There is an amazing city hidden within the Rocky Mountains of Colorado that holds significant history, an abundance of recreation and beautiful views that will leave you speechless. It might also leave you breathless… literally breathless. At 10,152 ft (3,094 m) above sea level, Leadville holds the record for the highest incorporated city in North America.
Located only about 100 miles from Denver, and about 30 miles from the world’s most popular ski resorts such as Vail and Copper Mountain, you’ll quickly find out why Leadville is a hidden gem in Colorado.
Here are my favorite things about Leadville:
UNIQUE FAMILY FRIENDLY EVENTS
Have you ever seen a skijoring competition? Or watched a burro race? These are my favorite events in Leadville. Every first weekend of March, Leadville holds its annual skijoring competition, a tradition held since 1949. Skijoring consists of a horse pulling a person on skis where the skier has to successfully complete jumps, maneuver over gates and collect rings. It’s fast-paced and so fun to watch!
Every summer, Leadville hosts a festival called “Leadville Boom Days” where the Old West and the days of mining are celebrated. There are contests, a parade, and a street fair, but my favorite part is the burro race. The burro race consists of a burro (donkey) and a racer who runs alongside their burro for 22 miles with some serious elevation gain. There are strict rules such as no riding the burro and they are only allowed to carry a certain amount of weight. It’s a fun race to watch and the burros are the cutest! Especially the ones who aren’t the best athletes. If you look up the race results, the slowest burro and runner gets the amazing title of “Last Ass Over the Pass.”
A TRUE OUTDOOR PARADISE
Even if you’re not the biggest outdoorsman, you will appreciate the beauty that surrounds Leadville. There are two 14-ers (mountains over 14k feet) in the area, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. If you want to hike these mountains, this is the gateway to them! And if that seems a bit daunting, there are several beautiful trails for all hiking levels. Just do a quick google search, “easy hikes in Leadville” and there will be no shortage.
Camping, boating, and fishing can be found along the river or the several lakes in the area. A favorite amongst locals and visitors is Torquise Lake. You can imagine by the name, it’s a beautiful lake!
And if you’re more of a sightseer, the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway is a beautiful drive. Or the Leadville Railroad can take you on a train ride through the forest to spot wildlife or see wildflowers or golden Aspen trees (depending on what season you visit).
THE NATIONAL MINING MUSEUM
If you’re fascinated by the history of the wild west, the history of mining, or just an interest in gems and minerals, this is the perfect place! My family and I love this museum so much that we purchased an annual pass. There is so much to see that it takes more than one visit to take it all in. In addition to the museum, they provide tours of the Matchless Mine and the famous Baby Doe’s Cabin. Check out the website for all of the information. I truly think it’s a must-see in Leadville.
FOOD, COFFEE, BEER
If Leadville were a little closer, I’d visit their coffee shop and brewery all the time! City on a Hill Coffee and Espresso is the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee or a snack while visiting Leadville. The interior is so comfortable and cozy plus the lattes and teas are delicious. We never hesitate to grab a slice of cake or a sandwich while we are there. I think it’s the perfect place to get some work done or meet up with friends.
Periodic Brewing is America’s highest brewery and their slogan, “Minimum Oxygen Maximum Ale-titude” is the perfect description. The beers here are good, and if you’re not used to the elevation, one beer can go a long way! They also serve delicious food which is a plus if the elevation is getting to your head. They tend to get busy on the weekends, so if possible, visit on a weekday when it’s slower and you have an opportunity to talk with a nice local.
Another favorite of mine is High Mountain Pies. Their pizza is some of the best I’ve ever had! I always find myself craving the Square Pie, a delicious vegetarian pizza topped with kale, portabella mushrooms, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions. Yum!
If you’re a fan of quality items that are ethically sourced then you need to stop into Melanzana. It’s a wonderful outdoor clothing store that literally makes all of their clothing under one roof. This is the only store they have so picking up a jacket or fleece is a special experience. While shopping, you can see their workers at a sewing machine making new clothes! It’s pretty incredible. On my last visit, I purchased a light jacket I had wanted for a while. It is a bit pricey, but the quality of their items are amazing (the jacket is so warm), and knowing it was made locally by someone who was paid fairly makes my purchase totally justifiable. Check out their website and be aware, they don’t mass produce their items so don’t be upset if they don’t have your size or a specific item you want.
SKIING AND A GATEWAY TO OTHER LITTLE TOWNS
Leadville is typically my escape from Summit County on the weekends. I live right by Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge Ski Resort which tend to get very busy Friday through Sunday. If you’re not a fan of crowds like me, Leadville is a wonderful escape.
Leadville has Ski Cooper, a smaller ski resort that boasts the importance of being affordable and family friendly. How much cheaper are they? A one-day lift ticket at Breckenridge is $189, and a one-day lift ticket at Vail (just 30 miles away) is $209! At Ski Cooper, an adult one-day lift ticket is only $56! Ski Cooper has a run for every level but is a favorite for its beginner friendly and intermediate runs. It’s also not as crowded as the bigger resorts so you don’t have to worry about bumping into people or waiting in long lift lines. If you’re new to skiing or riding and don’t want to spend a fortune, I recommend starting with Ski Cooper.
And when you’re done exploring Leadville, take Highway 24 West to Red Cliff and Minturn, two little towns with incredible views. This highway will then lead you to Interstate 70 where you pop out in Vail. If you head the other way, Highway 24 East, you’ll find yourself in another gorgeous little town, Buena Vista. There is so much to see beyond the beaten path here in Colorado! So stray from the crowds and the popular places because this beautiful state has so much to offer if you’re up for an adventure. See you in Leadville!