This one-day road trip takes you to the center of the state for a taste of Colorado’s highest peaks and the historic mining towns of Leadville and Salida. These two mountain towns are untouched by modern-day development — the kind of places where the lady on Main Street with the kayak over her shoulder throws a neighborly nod your way and the corner barista welcomes customers by first name.
In the late 1800s, prospectors rushed to extract more than $4 million in gold from Leadville’s hills in just five years. Today the one-stop-light community is a 70-square-block National Historic Landmark known for Victorian architecture and an impressive number of museums.
Experience the fortunes and figures that built one of America’s richest mining towns at the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum. Often called the Smithsonian of the Rockies, exhibits include a model mining-town railroad, a walk-through replica of an underground hardrock mine and prospector’s cave, and the Gold Rush Room, which displays artifacts from each of the 17 U.S. states that hosted significant gold rushes.
Continue down Harrison Avenue past specialty shops and former brothels to treasure hunt at The Delaware Hotel, where the lobby doubles as an antique emporium and guest rooms are decorated with collectibles from around the world. An essential stop on the Historic Walking Tour, visit the 132-year-old Tabor Opera House and learn the rags-to-riches (and back to rags) story behind silver-mining millionaire Horace Tabor.
Work up a sweat on one of the state’s newest — and highest elevation — trails. The 11.6-mile-long paved Mineral Belt Trail loops Leadville and leads hikers and bikers through aspen groves and wildflower meadows, opening up to views of the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges.
Buckle up for a southbound scenic drive along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic and Historic Byway. See ranches, ghost towns and glacier-whittled valleys watched over by the highest concentration of 14,000-foot-high peaks in the United States, including mounts Harvard, Yale and Columbia.
Stop off at Mount Princeton Hot Springs and rest in the resort’s 135-degree, muscle-soothing geothermal pools. Once coveted by Ute Indians as ceremonial baths, the clear waters now flow into larger pools complete with waterslides and manmade rock rings.
Close the day browsing artistic downtown Salida’s galleries and shops. Boasting an impressive historic district, century-old redbrick buildings line the outdoorsy town while the adjacent Arkansas River draws whitewater enthusiasts from across the country. Join locals for a nightcap at the SteamPlant Theater, where national and international artists perform in a renovated power plant.