This past year I accomplished one of my bucket list goals by climbing to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and upon returning home I realized there is a mountain range right here in this country that I have yet to explore. A girl’s trip out to Colorado to summit the second tallest peak in the lower forty-eight, Mount Elbert (14,433′), was a perfect way to satisfy my desire to climb mountains and be of immersed in the wilderness again. If you are also looking for a mountain getaway, head over to Leadville for a small town feel on the edge of the Rockies.
Getting To Leadville
There are a couple other options for getting yourself out to Leadville, but we chose probably the easiest and cheapest option which was renting a car with the cost split between the four of us. We all arrived in Denver late so we decided to stay the night close to the airport in order to utilize the free shuttle and save on the total cost of the car by eliminating an entire day.
The next morning, we were up early so that we would have plenty of options for a car seeing as we needed one with plenty of clearance as well as one equipt with four-wheel drive. Getting out of Denver was fairly easy and we opted to take a more scenic route out to Leadville by cruising along Route 285. Taking our time so that we could adjust to the altitude allowed us a quick stop at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre as well as lunch with a view in Buena Vista. The total driving time is about three hours, but I recommend taking it slow to acclimate if you are coming from a lower elevation.
The highest city in the United States at 10,152′, Leadville is a small town with big skies and a stellar view. There are hotels in and around town, but we chose to go with an Air B&B just a few streets away from the main strip. Our apartment came with a full kitchen, board games, and the most amazing amenity, a hot tub overlooking the mountains.
If you take a stroll down the main street, you can see the history of the area in the buildings and other charming details such as murals, old shops, and unique restaurants. We went with the money saving route and grabbed some groceries so that we could cook at the apartment. The second night, however, we ordered pizza from a local place called High Mountain Pies, which was absolutely delicious! Get your order in early because this place seems to be a local favorite and had a pretty decent wait time for deliveries.
The main reason we chose Leadville as our point of interest in Colorado was so that we would be relatively close to the North Mount Elbert trailhead. A short, thirty-minute drive from the main road was easy enough to get to since the roads were paved and our GPS recognized the location. Aside from Mount Elbert, there are dozens of other peaks such as Mount Massive and Quandary Peak that are also within proximity to Leadville.
Arrive early, preferably before 6:00 AM to beat the crowds and grab a parking spot, especially on weekends in the summer. It’s also important to get up and down the mountain before afternoon summer storms roll in which can be extremely dangerous if you are above the treeline (around 11,000′) since you are exposed to the elements.
We left our apartment around 5:00 AM and started our journey just before 6:00 AM. The trail is about a 10 mile out and back hike with over 4,000′ of elevation gain. The last couple of miles messes with your head with plenty of false summits and steep switchbacks. Once you arrive at the top, there will be a handful of other people celebrating the accomplishment and the views with beers, food, and friends. We were back to our car around 2:45 PM with the entire afternoon left to enjoy. Check out my other post, Summiting The Second Tallest Peak In The Lower 48, for my detailed account of our hike up Mount Elbert.