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While just about everyone has heard of Aspen or Vail, Leadville is a spectacularly beautiful mountain town in the Colorado Rockies that’s often missed by travelers. This “hidden gem,” if you will, is the highest incorporated city in the entire nation, sitting at an elevation of 10,152 feet, and it offers a more affordable, less pretentious place to base yourself for enjoying all that the region has to offer.
This was one of the richest, longest-lived and bawdiest mining boom towns in the United States. In fact, 70 square blocks of its downtown area are designated as a National Historic Landmark of Victorian architecture. Not only does it offer lots for the history buff, but for snow sport enthusiasts, hikers and all types of other outdoor adventurers.
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Budget Skiing and Boarding
While most skiers and snowboarders are familiar with Copper Mountain, many have never heard of the much more affordable Ski Cooper and assume locals are referring to the more famed resort, which is why you’ll rarely have to battle crowds here. Cooper offers spacious ski runs without the fear of “Speedy Gonzales” running you down, and the views are truly breathtaking. It’s an ideal resort for beginners to learn, while those who are more experienced will find intermediate to advanced runs as well.
Other Outdoor Adventures
During the warmer months of the year, there are a wealth of outdoor adventures available too, including hiking, fishing, golfing, rafting, four-wheeling and mountain biking.
Just minutes away from downtown and you can be in the heart of the Rockies, surrounded by dramatic peaks, colorful wildflowers and tranquil streams. There are even a number of ghost towns that can be explored, like Douglass City. Imagine a town where the “ladies of the evening” were considered too jaded for Leadville, but were welcome here. This place, accessed via a rather rough trek a couple of miles straight up, was 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.
You’ll see 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.
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.
Back in 1880, a report by Lewis A. Kent summed up its legendary status well: “On Harrison Avenue in Leadville stands the elegant brick Tabor Opera House, the most imposing edifice in the city and conceded by all to be the finest theater west of the Missouri River. All the appointments of this temple of amusement are first-class in every respect; the scenery artistic, and under the full flood of gas-light the coziest place for lovers of the legitimate drama to throw off the busy cares of life and yield to the fascinations of music and imagery.”
The building is now owned by Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation, which has embarked on a mission to preserve and renovate it.
There are remnants of the town’s peak mining days throughout the area that can be explored, and both guided and self-guided tours of one of the nation’s most famous mines, the Matchless Mine, can be taken.
This historic silver mine was purchased in 1879 by H.A.W. Tabor, 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.