As the temperatures soared well into the 90s and low 100s in Denver this summer, we’ve been spending most of our time in the Colorado mountains. While there’s not much traveling happening, at least in our traditional ways, we started to venture out locally to visit places in Colorado in safe and socially distant ways.
Over several days these past months, we’ve headed off to Leadville, Colorado for some hikes in the vicinity of this high altitude former mining hub.
Leadville was once Colorado’s second largest city and was founded as a mining town during the Colorado gold rush by Horace Tabor. The town became a prominent silver and, later, molybdenum mining community. Despite horse drawn carriages being replaced by modern day motor cars, a walk down Main Street can bring even the most unimaginative mind back to the days when Poker Alice, Doc Holliday, Molly Brown and Oscar Wilde strolled it’s streets. Now mostly populated by athletes who come to train at high altitude, recreation lovers, mountain resort employees and locals it’s an interesting stop in the heart of Colorado where you can visit the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum or stop into the Silver Dollar Saloon for a quaffable refreshment (in non pandemic times, that is).
On our first day into town, we chose the Boulders, Old Chubb, Wheelers loop on the All Trails app (an awesome app for you hikers who are not already initiated). It was listed there as easy but we mostly picked it because it was listed as lightly trafficked and it was. There are lots of trails in this complex adjacent to Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville campus for walking, mountain biking and cross country skiing. We encountered a few mountain bikers and deviated from the main loop on to Golddiggers trail to avoid a well spaced out collection of thirteen mountain bikers from a youth group of some sort. Enjoy gorgeous views of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, two of Colorado’s 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet in altitude), as you wind through pine forests, aspen groves and sage brush.
On our second trip to Leadville, we chose Turquoise Lake. The trail is 11 miles long out and back and hugs the lake offering gorgeous views of the lake itself and the mountains which surround it. Great for social distancing once you get past the first mile which is dotted by boat ramps, camp grounds and stony and sandy beaches. Contactless cash payment required to park in the boat ramp lot at the head of the path, so bring a few George Washingtons along. We had to turn early due to some ominous looking high altitude skies but it was a lovely day nonetheless.
On Highway 91 between Copper Mountain and I-70 and Leadville you’ll find the Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir. Parking lots sit abreast of each side of the highway end and a loop (a small portion of it right along the highway) runs around it through forest, marsh lands and meadow. The trail on a partly sunny turned cloudy and thunderstorming Sunday morning was sparsely trafficked except for fishing on either end near the parking lots. Its a beautiful and short loop with stunning views of Atlantic Peak and Quandary Peak (another 14’er, and the first – to date, only – I’ve summited).
On our fourth foray into Leadville’s surrounds we discovered Vance’s cabin. The trailhead departs from the parking lot for Ski Cooper. You pass streamside along a closed road for the first quarter mile then cross the stream cutting through high alpine pastures and fields and up into the woods. You climb about 1,000 vertical feet and come upon the telltale signs of a cabin construction area at the top of a hill adorned with dozens of tree stumps. The views of the mountains surrounding the cabin are stunningly brilliant. We were quite surprised (of course a quick Google pre-hike would have eliminated all suspense) that the cabin itself, built in 1980, was not some abandoned and run down former cabin and is part of the 10th Mountain Division hut network (more info here). After enjoying lunch at the cabin’s picnic table we turned for home, one of our best summer excursions and explorations complete.
Speaking of the 10th Mountain Division…. We explored Camp Hale on a Sunday afternoon. We started out on the Kokomo Pass trail (part of the Colorado Trail which runs from Durango to Denver) but there were too many mountain bikers and runners for our current social distancing standards. We settled down for lunch near an old homesteaders cabin but were interrupted by a rattlesnake (we are pretty sure, we didn’t stick around to gather any DNA) and tried a dirt road up to a cabin only to be surrounded by dirt bikes. Despite our failed attempts, the valley is beautiful and it’s easy (and somewhat awe inspiring) to imagine those heroes of World War II training in these surrounds. Unfortunately, the kiosks describing Camp Hale along Highway 24 are so weathered and damaged its hard to read their contents.
The Leadville area offers many varying hiking and recreational options, is intensely beautiful and is a cool town to boot. There are lots of more aggressive hikes, but if you’re looking to take it a little easier and trying to be more alone the ones we choose were great.