It’s that time of year again when snow and ice are still covering the high country lakes and the rivers haven’t yet reached their peak. While mud season this year is not nearly as muddy as in some previous years, it’s still a great opportunity to hit the road and explore some nearby sights of Colorado via road trip. If you haven’t made the drive over Tennessee Pass to visit Leadville and Buena Vista, you’re missing some of the great sights of Colorado.
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From I-70, head south on Hwy 24 through Minturn, then over Battle Mountain Pass which gives you a great view of Notch Mountain and the waterfall on Fall Creek. Just be careful looking at the sights if you are the driver because it’s a long way down! Along the way, you will also pass the abandoned mining town of Gilman where the New Jersey Zinc Company built a company town on the side of a cliff for its miners and their families. The town is abandoned and closed off to the public though, and you can be arrested for trespassing, so you will have to just look from the road.
The next landmark you come to will be the Silver Bridge, although it’s green now, marking the entrance to the small town of Red Cliff. Red Cliff has some great local color, and you can get delicious fish tacos at Mango’s, the town’s only restaurant, but there is no shopping or services there.
Continuing along Hwy 24 will take you past Camp Hale, the training grounds of the famous 10th Mountain Division Troops, where you can stop and learn about how these troops prepared for mountain travel and warfare. The road continues to the top of Tennessee Pass, where you can find the rustic Ski Cooper, the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, and a monument to the 10th Mountain Division troops.
As you near the town of Leadville, one of the greatest sights of this journey awaits you as you drive past the two tallest mountains in the state, Mount Elbert (14,439’) and Mount Massive (14,429’), two towering giants just west of the road. The next stop is the town of Leadville, highest incorporated town in the United States at 11,200 feet above sea level. Believe it or not, there’s lots to do in Leadville. You can tour the Mineral Trail on foot or by bike, and the Mining Museum provides five floors of mineral specimens and mining stories to explore. Beyond that, downtown Leadville boasts some interesting and unique shopping, including their famous local Melanzana clothing store. All the locals have one.
Beyond Leadville, the drive opens up and the wind can whip through here in the winter months. But on a sunny day, the scenery is breathtaking as the road winds gently along the Arkansas River, taking you to the town of Buena Vista, small and straightforward. The restaurants are no-nonsense and generally, no frills. You can get a great old fashioned burger and a shake at the Dairy Delite. Just bring your patience because on a warm summer day, this place is hopping! Buena Vista also boasts some great hiking, biking, rafting, and Jeeping, and after a full day of adventure, it’s fun to relax at one of the local hot springs. Mount Princeton is just south of town and includes large pools for swimming along with smaller, natural pools along the river just for soaking.
This description really represents just the beginning of what could be a great adventure. With such a beautiful state like Colorado, there’s always something exciting to discover.
Jaymee Squires is the Director of Graduate Programs at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. Jaymee hopes to retire in Buena Vista one day and loves spending time at the hot springs.