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Leadville - Colorado

Leadville is one of the main reasons for the growth of Denver, and for the development of Colorado in the 1880s and 1890s. By 1880, Leadville was the second largest city in the state. Almost 25,000 people lived here as the result of enormous mineral strikes. By 1880, the area was producing more than $10 million in silver per year.

More than a few fortunes were made in this high mountain region (the town has an elevation of 10,152 feet) including that of H.A.W. Tabor who became the state's first multimillionaire.

Leadville/Ski Cooper Snow Information

Ski Cooper


Mountain Stats


Located in National Forest lands, Ski Cooper offers downhill and cross country skiing, nine miles north of Leadville, on Highway 24. For general information, call (719) 486-3684. Base elevation is 10,500 feet, with the top elevation at 11,700 feet, for a vertical climb of 1,200 feet. While the length of the slopes are not as long as those at other Colorado resorts, the scenery is awesome, and the snow deep and powdery.

The ski operation also offers snowcat tours of Chicago Ridge, feature backcountry skiing through treed slopes and open bowls, and the Piney Creek Nordic Center features 24 miles of groomed trails, plus snowmobile rentals, and skiing lessons (cross-country and telemark). The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is located nearby.

Leadville History

H.A.W. Tabor had first settled with his wife in Oroville, 2.5 miles south of Leadville, but moved his general store to Leadville after strikes were made there. He lucked into grubstaking a mining operation which made his fortune. The town boomed and soon State Street (now Second Avenue) boasted a quarter mile of saloons, gambling halls, brothels and other entertainment spots. Houses, stores and banks followed.

The Tabor Opera House still stands, along with Leadvilles's impressive Victorian homes. Tabor was the cause of a notorious scandal when he shed his wife to marry Elizabeth "Baby Doe" McCourt. Tabor died penniless in Denver. Baby Doe continued to lived near Leadville, in a cabin at the "Matchless" Mine, until she froze to death in 1935. Tabor's first wife, Augusta, fared better. She enjoyed a wealthy state for the remainder of her life.

Leadville not only produced silver but there was also gold, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and turquoise. Many of America's wealthiest families got their start in the area: the Guggenheims, the Marshal Fields, and the fabulous James J. Brown ("Leadville Johnny") who owned the Little Johnny Mine and plumbed an enormous vein of gold. He built the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and his wife was the "Unsinkable Molly Brown," the heroine of the Titanic sinking, and of musical comedy fame.

What to See & Do

Offering memories of that rough and lusty era, the Leadville Mining District consists of three streets off Harrison Avenue. The annual visitor guide from the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (at 809 Harrison) provides a map of the area for a driving tour of the district which has old head frames, wooden cribbings, and a museum at the site of the famed Matchless Mine, owned by Horace Tabor and his second wife, "Baby Doe."

Downtown Leadville reflects all of this history, in the old homes and office buildings and two of the original saloons. The town offers several special celebrations such as the Boom Days Celebration (early August), and the On Top Of It Rodeo (September). Several museums are devoted to the Leadville mining era, including Healy House and Dexter Cabin Museum, at 912 Harrison Avenue, and the Tabor Opera House. Now open for daily tours, the famous opera house was built by Horace Tabor, the mining magnate, and opened November 20, 1879. It played host to many world renowned artists including Oscar Wilde, Jenny Lind, the Flora Dora Girls, Harry Houdini, and many more. Guided tours take visitors through the opera house, including backstage areas, from May 30th until October 1st.

Many visitors come to this high country (two miles elevation) for outdoor adventure. Hiking trails are available in the national forest, offering a challenge to climb the slopes of the two highest mountains in Colorado. Mt. Massive Golf Course offers North America's highest golfing experience, with wonderful views of the mountains and the Arkansas River Valley. The course is located three miles west of Leadville, near Turquoise Lake, and is open from May through October, unless early and late snows intervene. For information, call (719) 486-2176.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Turquoise Lake offer hiking, as well as camping (public and private), plus accommodations in nearby motels and lodges. When visiting Twin Lakes, be sure to see the old Inter-Laken Hotel, established as a resort for the early Colorado rich and famous. The hotel lost its lustre after the end of mining in the area, and is now on view courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

Campgrounds include Forest Service camp sites on Turquoise Lake, three miles from town. Fishing in the lake is good, as is fishing in the Twin Lakes Reservoir.

The Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad provides an excellent scenic train ride which operates during the summer and fall months. The trip begins at the historic depot on East Seventh (at Hazel), and follows the route taken by mining trains for a 2.5-hour ride along the headwaters of the Arkansas River. The train makes at stop at French Gulch, where the old trains stopped to take in water. A gift shop is located at the depot and concessions are available on the train. The train departs at 1 p.m. daily, from May 23rd to June 8th, and at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from June 15 to the beginning of September, when it goes back to the one-a-day schedule until October 4th. For information and group reservation, call (719) 486-3936.

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Guide to Leadville

Delaware Hotel
700 Harrison Avenue (719) 486-1418 or 800-748-2004
The only remaining historic hotel in Leadville, the place exudes the atmosphere of 1888 when the Delaware Block was built. There are well decorated rooms and several suites -- all with antique furniture. A full breakfast is served to guests ($$).

Leadville Camping

Sugar Loafin' Campground
303 Highway 300, (719) 486-1031
This campground and RV park -- found near Turquoise Lake, on County Road 4 -- has full hookups, tent sites in the woods, showers, laundry, and an evening ice cream social for guests. RV spaces have full hookups and a tent campground is located under the trees. You can rent mountain bikes for touring the nearby slopes. To get there, take U.S. Highway 24, and turn at milepost 177. Drive 3.5 miles northwest on County Road 4.

Nearby towns and attractions,
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Denver, Aspen, Breckenridge,
Glenwood Springs


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