History of Leadville
Leadville was once a silver mining town with a population only second to Denver in the 19th Century! It was laden with mines and smelters. When the USA turned to gold as its standard, however, Leadville’s economy faultered.
Today, Leadville, situated between San Isabel National Forest, the Mount Massive Wilderness, the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a gateway to Colorado’s outdoor recreation.
Perched at 10,152 feet, Leadville is the highest city in the United States. While its population has dwindled to 2,742 from its height during the silver rush, this historic city offers many things to do for both outdoor enthusiasts and visitors in general.
Places to Stay in Leadville
If you are looking for dispersed camping, there are many places off County Road 48. It is very popular, but it is possible to find some spots in the woods where you don’t see a camper in any direction. Hopefully, you won’t hear the obsessively barking dog like I did for the week, but that is a rare occurrence.
If you want a hotel, consider the historic Delaware Hotel. The Victorian style hotel was constructed in the late 1800’s. It has since been renovated and is currently undergoing additional restoration to add a bar, restaurant, and café. For now, however, perhaps the resident ghost Mary Coffey is enough.
The Delaware offers ghosts tours, mine tours, and cemetery tours too.
With your accommodations set, check out below, the list of things to do in Leadville.
Follow the Silver King Route (Rent a Side by Side)
As mentioned above, the Leadville is historic silver mining town. On its eastern side, the mountains are filled with old mines and leftover tailings.
Stop in the visitor center on Harrison Steet, pick up an illustrated map, and go explore. I drove around in VANgo, but it would be really fun to zip around on side by side in this area to go deeper onto 4×4 roads.
You can rent a side by side at Elk Mountain Adventures.
Ride the Mineral Belt Trail
Another way to venture through the mines and circle Leadville is to ride bikes along the 11.6 mile Mineral Belt Trail. It is a wide, paved path that includes interpretive signs and shelters in case of bad weather.
It is a really nice ride until your battery on your e-bike dies and you’re riding a 50-pound bike uphill! I suppose I should have charged my battery before my ride. Regardless, if you don’t have your own bike, you may rent a bike at to Cycles of Life. The path is really worth exploring.
Take a Train Ride
Don’t want to ride a bike? Then how about a train? The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad offers a variety of train rides. During the summer the train runs twice a day at 10am and 2pm. Tickets for a 2.5 hour roundtrip cost $42 for adults and $22 for children. Check out the wildflower train ride which includes a 20-minute hike.
Take a Hike
Speaking of hiking, take a hike. Leadville is flush with options from short and easy to a hard and iconic. Leadville is located near the Collegiate Peaks which include several 14ers. Too hard, don’t worry! For something easy, stroll along the shores of Turquoise Lake. Want moderate? Try Saint Kevin Lake. It is beautiful! See my list of Hikes in Leadville for more choices.
Visit the National Mining Museum
It wouldn’t be right to visit Leadville without stopping in the National Mining Museum. This museum is fantastic for adults and children alike. The $12 admission provides five stories of exploration. Displays of rocks and minerals line the staircases.
Different rooms feature different topics from the history of local mines like Matchless and Climax, to miners’ baseball teams, to different types of mining like gold, silver and coal.
There are also exhibits that make you feel like you are in a mine. It was really well done, and of all the museums in Leadville, this is the best one.
Other museums include the Matchless Mine (owned by the National Mining Museum), the Tabor House, the Heritage Museum, and the Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin. Both the Matchless Mine and Heritage Museum require an entry fee and have more regular operating hours than the others.
But overall, if only choosing one, visit the National Mining Museum.
Sip a Beer at the Silver Dollar Saloon
With mining on the mind, sip a beer at the Silver Dollar Saloon. The saloon features the original windbreak as well as the rare ¾ inch diamond dust mirrors that came by train all the way from St. Louis Missouri.
Lots of history took place in this establishment. The unsinkable Molly Brown regularly frequented the establishment and even Jimmy Buffet wrote the song Incommunicado about the passing of his friend John Wayne.
Grab a Coffee at
Don’t like beer? Then grab a coffee at City on a Hill Coffee & Expresso. If you just want black coffee, you can walk to the back, put $2 in the box on the honor system, and pour your own. Otherwise, you will be waiting in line that starts early at this popular shop which opens at 6am.
Order a Pizza
Leadville has a handful of good restaurants. For some reason, I always find myself at High Mountain Pies. It is the number one restaurant in town and always has a line. They feature thin crust pizza with strong red sauce, but also have some pies with pesto and BBQ sauce. The majority of the seating is outside, so beware of afternoon thunderstorms.
Visit the Fish Hatchery
After your pizza lunch, check out the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. Surprisingly, the whole family might enjoy the place. Fisherman will like seeing all the trout which have been distributed all around the world. Hikers will like the surrounding trails. And historians will like the old building, which was constructed in the late 1800’s, as Leadville National Fish Hatchery is the second oldest Federally operated hatchery in the nation.
Not too far from the hatchery is the Mt. Massive Golf Course. I wouldn’t have known about the Mt. Massive Golf Course if it weren’t for Harvest Hosts. They are members, and I camped here the night of my arrival before I went looking for a campsite on Monday.
The nine-hole course is the highest in America. While the clubhouse and cart paths won’t knock your socks off, the views might! And at over 10,000 feet, imagine how far your golf ball will travel!