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First-Timer’s Guide: Leadville


Although other mountain towns offer more tourist-focused amenities, Leadville is a solid stopover for anyone planning to enjoy a nearby bike ride, hike, or camping trip. The onetime mining town maintains its historic ruggedness and authenticity, and today it’s populated with a collection of offbeat characters: hippies, bikers, cowboys, and other outdoor adventurers and ski town workers. (Bonus: If you happen to visit on Independence Day, the town puts on an unexpectedly spectacular fireworks show.)


The main drag downtown, Harrison Street, is a several-block stretch of restaurants, bars, galleries, and stores selling a quirky array of art, clothes, hats, and outdoor gear. The goods generally aren’t as overpriced as at some of Colorado’s more touristy towns, and there isn’t a chain store in sight. There’s also a small farmer’s market on Thursdays; the Silver Dollar Saloon is a divey-but-rustic place to grab a drink; the Tabor Opera House hosts music, comedians, and plays throughout the year; and the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum gives you a glimpse into the area’s long history of mineral extraction.



Leadville’s food options are somewhat limited (especially at breakfast). The eateries along and near the main drag are primarily pub food, Mexican, or pizza. Locals will likely point you toward the Grill, a family-owned New Mexican restaurant that will celebrate its golden anniversary in 2015. The Martinez clan serves its signature dish, sopapillas, in a variety of sweet and savory ways. Try the Roberto Especial—with shredded chicken, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, onions, and green chiles—and finish off the meal (if you have room; the portions are huge) with either fried ice cream or the deep-fried banana taco.


The outdoor options begin literally steps outside of town. The Leadville 100, of course, is the town’s signature event; the race itself is in August, but there are numerous running and biking tilts throughout the summer. As such, you’ll see cyclists wheeling in and out of town from every direction. Given that the accommodation options in town are…well, modest, you might want to consider camping, and the town’s website has a helpful selection of locations.

If you’re not a two-wheeler, the Leadville area sits amid a seemingly endless array of hikes. Beginners and above will enjoy the trek at Timberline Lake, which is located about 10 miles outside of town. It’s 2.2 miles of gentle climbs and rocky trails that culminate at a lovely water vista. (Note: the relatively rainy spring in 2014 means you should plan to bring bug spray and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.)


All in all, the Leadville area offers a no-frills getaway for those who want to explore some of Colorado’s most popular outdoor endeavors.

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