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Day Trip: Leadville

Dig into authentic Colorado western and mining heritage in this no-frills mountain town.

By Lisa Blake

One of my family’s favorite Colorado winter weekend road trips — when we’re avoiding ski resort lines or there isn’t any fresh powder to shred — is Breckenridge to Leadville.

Leadville Mining CampsWell, first to Mayflower Gulch for a hike, snowshoe or, in recent years, a ski up with skins on to tow our two-year-old in his chariot trailer. The moderate, snow-packed climb through an evergreen forest is steep enough to get our heart rates going and short enough to keep our toddler’s interest. The trail dead-ends into a gorgeous glacier-cut valley of rock ridge amphitheaters among 12,000-foot-plus peaks and old mining camp relics.

Dogs and kids, solo photographers and adventurous backcountry split-boarders share the wide, snow-loaded space, flashing the kind of smiles reserved for friends sharing a secret. Which is sort of the case back here.

Back to the trailhead lot, we shed sweaty layers and load up gear, eager to get back on the winding stretch of Highway 91 that links Copper Mountain to Leadville, also known as the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. We like to pull into Leadville’s National Historic Landmark District around lunchtime and cruise Harrison Avenue to see what jumps out. On this trip, we bypass Chinese and Mexican fare, deli sandwiches and pub cheesesteaks and head to Periodic Brewing on Seventh Street.

Periodic Brewing, Leadville, CO

The brewery-taproom is welcoming, clean and gentle on the wallet. The world’s highest craft brewery breaks down its beers into easy-to-order categories: light, hoppy, dark and barrel aged. The Dry English Stout does not disappoint with rich chocolaty notes and a lively kicky finish. A small but mighty food menu is well executed — be sure to try the meat and cheese board with pistachio-dusted goat cheese and house-smoked ham with spicy beer mustard. Add the smoked blue cheese. It’s amazing. Our son enjoyed his macaroni with veggies while he chatted up the other kiddos eating with their families.

A stroll down historic Harrison Avenue is a must, popping into Melanzana Outdoor Clothing to scan the latest sewn-on-site fuzzy fleece hoodies and skirts. Western Hardware’s antiques and Leadville Outdoors’ mountain-obsessed supplies are two more favorites and an afternoon coffee or chai from City on a Hill is always a hit. Pre-baby we’d mosey into the old taverns and saloons to see what’s on tap and soak up the Wild West vibe still lingering around the jukeboxes and pool tables.

Harrison Avenue, Leadville

If it’s sunny out, it’s nice to extend your downtown ramble to admire the abundant preserved Victorian architecture and then head inside the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum to learn about the industrious men and women who left their mark on this 1880s silver boomtown and beyond.

Post-lunch family time is had at the free Dutch Henry Tubing Hill ($10 fee to rent a tube). Leadville also boasts a fantastic outdoor ice-skating rink and more than 50 miles of free groomed Nordic trails for skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, snow biking and snowmobiling.

Rags-to-riches millionaires and notorious gunslingers staked their claims in Leadville history. I like to imagine the raw, wild energy moving through the once-upon-a-time mining boarding houses and the rowdy dance halls, gambling joints and brothels. It’s that same rural and bottomless possibility of adventures that keeps luring us back to Leadville time and again.