.
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Things to Do in Ely Nevada
Amateur rockhounds should head for Garnet Hill, a Weird Nevada wonder where gemstones can be found sitting on the ground above a dormant volcano, especially when a recent rain unearths new caches. If you’d rather pick up an already polished one, or peruse plenty of other gems and jewelry, get yourself to Garnet Mercantile, located in the heart of downtown Ely.
Art aficionados owe it to themselves to take the self-guided, downloadable, audio-accompanied, 29-stop walking tour of Ely’s murals, sculptures, and other public art—all of which pay homage to the historical achievements and cultural diversity of the people who made this town what it is today. The Ely Art Bank is a treasure trove of paintings, sculptures, and photos, including many with Ely and White Pine County as their subject.
History buffs—and really, everyone—should visit the aforementioned East Ely Railroad Depot Museum, as well as the Nevada Northern Railway, which offers scenic railway trips, seasonal themed trains, and the opportunity for true railfans to “Be The Engineer” and operate an original steam locomotive themselves. Meanwhile, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park offers interpretive trails around the beautiful grounds, including to several huge, beehive-shaped, mining-era kilns that served the region’s mines and occasionally moonlighted as hideouts for bandits and highwaymen.
Mountain bikers have their choice of epic rides in Ely. Dozens of miles of trails beckon riders right from downtown or a short drive away, ranging from perfectly groomed singletrack, old mining routes, all-day ridge rides, and serious long-bomb downhills at Ward Mountain Recreation Area, Cave Lake State Park, and more. If you prefer cruising on four wheels, check out the Success Loop Scenic Drive—a vista-packed, aspen-lined dirt road that rises from Cave Lake—or the more challenging interconnected OHV trails that make up the Ward Mountain Adventure Loop.
And then there’s Great Basin National Park. Located just over an hour east, this natural wonderland is home to 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines—the world’s oldest trees—dotting the slopes of 13,065’ Wheeler Peak, as well as stunning formations line the walls of Lehman Caves. Whether you spend your time hiking, fishing pristine backcountry streams, or scoping out thousands of stars in some of the nation’s darkest skies, Ely makes a perfect base camp for exploring this lesser-visited park.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Ely’s a great place to be hungry. Some of our favorite Ely restaurants? Racks Bar & Grill for beers and bar bites, including one of our favorite chorizo burgers in the whole state. The Jailhouse Casino’s Cellblock Steakhouse for fine meals served in your own private “cell.” Economy Drug & Old Fashioned Soda Fountain for malts, sandwiches, and tons of 1950s ambiance. Evah’s Steakhouse (located inside the Copper Queen) for hearty, upscale dinner fare. And The Cup for coffee and fresh breakfast classics.
If you make it to McGill, stop into the McGill Club to clink cold ones in classic Sagebrush Saloon ambiance. And if you venture south toward Wayne E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area—where fishing, camping, and warm spring soaks abound—stop into the Whipple Family Country Store for a “Whipple Whopper” with a side of hot, crispy piccadillys dipped in homemade fry sauce.
Ely Nevada Hotels & Lodging
The star of the show here is Ely’s historic Hotel Nevada & Gambling Hall, a neon-buzzing, kitsch-tastically decked-out property with modern rooms and larger suites themed after famous guests from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Prospector Hotel & Gambling Hall offers fun, Wild Western ambiance on the casino floor, plus a year-round heated pool and hot tub to cap off an action-packed day. The Jailhouse Motel & Casino and the Bristlecone Motel are two other comfortable classics, while Holiday Inn Express & Suites and La Quinta Inn & Suites promise familiar amenities and experiences.
For something completely different, the Nevada Northern Railway offers one of our favorite Uncommon Overnighter options, allowing visitors to stay the night in an old caboose or in private rooms inside the refurbished “bunkhouse” or caboose, parked right in the original rail yard. And for the home-is-where-you-park-it crowd, pull-thru spots with all the extras await at KOA of Ely, while Cave Lake State Park, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, and Great Basin National Park all offer serviced campgrounds.
Events in Ely Nevada
The town of Ely Nevada goes all out with some pretty interesting and exciting annual events, starting with January’s Fire & Ice Winter Festival, where ice sculpting competitions, ice fishing, and daytime parties conclude with fireworks launched from a moving steam train and the burning of wooden art sculptures.
Living up to its role as a modern-day mountain bike mecca, Ely hosts the Fears Tears & Beers Mountain Enduro Race, the oldest race of its kind in the entire nation, founded in 2004 and flocked to by pro and amateur riders from all over the country. As well as Race the Rails, where cyclists attempt to get up the canyon west of town before an NNR steam locomotive pulling train cars packed with cheering fans.
Families are fond of the NNR’s many annual themed train rides—including Santa’s Reindeer Flyer, the Haunted Ghost Train, the Wild West Limited (complete with bandits), and a number of stargazing trains (some with complimentary champagne). The recently-created Ely Film, Art & Music Festival showcases modern and classic films around town, including at the historic, Art Deco-adorned, 1930s-era Central Theater.
Adrenaline enthusiasts can take their pick of the White Pine County Fair & Horse Races, and the Silver State Classic Challenge—the latter of which is an open-road race where any driver can burn rubber down a 90-mile stretch of State Route 318 as fast as their vehicle will carry them.
New to the scene in 2022 is the Schellraiser Music Festival, a 4-day fest bringing tons of revelers to McGill to camp, glamp, and rock out to 31 nationally touring bands in a beautiful setting—all helping to fund restoration of McGill’s historic sites and the ongoing development of the Nevada Northern Railway.
Whether you’re riding the rails or tackling trails on your Ely-vated adventure, be sure to tag your snaps with #TravelNevada so we can share your trip inspo with other travelers.