On my last full day in Colorado, I decided that my legs needed a break from hiking. I decided to make the scenic drive to the town of Leadville, Colorado, which was about an hour away from Beaver Creek. Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the entire United States and sits at 10, 200 feet in elevation. The drive there from Beaver Creek also takes you down the Rocky Mountain Scenic Byway and it truly is a gorgeous drive. It ended up taking me closer to an hour and a half because I kept pulling over for photos!
The drive actually takes you up over two very high mountain passes so there is a lot of twists and turns as you climb up. Once you get past the second pass, the drive is fairly straight to Leadville but you still have incredible mountain views in the background. Along the drive, you get those iconic views of granite monoliths with snow capped peaks and then you also get alpine meadows and serene lakes.
I finally pulled into Leadville and parked on their main street. There really isn’t much to the town. It’s an old mining village and retains its “wild west” charm. There are a few antique stores and old saloons on the main street. I decided to wait until I got back to Vail to eat lunch so I just took a few photos and looked around. There are also several oxygen bars in the town to help visitors deal with the altitude. I won’t lie – I was feeling it as well. I got out of the car and instantly felt an altitude headache. For me, it feels like there is a tight vise around my head that is squeezing it. Not a pleasant feeling.
One attraction in Leadville is Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine. The story of Baby Doe is a famous rags to riches to rags again family saga. She was a poor woman that moved to Leadville in the 1880’s looking for work. She ended up marrying one of the richest men in the U.S., Mr. Tabor. Tabor had made his millions from his mining businesses, which included the Matchless Mine that produced silver. He was also a U.S. Senator for a short while and he and Baby Doe lived an opulent lifestyle in huge mansions in D.C. and Denver. He ended up losing his entire fortune through bad investments and died penniless. His last request to Baby Doe was that she hold onto the Matchless Mine so she moved back to Leadville and lived in a shack next to the mine, which never produced anything again. After a bad snowstorm in 1935, she was found, emaciated and frozen to death, in her little wooden shack. Apparently she had also become quite the eccentric by that time as well, which may have been the result of lead poisoning from drinking the mine’s tainted water. One of her daughters, Silver Dollar Tabor (seriously, that was her name) ended up dying under mysterious circumstances after being involved with a Chicago mobster. Quite the family story. You can tour her old shack and the surface level but the mine was long ago filled in and caved in so there are no underground mine tours.
Following my Leadville visit, I drove back towards Vail and stopped into the Village for a little shopping and lunch. A mountain stream runs right through the middle of the town and there are plenty of restaurants along its banks. I had a lovely lunch of brook trout with corn and okra at Mountain Standard Restaurant, which I highly recommend.
Following lunch I walked around the Village for over an hour. The town is 100% pedestrian zoned so no cars (and parking is free during the summer!). It also looks like a little Swiss or Bavarian Village with architecture mimicking chalets and balconies filled with flowers. It’s an adorable place to spend an afternoon.
As you can see, the town is a little mountain jewel. The shops range from very high end and pricey to inexpensive t-shirt stores. I ended up buying a few gifts here and there and then treated myself to some ice cream that I really didn’t need. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and I look forward to visiting Vail again! Vail itself is only about a 10-15 minute from the Ritz Carlton Hotel so it was very convenient to visit and there are multiple hotels and condos to rent right in the Village. The ski lift also take you up the mountain right behind the Village but at $37 per person, I decided to skip it. I’d had plenty of great views on my hikes and drives anyway but maybe next time!