Ely is located in White Pine County, of which it is the county seat, west of the Utah state line between Baker and Eureka along US Highway 50 near the Humboldt National Forest in the Central Region of the state.
The surrounding mountain ranges provide hunting and trout fishing.
Ely was named in honor of Smith Ely, president of the Selby Copper Mining & Smelting Co., which was founded on the site of the present Ely's City Hall in 1878. By 1902 extensive copper deposits were found in the area. Ely continues to be a center for mining as well as ranching and recreation.
The population estimate for July 1, 1998 was 4,534, a decrease of 222 since 1990.