Nevada Northern Railway in Ely (2024)

Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nevada is a bucket-list destination for anyone who loves trains. It's also a great place for history lovers, star gazers and even cat lovers.

My family recently visited Nevada Northern Railway during a long weekend in Ely. We did a lot of fun things on this trip, but everyone in my family agrees that the Star Train was the favorite.

Taking a train ride and touring the engine house exceeded our expectations. We live near an old railroad hub, have done day trips on historic trains and have visited Golden Spike National Historical Park, so we didn't expect to be as wowed as we were. The Nevada Northern Railway experience is one of a kind.

Everything here is original, and much of it is over 100 years old. It's much bigger than other train sites we have visited. There are few other places where you can see and ride behind a real steam engine.

Here's what you can expect at Nevada Northern Railway, with my family's tips for making the most of your visit.

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Take a Tour

Nevada Northern Railway is a National Historic Landmark and “America's best preserved short-line railroad and most complete rail facility still in existence.”

Guided and self-guided tours of the buildings and yard are available on their own, or are included in the price of your ride. Eric took us on our tour, and he guides many of the regular tours. Our tour helped us to appreciate the importance of this site, and it added a lot to our visit.

If you're taking a train trip, be sure to save time for a tour before or after your ride.

Related: 10 Fun Things to Do in Ely, Nevada

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Meet Dirt

“Dirt” is the Railway's resident cat. He was born in the Engine House and has been the mascot for several years. Dirt wandered into our path early in our tour, and my kids were especially excited to meet him. He let them pet him and play with him like they play with our cat at home.

Dirt isn't trained to pose for photos, but he ended up in the center of our family photo. It was our lucky day!

The gift shop is filled with Dirt souvenirs. The Dirt mug design changes every so often, which makes it a collectible. After we met Dirt, we hurried back to buy the mug.

Related: One Day in Great Basin National Park

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Ride the Train

The most popular train tour is the 90-minute regular excursion. Most of these excursions travel to the historic Ruth mining district. Others travel to other scenic destinations nearby.

You can choose between the indoor and open-air cars and try both during your ride. There is a bathroom on board. Refreshments are typically sold, but this service was suspended during our visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some trains are held up by a band of “outlaws.” Look for tours with “Robbery” in the title to get this bit of Old West fun with your trip.

You are welcome to tour the Engine House and Main Yard at no additional cost after morning trips or before afternoon trips. Interpretive signs can be found throughout the grounds. Or, guided tours are available.

A variety of special trains run throughout the year, including the Star Train that we rode. Ghost Trains are popular during the Halloween Season and the Polar Express would be fun for families in December.

Related: 4 Fun Things to Do in Great Basin National Park

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Star Train

We specifically requested a ride on the Star Train when we learned that it was scheduled during our visit. The Star Train is a nighttime train tour led by “Dark” Rangers from Great Basin National Park. These rangers are experts in astronomy and we were educated and entertained as they guided us across the exceptionally dark night skies outside Ely.

This is a popular, family-friendly tour. We boarded the train at dusk and enjoyed colorful sunset views. Along the way, the rangers asked a series of trivia questions – with prizes. We don't know a lot about astronomy, but we are huge trivia nerds and were in it to win it.

After dark, our train reached the end of the line and the engine was transferred to the other end, which was an interesting process. Then we traveled back a short distance to a dark, open area where folding chairs had been set up on the ground. Normally, telescopes would also be set up, but they were not available during the pandemic.

The rangers showed us many constellations and told the Greek myths that go with them. It was fun and interesting, and we learned a lot of things that we had wanted to know about the night sky.

After the presentation, we returned to the train station in Ely and made the short drive back to our hotel by 11 PM.

Related: 15+ Places to Go Stargazing in Utah

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Hands-on History

Have you ever dreamed of driving a steam or diesel locomotive? Nevada Northern Railway offers “Be the Engineer” day trips as well as full-week experiences where you'll work in all areas of operation at the historic railroad.

Visit to learn about these opportunities.

Related: Tips for Visiting Golden Spike National Historical Park

Ways to Save

Nevada Northern Railway offers a variety of discounts and memberships, which are listed at These discounts apply only to regular excursion trains, not special or theme trains. They include:

  • Kids (age 0-12) ride free on regular summer excursion trains, Monday-Thursday
  • Kids age 0-4 always ride free
  • White Pine County residents with White Pine Pass save 10%
  • Active Military and veterans save 10%
  • AAA and AARP saves 10%
  • Upgrade to a four-day pass that includes all regular excursions for $20 per adult
  • Group discounts

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What to Wear

Dress for the weather. These historic trains are not air conditioned, so the train cars may be warm on a summer day. There is an open-air car – which we think is the best place to be for a scenic train ride – but you may want sun protection, a jacket or both to sit outside.

We brought jackets and hoodies on our Star Train trip and were glad we did. Nighttime temperatures drop a lot in Ely, and it can feel cold in the summer.

The Engine House and Main Yard are grimy inside and dusty outside. Wear sturdy shoes and clothes that can get a little dirty. My kids had sooty knees, feet and hands after they got on the ground to pet Dirt.

Related: Tips for Finding Garnets at Garnet Hill in Ely

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Where to Eat

Nevada Northern Railway does not have an on-site restaurant, but the All Aboard Cafe and Inn is located across the street. We ate dinner here and found that the portions were generous and the service was friendly. Stuffed burgers and fish-n-chips are the specialties.

There are picnic tables and a playground at Nevada Northern Railway, if you'd like to bring your own food.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the new Holiday Inn Express and Suites Ely, just a few blocks from the train station. It had an indoor swimming pool, complimentary breakfast and comfortable rooms. We enjoyed our stay.

You can actually stay at the train station in a converted caboose or bunkhouse. This would be a fun experience for any train enthusiast, and it's not overly expensive. However, each room has one queen or two twin beds, so it's probably not the best lodging option for the whole family. Learn more about overnight options at Nevada Northern Railway at

Click the button below to see rates and availability for Holiday Inn Express and other Ely hotels at

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Nevada Northern Railway isn't just another scenic train ride. It is an essential destination for train enthusiasts.

We are not train enthusiasts, but we are history lovers and we love to try new things – like star gazing. Nevada Northern Railway delivered a unique and authentic experience. It was well worth a weekend in Ely.

For more information about Nevada Northern Railway, visit the official website at

Disclosure: Nevada Northern Railway provided my family with a complimentary tour and ride on the Star Train for the purpose of review. Our stay at Holiday Inn Express was also complimentary. All opinions are my own.


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Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 14 and 17, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

Nevada Northern Railway in Ely (2024)


How long is the train ride in Ely, Nevada? ›

We offer 90-minute train rides up toward the historic Ruth Copper Mine, as well as a view into the history of what put this mining town on the map. Don't miss the included tour of the Engine House and yard after the train ride.

Can you drive a steam locomotive? ›

Yes, you can drive a steam locomotive. Sign on as a Nevada Northern Railway engineer for your own trip "Up the hill" through Robinson Canyon toward the old Ruth Mining District.

How long is the Northern Railway in Nevada? ›

The original Nevada Northern dates back to 1905 when it was created as part of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company to serve the many mines in the Ely area. What is this? The railroad was completed from Cobre, Nevada to Ely in September 1906, at a distance of nearly 140 miles.

What happened once the railroad reached Las Vegas? ›

And so the railroad laid out its town, established the Las Vegas Land and Water Company to manage it and the rest of its property including the ranch, and sold off the lots, mostly to real estate speculators from California, at the now famous auction.

How long is the Ghost train ride? ›

Ghost Train (Thorpe Park)
Ghost Train
Duration13–15 minutes
Height restriction130 cm (4 ft 3 in)
Wheelchair accessible
Must transfer from wheelchair
23 more rows

How long does the longest train ride take? ›

And the general conclusion people have come to? The planet's longest train trip would come to around 18,755 kilometres, take three weeks, travel through 13 countries and require at least seven different visas. Certain rules were taken into account.

Is there a toilet in a locomotive? ›

Old Locomotives doesn't have toilets. But nowadays newly manufactured locomotives are having. But these toilets can be used once the loco is in stand position. In the moving position, toilets get doesn't get open.

How many passengers can a steam train carry? ›

Typically 150 to 200 people. 1870s steam locomotives were still not very powerful compared to later Victorian and Edwardian trains. The fast express trains of 10 carriages or more of the 1920s and 1930s had not yet arrived.

Are steam locomotives hot to the touch? ›

All the metal parts of the engine are still far too hot to touch. Inside the boiler are tubes called “flues” which carry the hot gases from the fire through the boiler to heat the water to steam.

What is the history of Ely Nevada? ›

Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906 in McGill and Ruth. This made Ely a mining town, suffering through the boom-and-bust cycles so common in the west.

How big is the Northern Rail fleet? ›

There are 345 trains in our fleet.

What is the longest railroad in the US? ›

The California Zephyr® is the longest Amtrak® (3924 km) route, and one of the most beautiful railway routes in the world.

Why is there no Amtrak in Las Vegas? ›

At the time, Amtrak was in the midst of a serious struggle to survive and was cutting its budget wherever it could; the underused Las Vegas service wound up on the chopping block and never started up again.

What is the oldest running railroad in the United States? ›

Coal-powered trains worked the rails in the United States for 175 years, starting in the 1830's, and were an integral part of America's westward expansion and industrial revolution. The Strasburg Rail Road is the oldest operating railroad in the United States.

What popped up wherever the railroad went? ›

Ramshackle settlements popped up wherever the railroad went, turning into hotbeds of drinking, gambling, prostitution and violence and producing the enduring mythology of the “Wild West.”


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