Leadville, Colorado is the epitome of a little town with big adventures. As the highest city in the U.S., this historic village boasts some epic views. Leadville is surrounded by mountains in every direction, making it one of the most scenic places in the entire country. Between its legendary history, cozy cafes, and outdoors adventures, Leadville won me over big time. Increasingly problematic issues with my car forced me to halt in Leadville at the start of my road trip. Luckily, I had an adventurous friend who had no qualms about showing me around and offered a post-adventure couch to crash on.
I loved Leadville so much that I ended up staying for another week on my loop back east. Colorado proved to be difficult to leave, especially as the brisk autumn made its way into the mountains. Leadville ended up being one of my favorite road trip stops in the country, high praise for one of the more overlooked destinations in Colorado.
How To Get To Leadville
Despite its high altitude and somewhat remote location, Leadville is pretty easy to reach. You’ll have no problems getting there in the summer, although winter might be a different story. Leadville is about a half hour off of I-70. From Denver, you’ll be able to reach Leadville in under two hours. From other major ski towns, like Keystone, Vail, and Breckenridge, it’ll be around an hour. Dillon, Frisco, Silverthorne, and Aspen are also about an hour’s drive away. To the south is Twin Lakes and Buena Vista. For being so close to some of Colorado’s top destinations, Leadville goes criminally under the radar. That makes it a perfect little spot to post up for a vacation.
Things To Do in Leadville
Man, where to even begin with Leadville? I pushed myself hard while I was in Leadville. There’s just so much to do in the area, especially for a hardcore hiker like me. Leadville boasts much, much more than just hiking, too. Adventurers of all kinds will find something they love about Lead Vegas.
Surrounded by 14’ers in every direction, Leadville is a hiker’s paradise. Colorado has the most 14’ers out of any state in America, boasting 58 of these behemoths. Of those 58, 14 of them are just a short drive away from Leadville. That includes the two tallest, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.
Leadville serves as the perfect home base for taking on the multitude of 14ers within the area. There is something for hikers of any level. However, it’s hard to deny that the more seasoned hikers could have a field day with all of the adventures to take on within the area.
For a less intense adventure than a 14’er, the nearby Turquoise Lake serves as a perfect place for more relaxing outdoor activities. It’s one of the bigger lakes in the area, making it a popular spot for boaters, campers, and hikers. There are plenty of campsites along the lake, and the developed trail along the lake boasts a length of over 11 miles round trip.
A hike to an abandoned hotel? About twenty minutes from Leadville, you’ll find the trail to the old hotel Interlaken, which has been abandoned for over a hundred years. It’s a relatively easy trail along a beautiful lake with mountain views in the background. This was my first hike in Leadville, and it really set the tone for how well history and nature intertwined in this part of Colorado.
One of my favorite hikes in Colorado can be found less than a half hour away from Leadville. Mayflower Gulch will take you to some abandoned cabins and up high for some beautiful views of the surrounding region. The scenery boasts lakes, mountains, meadows, and of course, some historic abandoned cabins and mines.
Located near Turquoise Lake, the hike to Timberline Lake is another can’t miss adventure while in Leadville. The hike is about five miles long roundtrip, but at a pretty high altitude with lots of steep incline. The reward is worth it, though, as you’ll find yourself among the only people at the stunning Timberline Lake.
Clinton Gulch Reservoir
If you’re coming from I-70, you’ll pass by this beautiful lake on the highway. While you can pull into the parking lot and immediately be treated with a view, I’d recommend hiking around the reservoir, as well. It’s a short, mostly flat hike with some big-time views.
We hadn’t even heard of this place until we pulled over onto a dirt road and decided to just keep driving. It turned out to be a fantastic surprise, especially as the fall foliage was in the midst of its marvelous transformation. Regardless of the season, Homestake Reservoir is a perfect off-the-beaten-path destination. The road boasts opportunities for rock climbing, camping, and plenty of hiking. The same road had turnoffs for the Missouri Lakes hike, one that I definitely hope to do my next time in Leadville.
Camping and Wilderness Backpacking
I can’t stress enough just how many options there are for backpacking and camping close to Leadville. There are plenty of national forests and public lands close to the area, meaning that you can camp for free or for a small fee. Whether you want to camp for a place to stay or for an outdoor adventure, you’ve got plenty of options around Leadville.
Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail
Leadville is a stop on both the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail. The Colorado Trail runs from Denver to Durango, spanning a distance of nearly 500 miles. The Continental Divide Trail runs around 3,100 miles from the north to the south of the U.S. The trails overlap in stretches around Leadville.
I drove to and from Leadville multiple times on my latest road trip. I had a friend living there, and whenever I needed to escape from the heat of Utah or hustle and bustle of Denver, I’d find myself headed to Leadville. The drives never got old. I-70 itself is one of the most beautiful highways in the world. Whichever way you decide to branch off and head to Leadville, you’ll pass some amazing drives. Taking the Minturn turnoff is a personal favorite, boasting the stunning view of the bridge pictured below.
You’ll also find a number of mountain passes close to Leadville. To name a few, you’ve got Tennessee Pass, Independence Pass, and Boreas Pass. Make sure those roads are open before you set off on the breathtaking drive.
For adventurous souls looking for something more exhilarating, mountain biking is a big draw to the Leadville area. The must-do mountain biking trail is the Mineral Belt Trail, spanning 11.6 miles. I haven’t done it myself but from what my friends have shown me, it is an absolute must for the area.
National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum
Outside of outdoors activities, Leadville boasts a lot of history. Much of that history revolves around its importance as a mining town for many, many decades. So while it may seem like a weird thing to have a Hall of Fame for, Leadville takes pride in its mining history.
Another of Leadville’s historic main attractions are its train rides. The Leadville Railway Station is a few blocks away from the main street and is undoubtedly one of the most popular family activities. The rides cost $42 for adults ($22 for kids) and last for a couple of hours. If you want a unique way to witness the stunning beauty of the region, this is it.
Roam Around Leadville’s Main Street
Of course, you can’t be hiking all the time. Leadville is great for some laid back days as well. Along the main strip of town, you’ll find cafes with chill vibes and amazing food. Some of the best ones include Tennessee Pass Cafe, City on a Hill, and Treeline.
For a small town, Leadville has a surprising amount of nightlife options. That includes the Manhattan Bar and the old-timey saloon dating back to the 19th century. Shopping is also an option in Leadville. Whether you want locally-owned outdoor brands like Melanzana or want to shop around the thrift stores and consignment shops, you might find yourself walking away with some new gear.
Where To Stay in Leadville
For a little town, Leadville is in the heart of it all. While I stay with my friends every time I visit Leadville, I took note of the various places to stay. There are a few different historic hotels, and even hostels, to choose from in the area. The historic Delaware Hotel will catch your eye as soon as you drive into town. Hostel Inn the Clouds is a great spot for travelers and through hikers on a budget. And of course, Airbnb is also an option, if you want something a little more private or more unique.
Like I mentioned above, you also won’t have any problem finding campgrounds in the area. There are a variety to choose from, whether you want a quiet turnoff in the forest or want to camp on the shores of a lake. Whatever you end up doing, it’s hard to go wrong. Check out Campendium or FreeCampsites for some suggestions on where to camp in Leadville. If you’re road tripping, be sure to check out my post on how to road trip on a budget, as well.