Colorado’s Highest City Has History, Natural Beauty, and Something Called ‘Ski Joring’

Explore this charming former mining town’s history and beauty.

Courtesy of Visit Leadville-Twin Lakes Tourism Panel
Courtesy of Visit Leadville-Twin Lakes Tourism Panel
Welcome to Two Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

While many of its mountainous neighbors are more familiar, Leadville is a weekend trip not to be overlooked. This former mining town may be small, but Leadville is full of history, fun, and pristine Centennial State beauty, with the charming Twin Lakes as its neighbor and a generally easy drive southwest of Denver. Officially incorporated in 1878 with just a few hundred residents, Leadville’s population soared to roughly 30,000 people (about the same size as Denver) before eventually settling to a modest 2,600 people in the present day. At an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the state and one of the highest in the country, boasting a variety of museums, outdoor recreation, and local shops and restaurants that make it worth the drive whether you’re staying for a long weekend or just day-tripping. Here’s your guide to spending time in Leadville and making the most of it.

Travel time:

From Denver: 1 hour, 45 minutes
From Cheyenne, WY: 3 hours, 15 minutes
From Moab, UT: 4 hours, 30 minutes

If you don’t do anything else: Visit the Silver Dollar Saloon and Twin Lakes

One of Leadville’s more well-known draws is The Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, which has been in operation since 1879 and is Colorado’s oldest-operating saloon. Many features of the building are original pieces, from the visibility-impeding windbreak at the front exterior to two train-seats-turned-bar-booths, and photos from throughout the saloon’s history cover the walls. Said photos depict some of the saloon’s many visitors, which include noteworthy names like Doc Holiday, Oscar Wilde, and Colorado’s own Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Photo by Diana Lange, Courtesy of Visit Leadville-Twin Lakes Tourism Panel

Fill your days:

Museums and history in Leadville

Because Leadville exists simultaneously in the present and the Old West, it makes a great destination for anyone interested in history—particularly US and mining history. Naturally, the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum is top of the list, displaying almost 70 exhibits and relaying the stories of more than 250 prominent men and women in mining history. Explore some of Leadville’s (and Colorado’s) oldest buildings and learn about their lived-in history at the Tabor Home (home of Horace Tabor, founder of the Tabor Opera House), the Dexter Cabin and Healy House Museum, or the Heritage Museum. Or, take a historic walking tour and get a well-rounded history of Leadville from multiple viewpoints. Those interested particularly in Leadville’s mining history can take guided mine tours—like the Matchless Mine or Hopemore Underground Mine tour—to get a firsthand look into what mining life was like back in the late 1800s.

Hiking and outdoor activity around Leadville

Being nestled at the base of Colorado’s two highest mountain peaks, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, Leadville certainly has bragging rights when it comes to hiking trails. If you’re not quite feeling the haul of a 14er, rest assured there’s a scenic trail waiting that’s perfect for your activity level. The Mineral Belt Trail is an 11.6-mile paved trail that’s open to adventurers year-round, offering views of the Sawatch mountains, old silver mines, and in the winter, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking. Alternately, the Timberline Trail is a manageable 2.2 miles and quieter than the Mineral Belt, open to foot traffic only; arrive at the picturesque Timberline Lake and break for water, snacks, or just to rest your feet before heading back out. Looking for a comfortable middle? Turquoise Lake Trail runs parallel to the shores of Turquoise Lake and even has its own dedicated nature trail guide. And for those really looking to put their endurance to the test, the long stretches of the Continental Divide Trail or Colorado Trail mean business—make sure you’re fully equipped, physically prepared, and have memorized your backpack resupply locations.

Annual Events and Festivals in Leadville

Leadville is known quite well for a few eccentric—but dearly beloved—yearly celebrations. In late winter, Leadville is flooded with attendees and spectators for its Skijoring, celebrated annually since 1949 and part of the town’s annual Crystal Carnival. Skijoring is a timed obstacle course competition where teams are made up of a single skier being pulled by a horse and rider over jumps, through rings, and other hurdles constructed within the streets of Leadville. Temps are low but adrenaline is high as onlookers root for their friends, neighbors, or randomly chosen favorites to win.

Perhaps the most notable Leadville celebration is the Leadville Boom Days, a weekend-long celebration of the Old West, complete with contests, gunslingers, and burro (donkey) racing, plus all the food and craft vendors you could ask for. Team up with a burro and the necessary mining supplies—including a pick and a gold pan—and pay homage to the miners of the Old West rushing for gold.

Courtesy of Visit Leadville-Twin Lakes Tourism Panel

Eat, drink, and sleep:

Restaurants and bars in Leadville

Though small, Leadville has a surprising amount of shops, restaurants, and bars along its main strip, Harrison Ave. Get your caffeine buzz from Zero Day Coffee (where you can also purchase mountain gear), followed by lunch at the Mountain Goat, a trailer serving up juicy burgers and homemade soups, or at High Mountain Pies, where you’ll find some of the best slices across the Rockies. Grab dinner at Treeline Kitchen for some green chile Colorado corn bread, blackened cod, or BBQ pork and beans. For a celebratory post-14er beer, check out Two Mile Brewing Co.

Where to stay in Leadville

There are plentiful private accommodation options around the Leadville/Twin Lakes area, from those that offer the classic, rustic, Old-West feel to the more urban, artsy, and eclectic rentals, including an array of tiny homes that line a side street in Leadville, overlooking some impressive views of Mt. Massive to the west. For a more formal stay, there is the old-time opulence (and partially renovated) Historic Delaware Hotel as well as the quaint, boutique lodging of the Majestic.

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Erica Buehler is a Thrillist contributor.