The first thing you notice as you approach Leadville from either the north or the south on Highway 24 is the two enormous silhouettes of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive—the state’s two tallest fourteeners—prominently visible from any angle. That goes for the view from town, too, as you stroll Harrison Avenue, Leadville’s main throughway, lined with pastel and brick storefronts built during Colorado’s Silver Boom in the late 19th century. Over the last 30 years, however, Leadville’s become better known as a destination for endurance sports junkies, thanks to the Leadville Trail 100 Run—a hundred mile race that tackles some of the state’s most rugged high-altitude terrain—and its spin-off mountain biking and trail running series, which draw crowds of svelte ultra-runners and cyclists each summer. The byproduct makes for a quaint, walkable few blocks of shops, museums, and eateries, and a plethora of natural amenities to explore—all at 10,200 feet.
Odometer: 101 miles (about 2 hours), one-way
History & Culture
Leadville’s National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum anchors the top of Harrison Avenue as you enter downtown, and holds a trove of local history perfect for exploring on a rainy day. If the sun is shining, though, be sure to hop aboard the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, for two-and-a-half hour scenic rides along the lines that used to connect Denver to the town throughout the summer (tickets start at $41 per adult). At the tail end of Harrison Avenue, you’ll spot the Tabor Opera House, a high-society relic of the Victorian era which recently secured funds for a major renovation and restoration (set to begin later this year and into 2020), and still hosts Colorado entertainers like Hazel Miller during its summer concert season.
For such a small town, there’s almost too many options to choose from to explore the vast National Forest surrounding Leadville. In the winter, there’s Ski Cooper, which celebrated 75 years in 2017 and was the former training ground of the original 10th Mountain Division troops. The area also offers cross-country skiing at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, or (for free!) throughout the web of snow-covered roads around Turquoise Lake that close to traffic each winter. In the summer, you can bag the state’s two highest peaks (Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive at 14,433 and 14,421 feet, respectively), or use Leadville as your home base while you tick off any one (or more) of the 13 other fourteeners in the Sawatch Range within an hour’s drive. Then there’s the trail running and mountain biking scene, which reaches its crescendo in August when the Leadville Trail 100 Run brings thousands of runners, sponsors, and spectators to the area. For information on day hiking, backpacking, or camping, be sure to stop by the Leadville Ranger Station on your way through town.
Eat & Drink
Start your morning at City on a Hill, a buzzy joint with a mint green storefront in the midst of downtown that roasts its own coffee beans and serves ready-made breakfast and lunch sandwiches all day. For lunch and dinner, locals will point you in the direction of High Mountain Pies—just off Harrison Avenue—a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria where you can carb-load before hitting the trail. Post-hike (or bike) pints at Periodic Brewing are a must, although be sure to plan a stopover at the unmistakable Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, a dive-y ode to the town’s eclectic past, which boasts the same ornate bar where an unlikely mix of early locals like Doc Holiday, Oscar Wilde, and the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown used to drink. If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, make a reservation at Treeline Kitchen, Leadville’s newest (and only gourmet) eatery, where you can sip seasonal cocktails on one of the state’s most dramatic rooftop patios.
If you’re going to Leadville, you have to stop in Melanzana. Known for their (often sold-out) micro-grid fleece scuba hoodies, the coolest thing about Melanzana is that the small retail area is dwarfed by the expansive factory behind the counter, where you can watch a fleet of locals sew the products that end up on the shop floor. For one-of-a-kind fringed leather jackets from the ’90s or vintage one-piece ski suits, head across the street to the Mule Kick and peruse the racks of bargain-priced consignment clothes and accessories. And for prints of Mt. Elbert, paintings by local artists, and colorful custom gifts for friends and family, Harperrose Studios Gallery & Goods is a must.
The Delaware Hotel (room rates starting at $129 per night) is a stately brick bygone of Leadville’s days as a bustling mining metropolis—although, it’s rumored to have a few ghostly guests who never checked out. The Tennessee Pass Sleep Yurts (located at the base of Ski Cooper just 15 minutes north of town) sleep up to six people, and offer a more intimate backcountry experience among the pines—with the added bonuses of having all your gear schlepped to the hut by snowmobile or ATV and in-yurt room service ($240 per yurt, open every day in the winter, and Thursday through Sunday in the summer).
If You Do One Thing
Climb Mt. Elbert. At 14,433 feet, the state’s highest peak has two Class 1 approaches (aka the “easiest” fourteener approach—although hiking and outdoor knowledge is a must), both of which clock in at 10 miles round-trip or just under. You can also knock off the state’s second tallest peak, Mt. Massive, located just to Elbert’s north, which has three Class 2 routes (the Southwest Slopes option being the shortest, at 7.25 miles round-trip). Although if you prefer peak peeking to peak bagging, spend a day at Turquoise Lake, which has a long, sandy beach and plenty of camping and picnic areas for you to savor the (jaw-dropping) view of both mountains.