10 Reasons to Visit Leadville and Twin Lakes, Colorado this Fall

High peaks, breathtaking scenery, and an area steeped in a rich mining history are a few of the reasons to visit the mountain towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes, Colorado. Leadville, winner of the 2020 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award Contest for “Best Historic Small Town,” boasts the highest elevation in North America. Twin Lakes, its close-by neighbor, offers some of the largest, sparkling glacial lakes in the state. If you like towns with endless outdoor recreation, a genuine wild-west feel, and authentic locals, you might find yourself never wanting to leave this special part of Colorado.

Leaves change first in Leadville and Twin Lakes. At elevations around 10,000’, the aspen usually peak mid- to late September, surrounding scenic drives, hikes, bike rides, and train rides with golden leaves. Here are some of our favorite reasons to visit Leadville and Twin Lakes this fall!

1. National Scenic and Historic Byway – Autumn Roads
All roads into Leadville follow the Top of the Rockies National Scenic and Historic Byway. This 82-mile route crosses the Continental Divide twice, traces the Arkansas River, and drives over three major passes, one over 12,000,’ with spectacular views of golden aspen. The section from Twin Lakes to the summit of Independence Pass is especially brilliant in the fall. Bright aspen groves on the mountains offer a spectacular backdrop to the shimmering waters of these large glacial lakes. Yellow and orange leaves glow on both sides of Highway 82 as it twists from Twin Lakes up to Independence Pass and down the western side to Aspen.

2. Leadville Scenic Train – Fall Photo Specials
Care for a break from driving? Book a seat on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad to ride up into the San Isabel National Forest, where the mountains are ablaze with yellow, orange, and red. The train departs daily at 1 p.m. on weekdays in the fall. Better yet, reserve a spot on the Fall Photo Weekend Specials. These three-hour rides go all the way up the line, an additional mile and a half, allowing you to experience untouched wilderness in its autumn beauty, the headwaters of the Arkansas River Valley, and sweeping vistas of Colorado’s two highest peaks, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. The fall specials are set for Sept. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, and 26-27. There are two special rides per day, departing the depot at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required; please book in advance. If you miss the Fall Photo Special, don’t fret, you can still relax over a beautiful scenic ride every weekend in October.

3. Fall Hikes

Mt. Elbert is Colorado’s tallest mountain, at 14,433′ above sea level, and is the second-highest peak in the continental United States. Hiking the East Ridge in the fall means a trip through an expansive aspen grove—and a chance to look down on those glowing leaves from above. Fall can be a good time to climb Mt. Elbert, as chances for afternoon thunderstorms begin to drop. For a safe and enjoyable climb, hikers should always check weather forecasts and be back at treeline by early afternoon if there is any chance of storms.

The Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail offer a gorgeous scenic stretch, running together from Tennessee Pass to Turquoise Lake, across the lower slopes of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, around Twin Lakes to Interlaken. From there, the CDT heads up Hope Pass, and the Colorado Trail veers east. If you’re looking for golden aspens, the Colorado Trail is a great choice for a fall hike. Hikers and trail runners can access both trails at multiple points. The trails are open to bikes except in the Mt. Massive Wilderness.

The views atop Hope Pass at 12,600′ are stunning. Think soaring 14ers in the Sawatch Range, Twin Lakes from on high, and the picturesque Arkansas River Valley. On the way up this nine-mile round-trip hike, consider what it’s like to do the Leadville Trail 100 Run. These racers cross Hope Pass twice within 30 hours, on their way out and back from Leadville.

4. Fall Bike Rides
Leadville’s famous Mineral Belt Trail, an 11.6 mile paved loop around the historic city, goes through a large aspen grove that is brilliant in the fall. The section between 5th Street and Toledo Street/California Gulch has jaw-dropping leaves. Throughout the trail, visitors can see the summits of Colorado’s two highest peaks, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, and other towering Sawatch peaks, as well as remnants of 1880s silver mines and stunning views of leaves throughout the area.

The trail to Interlaken passes through a lakeside aspen grove on the way to a turn-of-the-century ghost resort on the shores of Twin Lakes, two large blue glacial lakes. After reaching Interlaken, hikers or bikers can wander around the buildings and imagine Interlaken’s days as a bustling resort. Mt. Elbert is in full view across the lake, with its lower slopes yellow with aspen. The trail is approximately 4.5 miles round trip.

5. Ghost Town and Tours; Perfect for Halloween
To visit the ghosts of yesteryear, head to the East Side Mining District just above Leadville. There you’ll find the remains of Leadville’s silver mining boom days, from looming headframes to creaky ore houses that once bustled with miners. Drive up Toledo Street to California Gulch, and just to the north of where the Mineral Belt Trail crosses the road, you can read about the spooky happenings in nearby mines. Decide for yourself if the stories are true! Download a Heritage Guide to learn more about the area’s history.

Leadville’s beautifully restored and last remaining Victorian hotel, the Delaware Hotel, offers a series of guided, narrated Leadville Safari Tours from July through September. Choose from three different tour options: cemetery tours, ghost tours of Leadville’s streets, or ghost tours of Leadville’s mining district.

6. Soar High Above the Fall Foliage

If you don’t feel like hiking or driving to see the fall foliage, soar high above the valley on the Top of the Rockies Zipline! Leadville is the only place in the world where you can zipline over a moving train. You’ll jump from an elevation of 11,200′ with views of Colorado’s highest peaks. Open year-round.

7. Twin Lakes Interlaken Boat Tours

Feel like an explorer while crossing Twin Lakes in a motor boat bound for the Interlaken Resort, a ghost resort on the lakes’ far shore. On this narrated two-hour tour, enjoy the sparkling water and warm sun on some of Colorado’s largest glacial lakes. You’ll see golden aspens groves along the shores and on the nearby mountains. Once the boat lands, roam the buildings where the wealthy once made their summer escape. Tours run daily, May through September. Please call ahead for reservations. You can also access the Interlaken Resort by hiking or biking along the Interlaken Trail.

8. Play One More Round of Golf Before Next Season

For the sports enthusiast, make a hole in one at the reasonably priced Mt. Massive Golf Course, North America’s highest course. Surrounded by 14ers, this course surely is also one of the nation’s most scenic. Open until the second week of October.

9. Ride through Golden Scenery

Halfmoon Packing & Outfitting offers horseback rides, wagon rides, stagecoach rides, and overnight wilderness pack trips, featuring some of the most spectacular mountain views in the area. They also offer a complete range of hunting services, including fully guided hunts, drop camps, game retrieval, and pack services. Open through November 16.

10. Experience Western History through a Museum Tour
National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame – Tour replicas of caves and mines, check out the masks past miners wore to breathe and the carbide lamps that lit their way, and see photos of the people who’ve run American mines for decades. Open Tuesday-Sunday, year-round.

Matchless Mine – Visit the place where one of Leadville’s most notorious silver kings, Horace Tabor, struck it rich and where his mistress-turned-wife died alone and penniless in 1935. See the original mining shaft and headframe used to pull Tabor’s extraordinary wealth from the ground. Then, tour the newspaper-lined shack where Baby Doe lived out her days. Due to a historic preservation taking place at the Hoist House, the Matchless Mine will be temporarily closed from August 20 until early September. It will then reopen through the end of September, with guided tours at half price due to construction.

Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin – Discover two of Leadville’s earliest houses for a glimpse of life in a booming silver-mining town. The Dexter Cabin and Healy House feature lavish Victorian furniture, including objects belonging to Horace and Augusta Tabor, and a beautiful Victorian garden. Open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10am-2pm.

Temple Israel – Built in 1884, Temple Israel is the oldest of the area’s frontier synagogues. After a fire in 2006, the building was historically restored to near original condition. It now serves as a museum and research institute on that documents the lives of Jewish pioneers during Leadville’s mining boom era. Open by appointment only; please call 303-709-7050 to make a reservation.

Tabor Opera House Tours – Experience the splendor of this majestic opera house, once billed as the finest theatre between St. Louis and San Francisco. As the Tabor’s first full rehabilitation since 1902 has just begun, tours will discuss both the current work and future vision for this elegant building, deemed a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, Friday-Sunday, until Sept 6, 2020.

For more information, please visit leadvilletwinlakes.com.

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