Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

USA

Ely, Nevada: The New Riding Boom Town

As trail development picks up, a sleepy stopover town comes alive

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

On my first call with the folks from Ely, Nevada, to talk about bringing our bike-test project to their high-desert trails, I pronounced Ely (properly said: Eel-ee) “Eli.” My mispronunciation was a dead giveaway; I was a Nevada neophyte. Admittedly, I knew nothing of the small town, located at the convergence of Highways 50 and 93 in an otherwise-desolate part of a pretty desolate state, before we traveled there last fall for the Beta Tests. But, many longtime riders will recognize Ely as the home of the Tears, Fears and Beers Enduro race, dubbed the oldest enduro race in the country. TFB is held each year on the trails directly above town, culminating in a 2.2-mile downhill run that screams 1,600 feet down from the peak above town in a jumble of slow-speed tech, straight-line chutes and ledgy rock drops, to nearly the doorstep of an operating brothel, for which the trail is named.

Like many former boom towns, Ely is in the midst of a transformation from railway and resource extraction-driven economies to being more reliant on recreation. The railway is now mainly a tourist attraction, the steam trains whistling through town are a constant reminder of Ely’s past, while an active copper mine sits above town, bridging the past and present. At the same time, trucks with bikes slung over the tailgates cruise through town and cars with hitch racks sit at trailhead parking lots, as Ely’s riding reputation rises. And it’s experiencing a boom of another kind these days, with trailbuilding projects on nearby Ward Mountain, where the likes of Powderberry Divide and Ice Plant boast long, fast descents on hardpack singletrack. The tech ticks up a notch out on the Cave Lake trails east of Ely, as do the views, with 10,000-foot peaks every direction the eye can see on the climb up Twisted Pines to High Roller. Places like Ely represent the next frontier of riding. Like Fruita or St. George 10, 15 years ago, the town is still behind the trails—it doesn’t have the craft brewery, the health food store or the café serving frothy caffeinated drinks just yet—but the riding already speaks for itself, and it’s only a matter of time for the rest to come along.

Scroll down for a sampling of the goods.

 

Welcome to Battle Born big country.
For mountain bikers, Ely’s main strip through Highway 50 used to be nothing more than a break in the Nevada desolation on the road trip between Lake Tahoe and Utah or Colorado. These days, more riders are stopping over to ride, not just to fill up or gamble away their last dollars before hitting the state line.
Near the top of Ward Mountain, home to one of Ely’s best trail networks.
Ryan Cleek finds glory at Cave Lake State Park.
Leah Lind-White gets a taste of the Tears, Fears and Beers enduro course on the loose jank above town.
Ely, viewed from—where else—singletrack.
Ely’s mining history very much overlaps its present. The train station and railway museum are a worthy post-ride stop for an immersive take on the town’s story.
Miners still meander along Main Street, but these days much of the digging outside of town is being done by a different crowd.
The loop at Cave Lake was a favorite among our crew; miles of flowing singletrack with just enough spice to keep us on our toes. Lind-White leads the way.
Brian Cahal on one of the playful, undulating trails near the bottom of the Ward Mountain network.
Nevada is one of the most mountainous states in the country, and one with a propensity for making you feel small.
Pre-Powderberry Divide…
…Mid-Powderberry Divide. This one is a must-ride if you find yourself in Ely; a cascade of corners down Ward Mountain that marries Ely’s rawness with a purpose-built mountain bike trail.
It’s simple, really. Ride+smile=success.
Dig into all of The Beta Test reviews from Ely HERE.

Photos by Anthony Smith.