Leadville History: Colorado Gold Trail

Celebrating 150 Years of Gold Mining in Leadville

Following the economic downturn of 1857-58, Americans were looking for hope and prosperity, similar to many people today. Hardy souls who struck out across the barren prairie of the American plains did so in search of a new and better life. Colorado’s Gold Rush saw about 100,000 gold seekers (known as the 59ers) make their way to the Rocky Mountains. Those who made it settled new and rugged territory.

Mining train in historic LeadvilleIn 2009, Colorado is celebrating 150 years of gold mining. In commemorating this migration, several towns that were founded due to the discovery of gold formed the “Colorado Gold Trail.” The participating towns include:  Leadville, Boulder, Gilpin County (Black Hawk/Central City), Idaho Springs, Breckenridge and Park County (Fairplay, Alma and Como). 

Although each of these towns began with the discovery of gold, it is interesting to see how differently they have developed over the years and how these towns survived by reinventing themselves, while so many other gold mining towns became ghost towns or disappeared altogether.  Each has its own character, legends and bragging rights. Scenic beauty, activity-filled itineraries and steps back in time can be found all along the Colorado Gold Trail. Visitors will be treated to family-friendly festivals and celebrations in these communities throughout 2009. Discover how each community came to life out of the gold fields.

The Colorado Gold Trail roughly follows I-70 west of Denver, with the participating communities clustered to the north and south of the interstate. This makes it a convenient route to follow as you explore Colorado and the richness of the communities make it a don’t- miss experience on your visit to Colorado. Click here to see the map.

Leadville's Mining History

Leadville’s mining history began in 1859 with the discovery of gold south of town. RoughlyMining headframe  8,000 prospectors arrived in “Oro City,” their name for the makeshift town of tents and cabins. During the next five years, more than $4 million worth of gold was discovered using sluice and pan — more than at any other Colorado site. By 1880, Leadville had more than 30,000 residents, innumerable stores, hotels, boarding houses and, of course, more than 100 saloons, dance halls, gambling joints and brothels.

Leadville’s colorful history includes a long list of famous, and infamous, characters such as Horace Tabor and mistress-turned-wife Baby Doe, Doc Holliday, the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill. Teddy Roosevelt also paid visits to Leadville. The Tabor Opera House, still open for tours and performances, presented an astounding variety of talent.

Travelers can experience an authentic mining town when they visit Leadville. Seventy square blocks has been designated as a National Historic Landmark of Victorian Architecture. Leadville offers a charming selection of museums, specialty shops, antique storesrestaurants, and galleries, with accommodations ranging from an elegant Victorian hotel, inns and B&Bs to lodges, cabins, campsites and vacation rentals. Stop by the Leadville Lake County Visitor's Center at 809 Harrison Avenue for maps and information. Click here to request a Visitor's Guide.

Read more about Leadville history.

Bringing the kids or grandkids to Leadville and Twin Lakes? Get them ready to explore our history by downloading and printing this coloring page and word search!