September 2, 1997
At 10,430 feet, high above the Upper Arkansas Valley, Leadville is one of Colorado’s most historic mining towns. Plenty of wealth was taken out of Leadville, and only a fraction of that treasure seems to remain. Very much a dignified town with a solid community, Leadville’s handsome downtown district is surrounded by mine tailings and other rather grim reminders of the dark side of both mining and “reclamation” efforts.
For the recreationist, Leadville offers everything from the ultra-hard-core, to much more tame activities. The annual Leadville 100 is a fanatical 100-mile footrace that is a legendary event. For the mountain biker, there are scores of old mining roads and single-track trails in greater Leadville. To the south of Leadville, Twin Lakes is a picturesque destination offering two rides ranging from intermediate to difficult.
Twin Lakes Loop
The route around Twin Lakes is a classic, intermediate mountain bike ride. Although narrow single track, this rollicking lakeside route delivers fast and relatively easy access around most of the reservoir. Some technical single-track sections offer a thrill or two close to the water’s edge.
The loop is reached by taking U.S. 24 south from Leadville about 14 miles to Colo. 82. The route begins at the Twin Lakes Dam and links with the well-maintained 480-mile Colorado Trail, which follows the southern boundary of the reservoir. Twin Lakes seems to be visited by more fishermen than bikers or hikers, and few people were on the trail when we visited.
The trail begins by following a leisurely grade snug against the water’s edge. While the occasional motorboat breaks the silence, the placid waters of Twin Lakes form a beautiful foreground for the 14,000-foot peaks to the west. About three miles into the ride, the biker encounters several buildings of the turn-of-the-century Inter-Laken resort, a good place for a breather. It’s at this point where the first mosquitos start to appear, only to increase in intensity as the route continues.
After crossing a small bridge, the trail leaves the shore, climbs slightly and enters a thick pine forest. The trail then descends into a marshy area near the mouth of the reservoir where the mosquitos during the summer are ferocious. Almost 7 miles into the ride, the loop’s “big adventure” is a rather deep stream crossing. Several knee-deep crossings precede a wider, 30-foot stream, which at its deepest rose to chest-level on this 6-foot, 1-inch biker. The stream is rather slow-moving, but the current is strong enough to require a careful crossing. Luckily, the temperature of the water, while chilly, was not as icy as typical mountain streams can be.
Once out of the marshlands, the final leg of the loop is a 6-mile stretch on Colo. 82. Except for the first quarter mile, there is a wide shoulder all the way back to the dam. After trudging through the marshes, Colo. 82 is a welcome sight. Because of both the bloodthirsty mosquitos and the rather daunting stream crossing, this trail is best experienced in the fall.
A second, more difficult trail, the Flume Creek Gulch Loop, also departs from the Twin Lakes Dam. The Greater Leadville Chamber of Commerce (719/486-3900) offers an excellent map of Twin Lakes and Leadville-area rides.
Leadville is a unique, and in some ways, ghostly, town. At over 10,000 feet, it almost seems to float above the vast Upper Arkansas Valley. The dramatic vistas, sky-high elevation, and myriad opportunities to experience the very top of the Colorado Rocky Mountains are hard to beat.