Altitude, gorgeous scenery, and some of the deepest Wild West roots in the country can all be found in the small but still-thriving town of Leadville, Colorado. Once the state’s most booming mining town, Leadville had quite the reputation for lawlessness and debauchery, featuring an all-star cast of outrageous characters.
Today, that past is celebrated and shared with the thousands of tourists who come to this mountain town each year to revel in its history and take advantage of its many outdoor recreation opportunities.
Here are some of our favorite reasons to visit Leadville at any time of year -- and why you should consider visiting, too!
1. It’s In The Heart Of The High Country
Leadville sits at 10,152 feet above sea level, making it the highest incorporated city in North America. This means that the views are incredible no matter where you look or roam during your visit. The 14,000-foot Mount Elbert and Mount Massive are nearby, and a drive along the Top of the Rockies National Scenic and Historic Byway is a terrific way to get your majestic mountain fix -- and your selfies -- in.
2. You Can Experience The Wild West
Back in 1860, gold was discovered just a mile away from the sleepy mountain settlement that’s now known as Leadville. The rush was on, and prospectors flooded the area, hoping to strike it rich. A few years later, after the gold was gone, residents discovered trace amounts of silver in their town’s soil and sand, kicking off a second mining boom.
In time, as the town expanded, so did its roster of famous residents. “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” moved here when she was 19, met a mining engineer, and got married. They became rich, moved to Denver, and Molly went on to survive the sinking of the Titanic. Doc Holliday, who became famous for his involvement with the shootout at the O.K. Corral, made Leadville his home for a while after that infamous event with Wyatt Earp.
Today, there are many well-preserved places in Leadville that bring back its colorful past. In fact, Leadville has more museums per capita than any other spot in the state!
Start your history tour at the Dexter Cabin and Healy House Museum. The nine-bedroom home and its adjacent cabin have been lovingly restored and give visitors a sense of what life was like for the prominent miners who made Leadville their home. The Tabor Opera House, built by the town’s richest mining magnate in the 1880s, still hosts concerts, cultural events, and tours. Leadville’s Heritage Museum tells the story of the town’s wild past with artifacts, documents, and photographs. And the gorgeously preserved Temple Israel Synagogue and Museum shares the story of how Judaism made it all the way up to the mountains during the gold rush. Finally, to get a feel for what took place to make Leadville a boomtown, head to the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum to learn more about the people who risked it all to bring rare and valuable minerals up to the Earth’s surface, putting Leadville on the map.
3. You Can Explore Historic Harrison Avenue
Leadville has done a fantastic job preserving its wild, rollicking past, and that fact isn’t just evidenced in its fabulous museums. The downtown district, radiating out from Harrison Avenue, is full of mining-era buildings and homes, many of which have been converted into galleries, boutiques, and shops. Harrison Avenue is a terrific place to spend a few hours strolling along to get a sense of the town.
4. It’s An Angler’s Paradise
Leadville is an angler’s paradise. The Arkansas River, which flows through town, is chock-full of fish, mostly brown and rainbow trout. Nearby Turquoise Lake is another fishing hot spot -- it’s also a gorgeous place to hike or picnic for any non-anglers in the group!
Consider booking a fly-fishing guide. They are easy to arrange, and many travelers find their expertise worth the expense. They’ll share their favorite fishing spots and techniques to hook that perfect catch.
5. The Leadville Railroad Offers A Leisurely Trip
As with many other Colorado high country towns, the railroad played a huge role in Leadville’s development, allowing prospectors to get to the mining mecca and magnates to ship out their bounty to Denver and beyond.
Today, trains provide the perfect way to enjoy Leadville’s mountain vistas. Consider a trip on the Leadville Railroad for a leisurely time you won’t forget. It’s a great opportunity for high-altitude photos, too!
6. It’s A Great Place To Spend Time Outdoors
The natural wonders in and around Leadville are incredible, and there’s no shortage of ways to get out there and enjoy them.
The hike around the aforementioned Turquoise Lake in the San Isabel National Forest is a flat, easy stroll that many visitors enjoy. For more of a challenge, take the trails that wind their way up into the surrounding mountains for incredible lake views. The Mineral Belt Trail is an 11-mile loop in and around Leadville that offers plenty of places to hop on and off, no matter whether you’re on bike or foot. In the winter, cross-country skiing opportunities abound, and downhill enthusiasts can head to nearby Ski Cooper, where the mountain’s high altitude provides light and fluffy powder perfect for speed.
Where To Shop In Leadville
Downtown Leadville is the place for treasure hunters to pick up souvenirs, with many unique shops to explore.
Check out the Delaware Hotel Mercantile for a large assortment of art, antiques, and Western Americana. Mountain Top Quilt is a crafter’s paradise, with patterns, squares, and finished tops ready for purchase. The Mule Kick is a funky thrift and consignment shop full of curiosities, and The Rock Hut, which has been in business for more than 45 years, sells a variety of gems, crystals, and minerals perfect for collecting and jewelry-making.
Where To Eat In Leadville
Most of Leadville’s eateries are also located downtown.
Treeline Kitchen is a rustic, charming cafe that serves up delicious American comfort food. High Mountain Pies has got your carb cravings covered with terrific pizzas, calzones, wings, and ribs. If you’re looking for a protein fix after a day out on the trails, Quincy’s Steakhouse might be the perfect place for dinner. And for a craft brew or two enjoyed over board games and good company, Periodic Brewery is the place to go.
Where To Stay In Leadville
To take a trip back in time, consider home-basing at the Delaware Hotel, a historic spot that dates to Leadville’s boomtown days. All of the rooms are furnished with period pieces, and it's said to be haunted -- by 23 ghosts! The Colorado Trail House is a charming eight-bedroom Victorian-era bed and breakfast featuring suites and bunk rooms; it’s perfect for larger groups or families. If you’re looking for a bit more privacy -- perhaps outside of town -- a homesharing site such as Airbnb or Vrbo could very well have the perfect cottage or mountain chalet for you.
What To Know Before You Go
At more than 10,000 feet above sea level, Leadville proudly claims the title of the highest incorporated city in North America. This place is gorgeous, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s extremely sunny, dry, and definitely at high altitude! As in any mountain spot, take any physical activity slow, drink lots of water, and use sunscreen daily, reapplying it often. Also, keep a small stash of Advil or Tylenol at the ready in case an altitude headache sets in.
While it’s important to take precautions, the payoff is worth it. Leadville, perched high in the Rockies, is a natural marvel. You’ll be awed daily by the incredible views and the authentic feel of this special spot.