Journey Across the Heavens in America’s Loftiest City

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Situated in Leadville, Colorado, America’s highest city at 10,158 feet, the annual gathering of thousands of endurance athletes occurs for the famed “Race Across the Sky.” The Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon, the race series’ flagship event held every August, challenges participants with rugged mountain passes in the Rockies, peaking at a breathtaking 12,620 feet on Hope Pass. Despite half the competitors failing to finish, the event’s allure persists—2023 marks its 40th anniversary, and it remains sold out year after year.

Leadville’s appeal extends beyond the race, as a well-preserved Victorian mining town with over 70 protected historical structures, eight museums, and a resilient, thriving spirit of the boomtown era. Here’s a guide to experiencing the unique charms of Leadville, whether or not you’re participating in the race.

From Prosperity to Collapse to Adventurer’s Haven

Founded as a gold-mining settlement in the 1860s, Leadville’s transformation came with the discovery of a massive lead-zinc-silver deposit in the late 1870s. This allowed the town to swell to 30,000 inhabitants by 1880.

Over a decade, Leadville’s railroads shipped silver worth over $82 million, making it a symbol of opulence, trailing only Denver, with a wealth of high-end establishments. The sudden end of Colorado’s silver boom in 1893, with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act’s repeal, brought Leadville’s fortunes down.

Currently, around 2,700 residents enjoy life in this high-altitude town. Leadville serves as a popular pit stop for those exploring the scenic Top of the Rockies Byway and as a resupply point for long-distance hikers. Dominated by Colorado’s two tallest peaks, Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, Leadville functions as a base for peak climbers.

Besides endurance events, Leadville is famous for pack burro racing, and the city’s history is palpable. Elsa Tharp, co-founder of FREIGHT, emphasizes Leadville’s vibrant heritage.


Discovering Cloud City

Leadville welcomes visitors with a taste of the nation’s highest-altitude coffee at Zero Day Coffee. A conversation with locals reveals the charm and the energy of the town.

Those looking for lighter experiences can explore the picturesque Mineral Belt Trail by renting an electric bike, learning about Leadville’s historical significance along the way. Harrison Avenue offers a delightful walk through Cloud City, with its diverse architecture, eateries, and shops.

The iconic Tabor Opera House, built in 1879, stands as a testament to the grandeur of Leadville’s past and is part of Colorado’s Historic Opera Houses Circuit. A tour unveils historic treasures and ongoing restoration efforts.


The 19th-century Matchless Mine offers insights into Leadville’s opulent past, the life of its owner Horace Tabor, and his infamous love story with “Baby Doe” Tabor.

Shopping enthusiasts can book a visit to Melanzana, the town’s renowned outdoor clothing brand. As of July 2023, it was already booked through December.


Stay: S.L.umberyard, set in a restored freight depot, offers 13 industrial-chic cabins, each named after a forgotten figure from Leadville’s silver boom era.

Eat: Mineral 1886 offers an exquisite Benedict ($12), while Golden Burro Cafe is renowned for its plant-based options, smoothies, and house-made kombucha. Keep an eye out for the neon sign from the 1930s.

Jayme Moye covers travel, mountain sports, and adventure. You can follow her on Instagram.

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