K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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The country’s highest incorporated city, Leadville, sits at an elevation of 10,152 feet in the spectacular Rocky Mountains. This stunning Victorian town offers activities for just about everyone. Discover a fascinating history in a place considered one of the richest and bawdiest mining boom towns in the U.S., with 70 square blocks of the downtown area designated as a National Historic Landmark of Victorian architecture. You’ll find all sorts of eateries and interesting shops to explore and a wealth of outdoor adventure in the surrounding area. With so much to see and do, consider these outstanding things to do while spending time in Leadville.
Simply taking a stroll down the town’s main street makes for a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with the businesses here set within some rather ornate original Victorian buildings. Leadville still looks much as it did in years past, with local merchants lining the streets of historic Harrison Avenue offering a laid-back vibe along with colorful locals. Seventy square blocks of downtown have been designated as a National Historic Landmark District of Victorian Architecture, with most of the buildings dating to between 1880 and 1905. The buildings include the church where “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” married in 1886, a saloon where Oscar Wilde once imbibed and the largest opera house west of the Mississippi.
Glimpses from Leadville’s peak mining days can be found throughout the area and can often be explored through either a self-guided or guided tour, including one of the most famous mines in the country: the Matchless Mine. This historic silver mine was purchased by H.A.W. Tabor in 1879 and was estimated to have produced $7.5 million during the peak of mining operations. The crash of 1893 devastated the Matchless Mine and the once very wealthy Tabor Family, and upon Tabor’s death his widow, Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, returned to her home here where she remained in isolation until passing away in 1935. Visitors can tour the hoist house, headframe and cabin while learning about the fascinating legacy of the Tabor Family.
If you can visit over the first weekend in August, you may be able to attend Leadville Boom Days. The three-day celebration of Leadville’s 1880s gold and silver rush heritage, includes a parade that rolls down the main street for nearly an hour, miners cracking rock by hand, teams of burro and runners racing through the mountains, Wild West gunfights, vendors selling a wide range of items, food and drink, and lots of locals and visitors donning Victorian-era costumes to gawk at.
As mentioned, 70 square blocks of Leadville’s downtown area are designated as a National Historic Landmark of Victorian architecture, which means history enthusiasts will find lots to love about Leadville, including the gorgeous Tabor Opera House which can now be toured. The city purchased the building in 2016 as a part of restoration efforts and today it hosts performances of all types, including musicals, concerts, comedies, dance and more in a breathtakingly gorgeous venue.
By picking up a Museums of Leadville Passport you can check out the town’s many museums. Look forward to exploring a frontier synagogue, touring crystal caves, standing on the very stage where Oscar Wilde performed and viewing all sorts of exhibits with artifacts and displays that reveal Leadville’s fascinating history. It includes the Healy House and Dexter Cabin, Heritage Museum, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Matchless Mine, the House with the Eye, Temple Israel and the Tabor Home as well as the Tabor Opera House. It’s for sale at the Leadville/Lake County Chamber of Commerce as well as the train depot or any of the participating museums.
By walking or biking the paved 11.6-mile-loop Mineral Belt Trail you’ll be able to see the peaks of the soaring Sawatch Mountains and remnants of 1880s silver mines. You’ve probably at least heard of the wealthy Guggenheims – they made their fortune right here and you can view the headframe where they struck it rich as well as original cribbing and pools from the mining days, jaw-dropping views of two of the state’s highest peaks, Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. If you visit in the winter, the trail is groomed for snowshoeing or Nordic skiing.
It’s hard to believe a town could possibly exist so high up in the mountains during a time when transportation was rather limited, and Douglass City had to be accessed by a rough, challenging trek a couple of miles straight up. It was surprisingly once home to eight saloons, housed mostly in tents, but there were a few buildings, including a dance hall – and, pianos, that were somehow lugged up these rugged mountains. It’s a spot where the “ladies of the evening” were considered too jaded for Leadville, but were welcome here. Take a hike to see the multiple foundations, though you’ll have to use your imagination to determine which building was the dance hall, which were saloons and which buildings may have been homes, stores or other facilities.
Stepping inside this 1879 saloon is like stepping into the past with many of its original features still intact. Belly up to the ornate bar, where the seats were once the seats on the train, for a Guinness or an Irish Coffee and then head to the back room to check out the historic photos. Many famous figures have saddled up to the bar for a drink here, including Doc Holiday who lived across the street in the early 1880s. Margaret “Molly” Brown, who later became known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was a frequent patron, visiting with her husband James J. Brown, and of course, Oscar Wilde who was appearing at the Tabor Opera House during his 1882 American Aesthetic Movement lecture tour popped in too.