With the advent of cyanide heap leaching -- a method of extracting gold from what was previously considered very low grade ore -- the next boom was on. Many companies processed the massive piles of "overburden" that had been removed from copper mines, or expanded the existing open-pit mines to extract the gold ore. Gold mines as widespread as the Robinson project near Ruth, and AmSelco's Alligator Ridge mine 65 miles from Ely, kept the town alive during the 1980s and 1990s, until the recent revival of copper mining.
As Kennecott's smelter was demolished, copper concentrate from the mine is now shipped by rail to Seattle, where it is transported to Japan for smelting. The dramatic increase in demand for copper in 2005 has once again made Ely a copper boom town.
The now defunct BHP Nevada Railroad ran from the mining district south of Ruth through Ely to the junction with the Union Pacific at Shafter from 1996 until 1999.
Nearby is Great Basin National Park.
Ely is the nearest town to the proposed site of the Clock of the Long Now on Mount Washington.
The historic, six-story Hotel Nevada. is located in downtown Ely. Opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in Nevada well into the 1940s and was the state's first fire-proof building. It is a popular lodging, dining, gaming and tourist stop.
The long stretch of road on State Route 318 near Ely is known for the annual 90 miles Silver State Classic Challenge course, an authorised time trial Cannonball Run-style race that attracts entries from all over the world.
The Ely Renaissance Society has financed more than twenty outdoor murals and sculptures in the downtown area. Artists from all over the world have been commissioned to create images of area history, using different art styles. The Ely Renaissance Society also maintains a historical village consisting of a general store and several shot gun houses which display the history of the ethnic groups that came to the area to work for the railroad and the mine.
The Bureau of Land Management, part of the United States Department of the Interior, operates an area supporting an elk herd south of town. The Ely Elk Viewing Area offers visitors the opportunity to see an elk community up close.
Actress Cher is rumored to have been born in Ely, however such reports have proven insubstantial.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.1 square miles (18.5 km²), all of it land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,041 people, 1,727 households, and 1,065 families residing in the city. The population density was 566.8 people per square mile (218.8/km²). There were 2,205 housing units at an average density of 309.3/sq mi (119.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.14% White, 0.32% African American, 3.12% Native American, 1.09% Asian, 0.35% Pacific Islander, 3.71% from other races, and 2.28% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.35% of the population.
There were 1,727 households out of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.4% were married couples living together, 10.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.3% were non-families. 33.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.7% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 27.0% from 45 to 64, and 17.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 98.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $36,408, and the median income for a family was $42,168. Males had a median income of $36,016 versus $26,597 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,013. About 11.3% of families and 12.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.0% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those age 65 or over.
Major roads include: