Exploring Our Own State: Camping in Leadville

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a mountain lover at heart. Sure, I live on the plains now, but if I don’t get my mountain fix, I get antsy. Ever since we moved here, my mountain fixes haven’t come often enough. After all, we’re busy (like everyone else), and going to the mountains meant spending money (that we didn’t have) on hotel rooms. Last summer, though, I had a little breakdown, during which I told J that I desperately needed more mountains in my life.photo 2 (23)Who doesn’t need more of this?

The solution was a simple one: start camping. As a kid, I camped with my family, but I hadn’t camped since college. Jordan hadn’t camped much at all, so we knew this new experiment would be an adventure. Our Christmas lists consisted exclusively of camping gear, and all winter and spring, we kept a sharp lookout for good deals. Our biggest purchase was a tent and sleeping bags. A few months ago, Cabela’s ran an amazing deal: a tent and two sleeping bags for $200. We couldn’t pass that up… even though the tent was a 6-person and WAY bigger than we needed.

Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.
Our giant tent. My six-foot-tall husband can stand upright in it.

Finally, last weekend, we were ready to test out what we’d acquired. It was also our seventh wedding anniversary — perfect timing for a weekend escape. We chose Leadville as our destination, mainly because neither of us had ever been up there. This was a good choice.

We left late Friday morning, stopped and had a quick picnic lunch at the visitor center in Georgetown, and enjoyed a gorgeous drive up to Leadville, arriving mid-afternoon. We checked into Sugar Loafin’ campground (we figured a commercial campground would be a gentle intro to camping), set up our tent, and then spent a few hours wandering around Leadville. Unbeknownst to us beforehand, Leadville was hosting a BBQ and beer festival/competition, so we snagged what Jordan calls a “walkin’ around beer,” then explored the stores. We stopped at the Leadville Race Series store and asked them to recommend a good hiking/running trail (more on that in a second). Then, we headed back to the campground, built a fire and cooked some dinner on the camp stove, and spent the evening just relaxing.

Yeah. Campfire.
Yeah. Campfire.

photo 1 (25)

The next morning, we woke up early, ate some eggs and tortillas, and drove a couple of miles up the road to Turquoise Lake. Since I wanted to trail run  for a bit (because #operationbecomeatrailrunner) and J wanted a shorter hike, the Leadville Race Series store folks suggested that he drop me at one end of Turquoise Lake, where I’d run a six-mile trail, then meet him at the trailhead to Timberline Lake. So that’s what we did, and I’m so grateful to them for that suggestion. This was one of my top-three runs of all time. See if you can guess why. photo 2 (25) photo 3 (19) photo 4 (11) photo 3 (20)

Yeah. Beautiful. Plus it was completely runnable, even for my trail-newbie legs. It’s also part of the Leadville 100 course (probably the flattest, least technical part), so it was kinda cool to see part of the storied race course.

The trail ended at a campground at the other side of the lake. I misunderstood the guy at the store (and the map…) and thought that the Timberline Lake trailhead was at that campground, so I ran to the far end of it. No trailhead. I thought I was just dumb and missed it, so I turned around and ran back. Nope. Finally, on my way back to the far end, I saw a guy running who looked like he knew what was up. I asked where the trailhead was, and he told me I actually had to run up the road a little way. I felt silly, but at least now I knew where I was going.

I easily found the trailhead (after adding 1.5 miles of back-and-forth at the campground…) and started running up. Not far up the trail, I saw some cute guy.
photo 1 (26)

Wheet whew. (That’s a catcall whistle). I ran just enough farther to make my watch say 8.5 miles (because heaven forbid I stop at 8.4), then came back to hike with J.

photo 5 (8)

We intended to hike up to Timberline Lake (obviously), but about 1.5 miles in, the trail was covered by the river. We didn’t really want to wade and get our feet wet and cold, since we’d barely started hiking, so we headed back down to where the Timberline Lake Trail intersected the Colorado Trail, and instead hiked on the Colorado Trail for a while. There was no lake, but it was still gorgeous!photo 5 (9)

We hiked the Colorado Trail until we got hungry (we’re really serious hikers), and then we headed back down to Turquoise Lake, where we ate our PBJs and dipped our sweaty toes in the chilly mountain water. photo 1 (27)

We dallied at the lake for quite some time, then eventually cruised back down to town, because ice cream. By then, it was too late to start another hike, but too early to just go hang out at camp. We decided to drive over to Twin Lakes (about 20 minutes away). We’d talked about camping there, so since we were so close, we figured we’d go check it out. It was pretty, but we were glad we’d chosen Leadville.

We spent another delightful evening chilling by the fire, and the next morning, took our time about making breakfast and packing up camp. photo 1 (28) photo 3 (21)

We still left reasonably early, because we wanted to beat the nightmare that is Sunday afternoon on I-70. So we said goodbye to this view and headed back down to where it was 95 degrees. Lame. photo 4 (12)

To best sum up this weekend, I’d have to say (in my best Joey from Friends voice), “Camping? Good. Marriage? Good. Trail running? Good.” I can’t wait to go back!

This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.
This bear perfectly sums up my feelings.

Have you ever been to Leadville? 

Where do you camp: commercial campground, rustic campground, dispersed, or backcountry? (Or in a hotel. Ha.) 

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