Having lived in Leadville, I know the secrets of this place. It is much more than a drive-through town, and if you decide to stop you will discover that there are many hiking adventures to be had. Here are a few of my favorites:
These first three are BIG, EPIC hikes with a summit on top…
1. Mt. Elbert
Standing just to the southwest of Leadville lies Colorado’s tallest mountain, Mt. Elbert. Mt. Elbert is a long mound of a thing that resembles a sleeping giant. If you love bagging peaks, then Mt. Elbert is a must, because you will be able to tell your friends that you stood on top of the highest point in Colorado, at 14,433 feet. There are four trail options one can take in order to get to the top. If this is one of your first forteeners, you should try one of the two class one routes: the Northeast Ridge or the East Ridge.
Both of these trails are about 10 miles long round trip, the route is very straightforward, and you will have little trouble (besides maybe your breathing) getting to the top. If you want more of a challenge, try one of the two class two routes: Southeast Ride (11 mi, moderate) or Box Creek Couloirs (8.5 mi, considerable).
Learn more about Mt. Elbert here.
2. Mt. Massive
Mt. Massive is the fourteener right next to Mt. Elbert. When staring at the two of them, one might think that Mt. Massive is actually the larger one, although it is actually the second highest fourteener in Colorado, standing at 14,421 feet. That is because Mt. Massive looks more formidable, with its dramatic triangle peak.
In fact, it’s looks live up to it’s difficulty, as Mt. Massive is more of a challenge than Mt. Elbert. There are 3 routes to get up Mt. Massive, all of which are class 2. You can take the East Slopes (14.5 mi, moderate), the Southwest Slopes (7.25 mi, moderate), or the East Ridge route (14 mi, considerable). Note that the East Ridge route is a more difficult class two than the other two.
Learn more about Mt. Massive here.
3. Mt. Of the Holy Cross
Out of all of the 14ers, Holy Cross is my far my favorite. Just 45 minutes outside of Leadville, this beauty offers a wonderful, considerably difficult, Class 2, 12 mile hike to the summit. The other two routes are class 3, so I would only advise you attempt them if you are a more experienced hiker or mountain climber.
Along the way, you will see stunning wildflowers and a breathtaking view of the mountain. And of course, if you reach the summit, the views from the peak are spectacular.
Learn more about Mt. of the Holy Cross here.
The next four hikes have lake views for days…
4. Turquoise Lake
Turquoise Lake is the perfect summer hike. Leadville’s high altitude combined with the cool temperatures of the lake makes for a hike that absolutely calls for a dip in the water once you are finished. The trail that surrounds the lake is approximately 15 miles, making for a long hike that offers glimpses of clear blue water and shade from the many pine tress surrounding the lake.
Although the hike is rated as difficult on Alltrails.com due to its distance, the actual grade is gradual and the trail itself is easy to hike on. Check this hike out if you want a lengthy trail with a gorgeous summer setting.
Learn more about Turquoise Lake here.
5. Windsor Lake
Although this trail is steep, it is only 2.8 miles round trip and it is totally worth it. If you go in the midst of the summer, the chances of seeing Colorado’s famous wildflowers are very high. Once you reach the lake, get ready to see above Colorado’s tree line as it frames the lake’s surface. Some rate this hike as difficult due to the steepness, but I believe the length makes it a moderate hike.
Learn more about Windsor Lake trail here.
6. Missouri Lakes Trail
Missouri Lakes are nestled in the heart of the mountains surrounding Leadville, and similar to Windsor Lake, they provide a spectacular foreground for the tree line of Colorado. The trail itself is 7.2 miles round trip, and it is an out and back. The trail is rated as moderate, and is even easier if it is changed into a backpack. If you want to turn this day hike into an overnight camp, feel free! There are lots of great campsites near the lake.
Learn more about Missouri Lakes Trail here.
7. Native Lake Trail
This trail winds through pine forests, with views of wildflowers if the time is right. You can see Turquoise lake below you and the continental divide rises above you with fourteeners on all sides, so no matter where you look the views are to die for. Just like Missouri Lakes Trail, this trail is 7.2 miles long and moderate. Be prepared, there are some switchbacks at the end that can be a doozy, but the above tree line view is totally worth it.
Learn more about Native Lake Trail here.
The next two hikes are Colorado classics (BE A PART OF IT ALL)…
8. Segment 10 of the Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail spans from Durango to Denver, and if you are interested in a through hike, then you may as well do the whole thing because the CO Trail is an absolutely gorgeous way to see the state and partake in a stupendous adventure at the same time. A chunk of the trail goes near Leadville, passing the trails of Massive and Elbert as it meanders through the woods. However, if you live in Denver and you only want to do a section of it, then a great option is to make your way to Segment 10 outside of Leadville.
This section also pairs up with the Continental Divide Trail, goes from Tennessee Pass to Timberline Lake, and it is rated as difficult. The entirety of the trail is 12.5 miles long, and it is a point to point hike, so you need to leave a car at the end. Be ready for some refreshing creek crossings, fun bridges, and valley views.
Learn more about Segment 10 here.
9. The Leadville 100 Course
OK, OK. Some people would not consider an 100 mile running race a “hike”, but the truth is, ultras are so difficult that many times the runners will hike when going uphill. This race is only for the truly brave (masochistic?) of heart, as its length spans 100 miles from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600.
So, if ultra running (aka a, slow, painful death) is for you, then the Leadville 100 is a must! If you are normal, and like to run and hike but not to the extremes, then you should still go check out the Leadville 100. It is a sight to see. Hike along the different sections of the race, cheer on runners, and see some beautiful sights.
Learn more about the Leadville 100 here.
Many Coloradans and visitors alike consider Leadville a drive-through town that they pass on their way from the I-70 corridor to towns like Salida and Crested Butte. The main road displays old mining buildings, the infamous Melanzana store, and a few restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.
Perhaps while passing through, a few people will stop for a bite to eat or a Melanzana sweatshirt, and then they will carry on towards their final destination. However, if one looks beyond the pastel colored buildings into the distance, their eyes will be greeted by dramatic, snow capped mountains that call the name of any explorer.
Whatever hike you end up on around Leadville, prepare yourself for spectacular mountain views, colorful wildflowers, and surprise patches of snow.
This often overlooked town really does have a plethora of gems that have nothing to do with the fact that it used to be a mining town. Keep in mind that, although gorgeous, Leadville is filled with intense people for a reason: it is a rather intense place. Standing at 10,000 feet, it is the highest town in Colorado. This means that weather there can be drastic and dramatic, changing from hot to cold, sun to snow, and calm to wind in a moment’s notice.
Come Prepared and Get on the Trail!
If you decide to do a hike here, come prepared. Try to hike in the morning, so that you don’t get caught in a lightning storm (this happens quite frequently in Colorado in the summer above tree-line). If you are trying to summit a forteener, it may even be a good idea to start your hike before the sun has risen so that you can get down before the clouds roll in.
Always remember to bring about two liters of water, a rain jacket, a fleece, sturdy hiking or trail running shoes, wool socks, a backpack with waist straps, snacks, a lunch, a first aid kit, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and chapstick. I always bring these things when hiking, but I feel as though they are especially important in dramatic environments like those that are around Leadville.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your gear ready, get out to Leadville, and get yourself on that trail!
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Kaiti Kinshella is a Spanish teacher and freelance writer who lives, works, and plays in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She loves to spend her free time backcountry skiing, mountain biking, climbing, and watching Game of Thrones. Her guilty pleasure is food writing, because for her there is nothing more enjoyable than a delectable meal.