Nestled between Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in Colorado, and the Pike, San Isabel, and Gunnison National Forests, you can find the sleepy towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes.
Both towns, 21 miles from each other, appear frozen in time, protected from the rest of the world by the surrounding mountains.
Since this was a very short weekend, where we just wanted to get away for a night, we didn’t explore the towns as much as we should’ve, instead focusing on the two major attractions in the area. However, we are planning on returning after discovering all they have to offer.
We drove in around 9 pm at night, when lights in town were low and the buildings invisible. But in the daylight, those buildings were anything but invisible. They spoke of an era of Victorian extravagance, a town swept up by the Colorado Gold Rush, fortunes being squandered away in jewels and bad investments.
Most notable are the characters of Horace Tabor and Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, whose story you can read more about at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, where we spent way more time than expected.
Other attractions include the original Tabor Home, Tabor Opera House, Matchless Mine, Baby Doe’s Cabin, and the Old Church. For an interesting read, check out The Leadville Herald’s Heritage Guide here.
In all honesty, though, we originally came here to see the leaves. And they did not disappoint.
Not stopping in town may or may not have been a mistake, but the Lakes themselves were worth every second.
We explored the fishing spots by the shore and tried following Google Maps for a while since it seemed we were quite close to the Historic Interlaken Resort and District. Walking towards the Deception Point fishing spot, we arrived at a tiny strait that connects both Lakes.
According to Maps, the Resort should have been right in front of us. Interlaken Resort is only accessible by boat or trail, with boat tours running from June to September. Being in the middle of October, we went to find the trail. I’m going to get a little ranty here.
Considering the limited amount of attractions in the area, one would expect the town to want people to easily find them, right?
It took us well over an hour of wandering around and finally running into a car exiting County Road 25 who kindly showed us the way, to find the trailhead. All I’m saying is two signs, one coming one going, would be a simple solution. Especially for those who have no map, signal or battery. But I digress.
In case you ever decide to visit, from Leadville, follow Highway 24 south for approximately 16 miles. Turn right (west) on Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. Drive .8 mile and turn left on County Road 25, a dirt road across from a log cabin. At the dam, turn left and then take the next right. You’ll find the Interlaken Trailhead here.
Google Maps pointed out it was 1.8 miles one way, and we had read everywhere that it was a short, easy hike. It ended up being a 2h05m, 4.6 miles round trip. The trail is mostly level, but it was longer than expected. We hurried our way through the trail, afraid that darkness would fall on us, since we started the trail around 3:30 pm.
There were very few people on the trail, only 4 bikers and ourselves, although fresh hoof marks indicated a horse had just gone by. We ran into more people exiting the trail than entering it, further worrying us in the timing of our little expedition.
During the first three-quarters of the trail, the mountain is on one side, while the Lakes are on the other. After a few turns, the Lakes disappear from view, the forest growing thicker. We were told that once we passed the aspen grove, it was about another 15 minutes.
An hour and a half later, past the aspen grove, over the bridge and into the clearing, we finally came across the first building in the District: Dexter’s Cabin. A small, weirdly distributed cabin that has no doubt been used as an overnight refuge by hikers and bikers on the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails, as they are only but a few feet away.
The cabin was built by James Dexter in 1895 as a summer home for him and his family while operating Interlaken Resort.
A narrow staircase leads up to the second floor, where another tiny ladder takes you up to a very compact observation tower, which has a wonderful view of the Lakes and the surrounding mountains.
Several feet past the Cabin, more of the historical buildings start popping up, and you can finally see the famous Resort on your far right.
Once, the Resort had fountains, a log tavern, a pool hall, dance pavilion, a blacksmith shop, horse barn, milk barn, an ice house, granaries, laundry, servants’ quarters and an indoor two-story outhouse. Remaining nowadays are the barn, grain storage buildings, and the six-sided privy (not pictured).
In the summer, bands played in the pavilion, while guests rode on horseback through the bluegrass lawns.
Others hiked, and many others enjoyed the lake on steam-powered boats. In the winter, they skated, skied, and rode in horse-drawn sleighs across the frozen lake.
The Resort closed in 1950, a short time after the Lakes were enlarged, cutting off the only road to town.
It was placed on the National Historic Register in 1974, and the structures moved to firm foundations on higher ground. Still, the buildings remained empty and deteriorating until 2004 when they finally began to receive the restoration efforts they deserved. It is currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
Sound like a place you’d like to visit?