For a town with less than 5,000 residents, Ely, Nevada has a lot to offer visitors whether you’re looking to explore the stunning landscape or want to take a step back in time to experience its rich history. It’s located just over 200 miles north of Las Vegas in White Pine County. If you thought this area was a desolate desert, you’re in for a big surprise.
A Brief History of Ely
As you may expect, the history of the town is intertwined with the area’s mining boom. However, the great gold rushes of the 1800s didn’t play out in Ely. At the time, it was merely a stop on the Pony Express called Murry Creek Station. Its claim to fame came later with the discovery of copper in 1906. It was the most productive copper operation in Nevada’s history. The discovery of gold often led to the mining of other precious metals. Ely followed a different path.
Copper mining eventually paved the way for gold. Ely relied on both through the various boom-and-bust cycles. The good times attracted more miners to the area, and the town thrived. When the bottom dropped out on copper, gold sustained Ely. Mining still plays an integral role with copper regaining its status. But another source of wealth has put Ely on the map, namely, tourism.
Attractions in Ely
The many things to do Ely, Nevada go well beyond mining and its legacy, though there is plenty of sites to keep the history buff happy. You’ll also find a myriad of attractions, both natural and historical. There are a plethora of outdoor recreation opportunities too. No matter what your interest, you’ll find something sure to take your breath away.
Natural Sites to Visit
The first thing you’ll notice as you travel to Ely, Nevada is its spectacular landscape. Great Basin National Park is located about an hour south of the town. The basin part of its name is apropos given the fact that water from the nearby Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains doesn’t drain to the ocean, but rather, inward. You’ll find stunning examples of its unique geology with the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the second tallest in the state
Other things to see include the Lehman Caves, the Baker Archeological Site, and Pictograph Cave. There are several hiking trails from self-guided tours of the park to the must-see Bristlecone and Glacier Trail where you’ll find the oldest living organisms in the world.
You can also try your luck at finding a gem at Garnet Hill. You can take in the sites such as the six-story Lexington Arch or the Hercules Gap, a limestone slot canyon on Highway 490. If you’d like to get on the water, be sure and visit Stella, Ruby, and Comins Lakes.
Ely offers opportunities to immerse yourself in the area’s history, both recent and ancient. A must-see for the former is the Nevada Northern Railway Complex. It began its life with the early 20th-century copper mining industry. The museum is a hands-on experience. In addition to its artifacts and exhibits, you can take a ride on a vintage locomotive.
They have several specialty trains and tours including the Rockin’ & Rollin’ Geology Train, Wild West Limited, Haunted Ghost Trains, and the Polar Express. If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, book a passage on the Taste of Italy Dinner Train. You can even spend a week learning how the railroad works with classes on train operation and a chance to operate a diesel locomotive.
The White Pine Public Museum has a collection of exhibits that highlight the area’s past including a cell from the old Ely City Jail, original one-room schoolhouse, and a model of the 12,000-year-old Cave Bears. You should also plan a visit to the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park. This site features smelters that were used for melting ores from 1876 through 1879. The grounds include places to hike and picnic to make it an all-day excursion.
Of course, no trip to the West would be complete without a visit to a legendary ghost town. There are 27 sites within the county, several within a short driving distance of Ely. You’ll find remnants of these old settlements that the residents abandoned once the gold or other ores ran out. Prepare yourself for an eerie experience walking through these once-thriving places.
You find many choices for fishing for largemouth bass, walleye, or northern pike. If you prefer fly fishing, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to reel in some brown or rainbow trout. There are hunting opportunities abound for big game, waterfowl, and upland game. Mountain bikers can get in the act too with 17 miles of networked trails to explore.
There are several golf courses in the surrounding area to get a round or two. But if you really want to experience something out of this world, be sure and take in some stargazing at the Great Basin National Park’s Astronomy Festival in September. With its great air quality, the site offers some of the best viewing conditions you’ll find. Park staff will supply the telescopes and knowledge while you take in the sights.
If you’re planning a winter trip, check out Ward Mountain Recreation Area for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The site has both groomed and ungroomed trails. If you like ice skating, be sure to visit the public skating rink at Cave Lake State Park. No matter what the season, you’ll find plenty to do in Ely.
And any trip to Nevada must include a visit to a casino. Ely has you covered. You’ll find several places to try your luck with most open 24 hours. They include the Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall, Jailhouse Motel & Casino, Prospector Hotel and Casino, and the Ramada Inn and Copper Queen Casino.
Events in Ely
Ely has events going on year-round if you want to plan your trip with one in mind. During the winter, there is the Fire & Ice Festival with its snow and ice sculpture competition. Or how about viewing the fireworks from a steam train during the Fireworks Express? Spring features the Bristlecone Bowmen Golf Tournament where you “golf” with arrows instead of clubs.
Mountain bikers won’t want to miss the summer Fears, Tears, and Beers festival in June. Take to the water with the annual Great Bathtub Boat Races at Cave Lake. For something more relaxing, plan a July visit for the Art/Wine Walk at Ely Renaissance Village. If classic cars are your thing, be sure to visit the White Pine Rodders’ Car Show. Country music fans should mark their calendars now for the August Johnny Cash Tribute.
And how many times can you say you’ve tried to get rid of a curse on a golf course? The Scary Scramble Golf Tournament in October is your chance to fight it out with a host of vampires, werewolves, and other scary creatures of the night. If there’s anything you can say about Ely, it’s that it makes it fun the year-round.
Accommodations in Ely
Have we peaked your interest about all the things to do here? Your next question is probably where to stay in Ely, Nevada. You won’t find any shortage of places when it comes to booking your trip. There are a few bed and breakfast inns in Ely and the nearby area such as the Hidden Canyon Guest Ranch and Resort or Gateway Accommodations.
You’ll find some national chain hotels including the La Quinta Inn and Suites and Ramada Inn. But for an authentic experience, seek out one of the locally run motels like the Jailhouse Motel and Casino or Bristlecone Motel.
If you prefer some on the wild side, there are plenty of RV parks and campgrounds as well as the national and state sites too. But if you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, make reservations to stay at a historic caboose or the bunkhouse at the Nevada Northern Railway Complex.
Planning Your Visit to Ely
Ely, Nevada weather is typical for this part of the country with hot, dry summers and cold winters of the high desert climate. Summer highs range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit with temps down to 45 degrees at night. Winter days are around 30 to 50 degrees with some nights below zero.
On the plus side, sunny days are the norm with less than 30 percent of them overcast on average. Stay alert for changing weather conditions if you plan any outdoor activities. Autumn storms can appear suddenly, and many roads and trails become inaccessible during the winter months.
Ely, Nevada is the kind of place you can visit again and again and always find something new to see or do. You’ll find it easy to understand why people flock to this hidden gem once you’ve experienced its beauty. If you’re looking for the ultimate in relaxation and solitude, this is the place you need to see.