Have you heard of Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city in North America? If so, it’s probably for one of two reasons.
First of all, you might have read the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. In this case, you know Leadville for hosting one of the toughest ultramarathons in the world, the Leadville 100. Yes, 100 means 100 miles, and famously the Tarahumara runners of Mexico won outright in the 1990s. The race starts at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, and climbs up to 12,500+!
Secondly, you might know Leadville as a famous mining town. Gold, silver, and lead were mined in the late 1800s. Around this time Leadville was a happening Wild West place, so much so that it was the second most populous city in the state after Denver. Margaret Brown (of Unsinkable Molly Brown fame from the Titanic) lived in Leadville and was married to a miner who struck it rich.
Regardless of how you know Leadville, I want you to know it makes for a pleasant little weekend getaway. It’s a quiet, small town with a lot of nature to explore.
Here’s how we spent our weekend in Leadville, Colorado.
P.S. There’s a Google Map at the bottom of the post with all the spots I visited marked, as well as info about where to stay.
Arrive in Leadville, Colorado and Grab Dinner
After a scenic drive to Leadville, we checked into our Air BnB and decided to take a stroll through “downtown”on our way to dinner. I say “downtown” because it really is a tiny place that’s easily walkable from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. It was still nice to scout out some shops that I wanted to visit the next day.
We headed to High Mountain Pies for dinner, as it’s apparently THE place to go. For a pizza joint it has a surprisingly large menu, with salads, ribs, wings, subs, and, of course, pizza! The inside is small, but the backyard patio area is large with lots of room for kids to play in the grass and some lovely views of the surrouding mountains.
I got the square pizza (not the shape, but the style from the menu!) and OMG was it delicious! Rascal was obviously hoping to get some for himself. I got a larger size so I could have some for breakfast and lunch the following day 🙂
After dinner we went back to the Air BnB to rest up for our full day on the town.
Stroll and Shop Through Downtown Leadville
For being a tiny town, the shopping is pretty good! As a lover of all things secondhand my favorite store to browse was a consignment shop called Community Threads. Since Leadville is an outdoor type of town, they had a lot of gently used outdoor brands, and I ended up leaving with a Lululemon tank top for $17.50. They had a great selection of men’s and women’s items, both outdoor brands and regular, as well as some Leadville souvenirs.
Matchless Treasures is another thrift store on the main road that will remind you of a more traditional thrift store with a wide variety of items at low prices.
We visited Leadville while some stores were still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while I’m understanding of the need for some to be closed I do still wish I was able to visit Melanzana Outdoor Clothing.
Melanzana Outdoor Clothing makes, well, outdoor clothing. But they do it differently. Out of their storefront in downtown they actually make every piece with all American products! As you walk by the store you can see the sewing machines and sewers crafting each item. For the high quality and USA made products you’re going to pay more, but it’s definitely worth it to support a business with this kind of operation.
And it goes without saying that there are also plenty of other shops to get your typical souvenirs — mugs, shot glasses, t-shirts, and the usual! And if you forgot something for an outdoor adventure you have planned, there are a few shops where you can grab a fleece, beanie, gloves, or other item.
Take A Ride on the Scenic Leadville Railroad
If you want the down and dirty on the history of Leadville, the local mining industry, and famous residents and visitors all while enjoying the local scenery and having an alcoholic beverage, well then take the Leadville Railroad! I am not someone who is OBSESSED with trains, but I can still say this was probably my favorite part of the whole trip.
The views of the forest and mountains are exactly what you’re looking for if you take a trip to Leadville. The ride takes you along the Arkansas River Valley and gives new vantage points of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two tallest mountains in Colorado, that you can’t get from the city. You can stay in the covered car if it’s raining or chilly, but they also have open air cars to enjoy the views even more when the weather is nice. There is a snack/souvenir car to pick up a beer, popcorn, a candy bar, and sweatshirt to remember your trip. The train ride out and back is about 2.5 hours.
The train ride is dog friendly, as well! I wished we brought our pup, Rascal, along because I think he would have liked to stick his head out the window and have the wind go through his fur!
After the train ride we went to dinner at Treeline Kitchen, which is great for tasty food and a little bit of an elevated feel for such a casual city.
Hike to the Summit of a 14er
If you’re from Colorado you know what a 14er is! If not, let me explain: they’re mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation that people like to climb. There are 58 in Colorado and some are more walkable, some are more techinically challenging with actual rock climbing required. There are several 14ers in the vicinity of Leadville, so if you’re up for a little elevation gain give them a shot!
I decided to summit Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest in the 48 states, on the last day of our trip. I used the 14ers website to look up routes, weather, parking info, etc. before starting this journey. I also looked up Mt. Elbert as a location on Instagram and sorted the tagged photos by recent so I could see the conditions on the trail and at the summit in the previous days. Even though I could obviously see snow at the summit while looking at the mountains, I saw pictures of people who had summited in shorts and with their jackets off, so it gave me a better idea of how it probably would feel at the top. Conditions change day to day so it just gives me a general idea, but I still found it very helpful!
I do feel the need to add a dislaimer — Leadville itself is already at high elevation, so if you were out of breath and had difficulty walking around the city, I would not recommend trying a hike this strenuous. You need to know your own body and fitness level before attempting a 14er. If you are acclimated to the altitude, prepared with the right gear, and ready for a challenge, go for it! If not, there are plenty of other moderate and beginner trails in the area to try instead.
I had my husband drop me off at the trailhead at 6 AM to start the hike. As I said before, people like to climb 14ers and the parking lots will fill up fast. You also want to avoid any afternoon storms if they’re in the forecast, so rise and shine, hiker! I had hiking poles, a backpack with leftover High Mountain Pies pizza, 1.5 liters of water, and my cell phone. The trail to Mt. Elbert is well marked and fairly high trafficked, so I personally didn’t find it necessary to bring a map or a compass.
There were a few false summits on this trek and some rocky terrain, but boy were the views worth it along the way and especially at the top! It’s such a stunning area with snow-topped peaks as far as the eye could see. After taking in the feeling of conquering the state’s highest peak, I headed back down. I’m a pretty fast hiker and was able to hike Mt. Elbert and return to the parking lot in 5.5 hours.
After I finished the hike we headed back home from our weekend getaway.
Where to Stay in Leadville, Colorado
Leadville isn’t the kind of town with big chain hotels. It’s the type of city where you stay in a Victorian bed and breakfast, cozy cabin, or affordable Air BnB. We stayed in an Air BnB right by the downtown that was private, but advertised as a hiker hostel.
I recommend using AirBnB to find a place in Leadville. I liked that we were walkable to downtown so that we didn’t use our car everyday, but you might also like somewhere a little further that gives you more of that nature feel. Either way, you can find yurts, renovated historic homes, tiny homes (how cool would that be for a trip?!), and more for your stay.
P.S. You can get up to $65 off your first Airbnb stay using my referral link!
And that was how we spent our summer weekend getaway in Leadville, Colorado! Here’s a Google Map with all the locations marked.
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