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TravelDestinationsNorth America

Where to Play, Drink, Eat, and Stay in Leadville, Colorado

The silver is gone, but the town is experiencing an adventure-fueled boom

Your guide to high-altitude fun in Leadville (see full map below). (Photo: Michael Byers)
Your guide to high-altitude fun in Leadville (see full map below).

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

Perched 10,152 feet above sea level and ringed by fourteeners, Leadville is the epitome of the Colorado high country. After silver was struck here in 1877,it swelled from a handful of inhabitants to a population of 30,000 in just three years, attracting miners, merchants, opera singers, and gamblers. When the silver was gone, so went the people, leaving behind piles of tailings and sturdy Victorian buildings. Now home to the iconic Leadville 100 mountain-bike race and ultramarathon, the town is experiencing a second, slower boom, with mountaineering, fishing, and bike shops replacing brothels. Thankfully, the saloons are still there. 

Mount Elbert and Mount Massive

The two tallest peaks in Colorado stand southwest of Leadville. The most traveled routes are fairly moderate as fourteeners go, making them popular day hikes. Elbert’s Northeast Ridge route climbs 4,700 feet in nine miles through forest, meadows, and talus to a broad, rounded summit. Mount Massive’s East Slopes route climbs 4,500 feet in eight miles along a well-traveled trail.

Arkansas River

For anglers, the 102 continuous gold-medal miles of the Arkansas begin eight miles downstream of Leadville at the confluence of the Lake Fork. Walk and wade for rainbows and browns. Colorado Fly Fishing Guides leads trips on the Arkansas and several lakes, and has exclusive permission to fish private waters on the Lake Fork (from $135). The whitewater ranges from rollicking Class III Browns Canyon, farther downstream near Buena Vista, to Class V Pine Creek Canyon, 34 miles south of Leadville. Arkansas Valley Adventures, in nearby Granite, can set you up with daily trips suited to your appetite for adventure (from $69).

Mount Sherman

Sherman is one of Colorado’s most approachable fourteeners, with a trailhead just seven miles from town and a 4.5-mile, 2,150-foot ascent on mellow talus ridges. Stop at Leadville Outdoors for directions and gear.

Your Leadville guide.
Your Leadville guide. (Photo: Michael Byers)

High Mountain Pies

Known for its rotating lineup of unusual pizzas, High Mountain Pies also has loads of shaded outdoor seating. Try the Crocodile, with cream cheese, jalapeño, shrimp, and bacon. 115 W. 4th St.

Scarlet Tavern and Inn

This casual locals’ haunt, set in an 1880s-era brick building with pressed-tin ceilings, features 12 beertaps, live music, and pool, foosball, and Ping-Pong tables. 326 Harrison Ave.

Tennessee Pass Cafe

Leadville’s most popular eatery features a dog-friendly deck with live music, a seasonal cocktail menu, and a selection of Colorado beers on tap. The eclectic fare ranges from flash-fried Brussels sprouts to grilled Colorado-beef sliders. 222 Harrison Ave.

Leadville Hostel and Inn

A favorite with endurance athletes, this simple, pet-friendly lodging has doubles starting at $40 and plenty of indoor and outdoor common space for hanging out or tuning up bicycles. The owners can help with trailhead drop-offs and pickups. 500 E. 7th St.

Mineral Belt Bike Trail

This 11-mile-long paved trail rings Leadville, combining segments of three decommissioned railways that once served its mining industry. Rent a cruiser at Cycles of Life at 309 harrison ($25) and pedal through wildflower-studded meadows and aspen groves with views of the Sawatch and Mosquito ranges.

Cloud City Wheelers Mountain-Bike Trails

This 12-mile network of singletrack southeast of town presents flowy easy and intermediate rides. The farther out you go, the more technical the trails become.

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From Outside Magazine, June 2015
Lead Photo: Michael Byers