Like Diamonds – East Side Mining District Groomed Winter Trail
What It Is
An out-and-back trip along groomed winter trail to a high, jaw-dropping view of the snow-covered mountain ranges surrounding Leadville.
- Fat biking
- Nordic skiing
Mileage: 4.8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 11,056’ – 12,000’
Why It’s a Find
The elevation gain is steady but not too steep, and the scenery is worth every step—views as good as you’d see from a summit, with only a fraction of the work.
You’ll be following portions of the route the Leadville Race Series uses for its Trail Marathon and Heavy Half Marathon each June and that burro racers take during Leadville Boom Days in August. All those races go even higher, to the 13,185′ top of Mosquito Pass, so mark your calendar to come back in the summer and try ’em—or bring up your burly 4WD for a crawl.
Plus, you’re passing some fun history along the way. Give this gorgeous trail a whirl, and your eyes will sparkle…wait for it…like diamonds.
Silver Spoon parking is where plowing stops on County Road 3, about 4 miles east of Harrison Ave., downtown Leadville’s main street.
The nearby Silver Spoon Shaft is 600’ deep and brought up gold-rich ore from the Winnie-Luema vein in the early 1900s. This celebrated streak of gold runs north-south for 4,000’ and remains the longest, most productive, and most thoroughly explored vein in the district.
(Want to explore this area in summer? Try the Route of the Silver Kings driving tour.)
History: Buried Gold, Snowshoeing Preachers, and Frozen Chickens
From the parking area, head up County Road 3, and at the first intersection hang a left to follow it east up a slight grade. The Famous Mine was to your left about a third of a mile east of the road junction. Early production was from lead-silver-zinc blanket deposits. It was last operated in the 1930s when it produced small amounts of gold.
Soon you’ll arrive at a Y intersection and level place to catch your breath. Ahead are the peaks of Mosquito Range and the now-closed Diamond Mine, where a steel head-frame towers over a shaft sunk in the 1980s to bring up gold from 1,000’ below. Behind you, the Sawatch peaks are coming into view.
A small, metal-clad building covers the No. 2 shaft of the Resurrection Mine, located about 750 feet east-southeast of the sign at the junction of County Road 3 and County Road 3C. This shaft produced ore during the carbonate boom of the early 1880s.
Carbonates are minerals that form when magic happens. When lead, zinc, and silver sulfide minerals are exposed to water with oxygen near the earth’s surface, complex chemical reactions take place. The sulfur is removed, and the metals recombine with other elements. Bring carbonates to a fiery smelter, and you might take home lead and silver.
In this area, far below your feet lies the Yak Tunnel, an underground superhighway for ore that shot 3.5 miles from the Diamond Mine to California Gulch, just southeast of Leadville up Toledo Street. Started in 1895 and finished in October 1908, it connected and drained the many mines it passed along the way. It is now permanently plugged. Drainage water that used to go into the Arkansas River is now treated in the Newmont water treatment plant—leaving the river as Gold Medal Trout Waters for your fishing pleasure.
Keep straight toward the Diamond Mine, then follow the groomed trail around to the left. Then you will begin the climb to the base of Mosquito Pass, a notoriously tough 4WD road nicknamed, in summer, “The Highway of Frozen Death.” Grooming ends just before the switchbacks climb the hill, at a high, flat spot. This is the winter turnaround spot.
Your reward? Unobstructed views of the Sawatch Range, from Mt. Elbert (Colorado’s highest) and Mt. Massive north to Mt. of the Holy Cross (all 14ers) and north toward Copper Mountain and the Gore Range, an airy vantage point you don’t get many places in Leadville.
Mosquito Pass crosses the Mosquito Range at 13,185’. For 20 years, before railroads arrived in 1880, it was the primary access road to the Leadville area. Legend says its name came from a mosquito found pressed between pages of a journal. (No more pesky whining.)
Before 1879, the route was not much better than a foot path, but in 1879 it became a toll road. Stage drivers are said to have earned between $50 to $80 per month ($14,600 to $23,400 today) risking their lives to cross this rough, steep, high pass.
Father Dyer’s Snowshoe Crossings
What would you think about climbing that pass in 1860s gear such as 10-foot-long skis? Father John Lewis Dyer, known as the Snowshoe Itinerant, did just that. He arrived in 1861 in South Park, east of the pass, to preach to the miners and made regular trips over this cold, windblown pass delivering mail and sermons to Leadvillians.
A monument to him bucks the wind atop the pass, and Dyer Peak, three miles to the south, bears his name. He located the Dyer Mine on the east side of the Dyer amphitheater northeast of the peak and later sold it to mining magnate H.A.W. Tabor. (Care to retrace his route? Sign up for the Father Dyer Postal Route Backcountry Ski Race in April, North America’s highest backcountry ski-mountaineering race.)
And then there were the chickens. Legend says that Bill Lovell earned his nickname “Chicken Bill” when he attempted to bring live chickens over the pass one winter in the 1800s. A severe storm forced him to camp for the night. In the morning, he found the chickens frozen to death. Ever the entrepreneur, he plucked them, filled them with snow, and found a ready market in Leadville.