Ely, Nevada: A Glimpse into the Past

Ride a steam train, tuck into an ice cream soda, and tour underground wonders in remote Ely, Nevada.

two steam train engines at the East Ely train depot at night, image
Two locomotives stop at the East Ely train depot at night.
Courtesy Mike Massee

Called one of the remotest places in the lower 48—“We’re 250 miles from anywhere,” says local publisher Lorraine Clark—this eastern Nevada outpost delivers starry skies, old-fashioned trains, and a glimpse of a rambunctious past.

Prowl the yard and ride a 1909 or 1910 steam locomotive at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Some trips have themes, such as Rockin’ & Rollin’ Geology or Wild West Limited. Enthusiasts can sleep overnight in a caboose.

Renaissance Village is a restored cluster of century-old “kit homes” that reflects Ely’s slogan: where the world met and became one. These tiny houses sheltered workers who came from around the world to build railroads and work in the mines.

At the McGill Historical Drugstore Museum, take a private tour down aisles of shelves stocked with vintage hair spray for wigs, Doan’s Arthritis Formula, and Ipana toothpaste, just as they were when the store closed in 1976.

Throwback charm gleams inside the Economy Drug Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain, where virgin lime rickeys are freshly squeezed and ice cream sodas come in old-timey glasses.

You can view 30-foot-high, cone-shape ovens built in the 1870s by Italian stonemasons at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, 17 miles south of Ely off U.S. 93, then explore mountain bike and hiking trails.

Great Basin National Park, 67 miles to the southeast, showcases stands of bristlecone pine—one of the longestlived life-forms on earth—and ancient Lehman Caves. Enjoy tours of the underground wonders; at night check out the stargazing programs and take advantage of the area’s dark skies to view the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light-years away.