A Quick Guide to Leadville

North America's highest incorporated city offers road trippers a glimpse of Colorado's past, with brewpubs, farm-to-table dining, and a plethora of outdoor adventures.

By Kirsten Dobroth July 2, 2020 Published in the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Downtown Leadville: North America's highest incorporated city.

At 10,152 feet above sea level, North America’s highest incorporated city was a high-society silver town during the Centennial State’s 19th-century mining boom, and its downtown, stretched along eight blocks of Harrison Avenue, still has an air of Wild West grandeur. Doc Holliday, John Philip Sousa, Butch Cassidy, “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown, and even Harry Houdini were known to stroll Leadville’s main drag, which runs between neat rows of brick Victorian buildings backdropped by prominent views of the state’s two tallest peaks, Mt Elbert and Mt Massive. Leadville has seen multiple transformations over the years. The 1982 depletion of the Climax Mine nearly ruined the town financially, but it led to the inception of the Leadville 100—one of the first-ever 100-mile endurance runs—which has gone on to become one of the world’s premier ultramarathons and spawned a series of summertime trail runs and mountain bike races that attract elite athletes and crowds from around the world. (All 2020 races, alas, have been canceled due to the pandemic.) A block of sleek, landscaped condos is currently in the works on the outskirts of town, much to the chagrin of old-timers, who were sad to see the giant, wall-spanning proclamation, “WE ♥ LEADVILLE ~ GREAT LIVING AT 10,200’,” razed to make way for the development. But Leadville’s still rooted in historic charm, a fact that keeps a steady stream of 4Runners and Foresters pulling into town as recreationists descend upon Highway 24 every summer.

The Delaware Hotel

Where to Sleep

The Historic Delaware Hotel is a stately brick building on the main drag, with plush Victorian-era guest rooms dating back to Leadville’s days as a mining boomtown (from $123; 700 Harrison Ave, 719-486-1418, delawarehotel.com). Just be warned—according to some guests (and front desk attendants), not everyone from Leadville’s bygone days has checked out.

Where to Eat and Drink

In the morning, swing by City on a Hill (open daily 6 a.m.–6 p.m.; 508 Harrison Ave, 719-486-0797, cityonahillcoffee.com) for espresso pulls from beans roasted in-house and grab-n-go sandwiches, and browse the gallery of three-dimensional local landscape sculpture souvenirs while you wait. You can also join the tourists at the Golden Burro Café, a Harrison Avenue staple that opened in 1938, for plates piled high with chicken-fried steak and eggs and the signature breakfast “burro-ito” (open daily 6:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; 710 Harrison Ave, 719-486-1239, goldenburro.com). Locals, however, will point you across the street to the Silver Llama Market & Eatery, the new restaurant annex of a popular bakery that specializes in salmon Benedicts and avocado caprese toast for breakfast and hot Italian grinders for lunch, though at press time it was still takeout-only (open Sun–Thu 5 a.m.–5 p.m., Fri–Sat 5 a.m.–6 p.m.; 615 Harrison Ave, 719-486-1026, silverllamamarket.com). 

Pints at Periodic Brewing

If you pass through after noon, grab a slice at High Mountain Pies, which serves subs and salads in addition to the pizza-rific house specialty and has a popular summer patio covered in string lights (open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; 115 W Fourth St, 719-486-5555, highmountainpies.com), or head to Periodic Brewing for après-hike (or -bike) pints of Colorado Strong imperial pale lager paired with delicious apps (from a charcuterie plate to sweet potato fries with truffle aioli) in a dignified taproom off the main drag filled with seating and board games to while away the afternoon (open Sat–Sun noon–8 p.m., Mon, Thu & Fri 4–8 p.m.; 115 E Seventh St, 720-316-8144, periodicbrewing.com). For gourmet dinner fare, the place to eat is Treeline Kitchen, a welcome upscale addition to the main-drag dining scene that plates simple yet elegant entrees like Colorado lamb pasta braised with red wine and fried chicken with creamed spinach greens; the best seat in the house (on the rooftop terrace) comes with one of the state’s most dramatic mountain views (open daily 3:30–9 p.m.; 615 Harrison Ave, 719-293-2200, treelinekitchen.com).

Freshly gathered greens at Treeline Kitchen

Night owl? You have one option: The Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon dates to the 1880s (early patrons included Holliday, Brown, and Oscar Wilde) and has vintage memorabilia tacked to every square inch of wall to prove it. It also offers 20-some regional craft brews and a notable selection of Colorado-distilled whiskeys, including a single malt from Buena Vista (open Wed–Mon noon–midnight; 315 Harrison Ave, 719-486-9914, legendarysilverdollarsaloon.com). At press time, the neon sign outside Leadville’s only other late-night option, the Manhattan Bar, was still glowing on Harrison Avenue, but the band of locals hanging outside last summer was elsewhere, likely pining for the night it would reopen (618 Harrison Ave, 719-486-2880).

Where to Play

Leadville’s scenic railway, the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad, chugs through the San Isabel National Forest on two 2.5-hour daily excursions throughout the summer (10 a.m. & 2 p.m., $42 /adult, $22/child; 326 E Seventh St, 866-386-3936, leadville-train.com); book a special wildflower tour for a mid-ride stop-and-hike with a local guide to see the midsummer flora at its peak, followed by lunch at Leadville’s historic Healy House in downtown (July 18, 25, and Aug 1, 10 a.m., $63 per adult, $34 per child). Although the National Mining Hall of Fame was still closed to visitors at press time, the nonprofit was nonetheless leading hourlong guided tours of the Matchless Mine on Fryer Hill, where you can relive Leadville’s glory days and take in the tragic tale of Horace and Baby Doe Tabor (Tue–Sat at 1, 2 & 3 p.m., $12; mininghalloffame.org).

Leadville destinations, modern and historic: Melanzana and the Golden Burro

Where to Shop

The holy grail for outdoor gear buffs is Melanzana, where tattooed young men and women behind industrial sewing machines can been seen toiling day and night to stock (and restock) shelves with the brand’s ridiculously popular Micro Grid Hoodie (which fetch up to a $100 premium on eBay, thanks to far-flung shoppers who beg locals to ship them). During the pandemic, they’ve been just as busy producing 1,000 medical masks a day for health care workers at Vail Health Hospital and Leadville’s St. Vincent Hospital. You can rap on the shop window and wave your thanks until it hopefully welcomes customers again this summer (716 Harrison Ave, 719-486-3245, melanzana.com). Until then, if you need to resupply for a night on the shores of Turqouise Lake, you can call on Leadville Outdoors; be sure to check out the vintage elevator at the back of the shop, which was used to haul ice blocks up and keep the beer cold when it was an Anheuser-Busch tasting room in the 1800s (open Mon–Sat 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; 225 Harrison Ave, 719-486-7392, leadvilleoutdoors.com).

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