AOPA Pilot Magazine
August 2007 Volume 50 / Number 8
Land of the silver kings
A college buddy of mine was from Leadville, Colorado, and used to wear a baseball hat that said "10,152 feet," the elevation of the town. That number is forever burned into my brain. He used to joke that Leadville has two seasons, winter and the Fourth of July. The fact that it can snow any day of the year adds excitement to any trip there. It was one of the places I had always wanted to go and it did not disappoint, meaning the altitude or the scenery.
What to do
With easy access to mountains, rivers, and lakes, the possibilities are unlimited for outdoor activities. Mount Elbert, Colorado's tallest mountain, is a non-technical hike and is known as one of the easier climbs as 14ers (mountains above 14,000 feet) go. That's because most of the trailheads start so high. Make sure you take extra clothing, plenty of water, and properly acclimatize.
Turquoise Lake to the west of town conjures up images of beauty and peace. In summer it draws the usual campers and anglers, but in January the town hosts a 20-mile snowshoe run.
For those who are fit and immune to pain, Leadville is famous for its 100-mile ultra-marathons and mountain bike races. There's also an annual pack burro race that begins in Leadville and goes over Mosquito Pass. If you are flying in, there are several places in town where you can rent outdoor equipment from canoes to mountain bikes.
If you want something more sedate, play a round of golf at the Mount Massive Golf Course, the highest course in North America. Bear in mind that golf balls fly a lot farther up here. Or you can try your luck panning for gold at the Sugar Loafin' Campground. Also look for Jeep and boat tours, horseback riding, and railroad tours.
During the winter, Ski Cooper draws skiers from all over looking for good snow and reasonable lift ticket prices. When you're not exploring the powder, you can take a sled dog ride, go sledding, or try snowmobiling.
Leadville is proud of its mining heritage and several museums capture its heyday where fortunes were made and lost. Horace and Baby Doe Tabor achieved enormous wealth only to lose it all in bad investments. Three historical sites are dedicated to the Tabor family: the Tabor Opera House, Matchless Mine and Tabor Museum, and the Tabor Home.
Also, glimpse life in a booming silver mining camp at the Healy House and Dexter Cabin, see historical dioramas at the Heritage Museum and Gallery, and find out who's who at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Most of the museums are open May through October.
Where to eat
There are a surprising variety of restaurants for such a small town and they are all along the main drag. Once you're on foot, you can see most of what the town has to offer.
For a taste of European food, try the Tennessee Pass Café. They have some great seafood and pasta dishes, mixed in unique sauces.
If the altitude makes you crave Chinese or Italian, try Szechuan Taste II or Zichittella's Italian. There are a few Mexican places as well: Manuelita's (great tacos and quesadillas), Casa Blanca, Gringo's, and the Grill Bar & Café.
Good old-fashioned red meat can be found at the Silver Dollar Saloon, Quincy's Steak & Spirits, and Wild Bill's Hamburgers and Ice Cream, and the Pastime Saloon.
There are some family places, too, such as the Columbine Café. I had a giant, tasty omelet at the Golden Burro Café & Lounge.
Looking for a watering hole? Try the Scarlet Tavern or Rosie's Brewpub where they sell handcrafted beer and root beer.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Alps Motel, located on Highway 24, about two miles from the airport. The rooms are simple, clean, and have a beautiful view of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. It's hard to wake up to a view better than that.
There are a whole variety of motels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks, and campgrounds. Make sure you make reservations wherever you intend to stay. With the plethora of local events, you never know when the rooms might be full.
Flying into Leadville's Lake County Airport demands respect. Just take a look at the sectional. There are plenty of peaks above 13,000 feet, so knowledge of mountain flying techniques is a must. The runway might be 6,400 feet long, but once you get airborne remember what the density altitude does to climb performance.
The cool morning hours usually provide the calmest conditions, but beware of passing fronts. It's best to go in lightly loaded and prepare to spend a night if it gets hot in the afternoon. The flight school does offer mountain flying courses. Is there a better place to learn than North America's highest municipal airport?