Plan an Old-Fashioned Christmas in Leadville, Colorado

Tour Victorian homes in this high-altitude town

Getty Images/Richard Cummins

Forget the Hatchimals and long lines and online shopping. Switch off your smartphones and relax your mind for a little bit.

Leadville, perched atop Colorado, is where to go for an old-fashioned holiday escape.

This city is best known in Colorado for being the highest incorporated city in North America, reaching 10,151 feet above sea level. But it’s also located in the bull’s eye of the state, nearly an equal distance from Denver and Colorado Springs.

Leadville is also famous for its Victorian architecture and mining history. It used to be one of the nation’s richest mining towns. This lead to the construction of some of the most stunning Victorian homes you can find. A historic tour of the town will unveil some colorful characters from the 1800s.

Leadville’s history is compelling, even if you’re not a traditional history buff.

The downtown of this small destination is lined with Victorian buildings, so even just strolling through the streets can set your brain back in time. In fact, the 70-square-block downtown is a designated National Historic Landmark of Victorian Architecture.

It is also a great place to go shopping if you’re looking for some unique, made-in-Colorado gifts to stash under the tree. (Look for special deals on Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.)

Today, Leadville is also popular among outdoorsy types, and it hosts many athletic events, including famous races and extreme sporting events. In March, it will hold the 67th-annual Ski Joring competition and Crystal Carnival Weekend, where horse-and-rider teams will pull skiers over jumps on Main Street.

Although Leadville does not have its own ski resort, it’s about an hour away from seven different ski towns, making it a popular stop for ski vacationers looking to experience something a little different.

Visitors still can enjoy cross-country skiing in Leadville, as well as downhill and alpine. Other winter activities here include ice skating, sledding, and dog sledding.

Holidays in Leadville

Throughout the holiday season, Leadville plans a variety of special events, all in the name of a peaceful, old-fashioned holiday getaway with small-town charm.

Early December, Leadville kicks off the season with its annual Parade of Lights at sunset. The celebration includes a special visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus, as well as free cookies and hot chocolate.

This is followed by the popular Leadville Holiday Victorian Homes Tour and Victorian Dinner.

Every holiday season, Leadville's many historic homes are decorated in their finest holiday expressions and open up for guests to walk through. Browse the unique decor, gaze at the architecture of yesterday and share appetizers and punch.

To add to the atmosphere, that evening, Wilde's Green Hour (an absinthe bar) transforms into a historic dining hall, offering a fancy six-course Victorian holiday dinner with live music.

While you can’t stay in one of the Victorian homes, look for lodging deals at Leadville’s The Alps Motel.

Later in the month, Leadville’s local brewery, Periodic Brewing, holds an ugly sweater party and food drive. While in town, don’t miss the new O2 oxygen bar, especially useful to combat altitude sickness in a town this high up.

Beyond the shops and celebrations, Leadville is a simple, refreshing getaway from the holiday hustle. Find more than 100 miles of snow-lined trails to explore on foot, cross-country skis, skate skis, fat bikes, snowmobiles or snowshoe, to help you reset and remember what really matters this time of year.

Outdoor Pro Tips

  • Check @Leadvilletrails on Twitter for regular reports on the trail conditions, so you can know which trails to hit and which to miss.
  • Visit this link for a beautiful map of the trails in and around Leadville.
  • Check out the Mineral Belt Trail here. This 111.6-mile trail is open all seasons. About six miles of the trail wind through the historic Leadville Mining District, making it not just beautiful, but historically fascinating. Yes, even in winter.
  • Get info about the Colorado Mountain College Timberline trails here. These trails are on the south end of Leadville. This trail system includes a cool Nordic loop, fitness loop and Frisbee golf course, as well as great hiking routes, of course.