By Davina van Buren
Just 37 miles from Vail, Leadville may be best known for its extreme sporting events—think USA Pro Challenge, the Leadville 100 (a hundred-mile race across the Rocky Mountains that takes runners above 12,000 feet) and snow sports galore—but it’s also a town of surprises.
Among them: quaint art galleries, family-owned restaurants, and 70 blocks of authentic Victorian architecture.
An eclectic mix of history buffs, athletes, and outdoor enthusiast call the town home.
So if you’re ready for an off-slope day, hop in the car and spend a day in this little mountain town with a big reputation.
Catch The Views
From Vail, take I-70 West to Hwy 24, which is part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway.
No matter what the season, you’ll be treated to postcard-worthy views the entire drive.
When you arrive in Leadville, snap some photos of the two highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain chain—Mount Elbert (14,440 feet) and Mount Massive (14,421 feet)—which loom over the Arkansas River Valley and are clearly visible from town.
Most of the day-trip action is in downtown Leadville, so park the car and start exploring.
Learn Your Lore
Colorado has lots of old mining towns, but Leadville is home to the only federally-chartered mining museum, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.
Three floors of displays, exhibits, and hard rock mine replicas—everything from a crystal room to a prospector’s cave—will keep the whole family busy.
Get some fresh air on level four, which has a terrific terrace with panoramic views of the Leadville mining district.
The Delaware Mercantile at the Delaware Hotel offers one of the most unique shopping experiences you’ll encounter.
All three floors of the property are packed with antiques, unique pieces of furniture, and items from across the world.
You’ll find everything from gemstone jewelry to contemporary Western and Victorian clothing here.
Even the furniture in the guest rooms is for sale.
For casual dinner fare, Quincy’s Tavern is a Leadville tradition.
Housed in the historic Quincy building downtown (built in 1879), this restaurant’s motto is quality, not quantity.
They serve just three items: the steak special (filet mignon Sunday through Thursday; prime rib and slow-roasted sirloin on the weekends), veggie lasagna, and macaroni and cheese for the kids.
Say goodbye to overwhelming menus and focus on your company instead.
Ski And Dine
One of my favorite Leadville experiences is The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse.
No trendy metropolitan restaurant can compete with this view of Mother’s Nature’s skyline.
Guests meet at the Nordic Center for a one-mile ski or snowshoe to the Cookhouse (equipment is provided).
Once inside, savor a four-course meal featuring dishes such as grilled elk tenderloin with blueberry and sage port reduction and homemade fruit pie.
Rest up in one of four cozy yurts (make reservations early for these) and stop by Camp Hale for a fascinating peek at the area’s 10th Mountain Division military history on the drive back the next day.
Another option: Snuggle up in the yurt and have comfort food like buffalo chili and baked macaroni and cheese delivered by snowmobile.
If you’re visiting later in the season, don’t miss the Leadville Ski Joring and Crystal Carnival.
If you’ve never heard of ski joring, it looks a lot like water skiing—only instead of a boat, the skier is pulled behind a horse, a team of dogs, or even a snowmobile.
It’s done the Western way in Leadville—on horses—and participants must navigate hills and jumps on the town’s snow-packed streets.
Travel tip: Bring lots of water.
Leadville is America’s highest incorporated city at 10,430 feet; hydration is key to avoiding altitude sickness.
(Banner photo by: Steve Sunday)