Leadville Colorado USA – High Altitude Winter Wonderland

GUEST ARTICLE: There are many well known spots in the state of Colorado which the typical tourist may be familiar with such as Rocky Mountain National Park or the Garden of the Gods.

The tour buses and guide books are full of ways to get there. The real beauty of the mountains, I believe is tucked away deeper, in hard to reach places. I live in one of those places.

The town of Leadville is about 2 1/2 hours driving (weather pending) distance from Denver. It is easy enough to catch a bus from Denver to Copper Mountain Ski Resort but the remaining distance is best travelled by car.

Hitch-hiking is still popular and reasonably safe but at this altitude (3,000 m/10,000 ft) the winter months of freezing temperatures can extend for 9 months out of the year and you would be wise to dress appropriately while waiting on the roadside. For best results, I recommend a rental car (preferably with four wheel drive in the winter).

The beauty of this location is the unpopulated heart of the Rocky Mountains. Surrounding the town on all sides are the tallest peaks in the State. There aren’t any polished hotels or shopping malls. There isn’t a Walmart or McDonald’s in sight.

There is only hiking, biking, skiing and nearby white water kayaking/rafting and climbing to name just a few outdoor pursuits. The town itself is a bit run down and impoverished which keeps the rich developers away. It is a unique place for those who know.

skinning up mosquito pass to birds eye gulch 2

The best place to meet quality people and pick their brains about hikes where you seldom see another human are at a handful of quiet businesses. The outdoor clothing company where workers toil at sewing machines just behind the counter called Melanzana. There is a bike shop, Cycles of Life, and a coffee shop, Provin’ Grounds, and the Tennessee Pass Cafe, all good places to meet outdoorsy folks.

Beware the bars particularly if you are female. The harsh weather and lack of shopping malls limits the mountains to an abundant supply of men. While this may seem favourable to women there is a saying in Alaska that I believe applies here too…. “while the odds are good (for a woman), the goods are odd as well”

The Forest Service has an office in the south of town and it’s is a great place to get maps and straight forward advice. There is a cheap backpacking lodge, the Leadville Hostel and my friends own the Leadville Inn bed & breakfast where you can bring your dogs and stay the night.

Ask folks about the Mineral Belt Trail that loops the town. It’s good for cross country skiing or biking and has awesome views of the surrounding peaks. Turquoise Lake (PDF) has a similar trail and offers great views but can get busy in the summer months.

twin lakes colorado south of leadville - aerial view and hiking trail

Some favourite hikes of mine are Windsor Lake, a steep uphill 1 hour jaunt to a wilderness area with postcard photo quality shots in every direction. Twin Lakes has tons of trails and the best fall foliage I’ve seen which are easily accessible by car. Mayflower Gulch in nearby Summit County is another popular and stunning hike/ski. Chaulk Falls is spectacularly frozen in the winter and gorgeous in the spring.

The headwater for the Arkansas River is here and the fly fishing is excellent and so is the rafting/kayaking. For beginners, book a rafting trip down Brown’s Canyon. For those without small kids and seeking adventure try the “Numbers” section (my personal favorite in a kayak).

kayaking the arkansas river buena vista colorado

For those that like intense thrills get to the Pine Creek section that starts in the town of Granite. The Arkansas River’s crystal blue water has a bit for everyone but make sure you’re here for it’s short season between late May and mid-August as it’s dam controlled and the tap is shut off early.

The local Leadville airport is the highest elevation field in North America and offers scenic flights and flight training. The strong winds and heavy snows can be limiting but the views from above are worth the wait.

skinning up mosquito pass to birds eye gulch


The altitude here is worth mentioning twice. At 3,000m/10,000ft a person can easily experience altitude sickness. It strikes indiscriminately, whether healthy or not, young or old. If you’ve never walked around at these heights you can become light headed, easily winded, have difficulty sleeping and experience nausea.

I recommend you exercise and drink lots of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol before and during your trip. With more than 300 days of sunshine in Colorado, it’s worth the efforts!

These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more hidden spots in this State but I’m not willing to give them all away. Enjoy the exploration and don’t forget your camera.

This travel diary has been written by Backwoods Ben. Ben is a very busy man. When he’s not exploring the wilderness around his hometown in Colorado he’s working in an ambulance crew at the local hospital on 24 hr shifts, participating in his local search and rescue team or taking lessons to eventually get a commercial pilots license!

You can visit Ben’s stumbleupon.com profile and view more of his photos around the Leadville Area and Mosquito Pass to the east of Leadville at Ben’s Flickr photo gallery

If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution

14 thoughts on “Leadville Colorado USA – High Altitude Winter Wonderland”

  1. wow, I love the snow picture.

    I live in TN, and we never get any good snow. Our winters usually are usually in the mid 30’s and it rains…. A horrible winter.

  2. Thanks for this post and the wonderful pictures. great place to add to list of areas and sights to visit.

  3. Super post!

    I live in Utah and we are planning a trip to Colorado this year. Colorado has some great mountains and is so large to see all in one week so I think we’ll try Ouray and Silverton.

    Just have to “ride the rails” at Silverton. Looks like we’ll have to head to Leadville next year.

    Utah has some spectacular scenery on the other side of the Rockies. Come visit!

  4. Wow – simply amazing! Okay, maybe I’m guilty of “small thinking”, but I thought the only truly picturesque place on Earth in winter is quaint little New England, where I am! But you’ve dramatically broadened and elevated (no pun intended!) my thinking on that with this post!

    I’ve been to Colorado several times, but only during the summer. Will definitely have to plan a winter visit now. Gorgeous! Thanks again!


  5. I visited Leadville about 3 years ago and what a beautiful area. A winter sports enthusiast dream. We did lots of skiing. I can’t wait to go back.

  6. Great pictures…….seems like Colorado is the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts. And ‘more than 300 days of sunshine in Colorado’ sounds great and adds to the charm 🙂

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