Beginner’s Trail Guide: Easy Trails in Leadville, Colorado

Leadville, Colorado is an awesome escape from the summer heat. But 10,000 feet of elevation makes hiking and trail running a LOT more difficult, particularly if you’re trudging up the side of a mountain. I used to think the only beginner-friendly options were simply running around town (which is honestly still quite hilly). That is, until I got some local insight (thanks @scoutycowdog!).

The Interlaken trail and Turquoise Lake trail are both lovely, rolling trails with beautiful lake and mountain views. Both are popular for this reason, but if you leave early or head out on a weekday, you’ll have a great beginner-friendly hike or trail run! I spent about two hours hiking each trail, one with an 18-pound baby in a backpack, and covered between four and five miles fairly easily (my legs were tired afterward but the hikes themselves were manageable!).

This blog was originally written in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Please follow local and CDC travel and safety guidelines to be respectful and stay safe. At the bare minimum, bring and properly wear a mask!

Are Interlaken and Turquoise Lake basically the same hike?

Yes and no. Both are (relatively) flat trails along a lake that is bordered by stunning mountains. They are both out-and-back trails, meaning you walk to a certain point and then turn around and come back the same way. Turquoise Lake is technically a loop, but it’s more than 10 miles around, so I assume if you’re reading this beginner-friendly blog you’re not doing the entire loop!

There are differences between the two trails, though, which is why I enjoyed doing both of them.

Views of Turquoise Lake from the Turquoise Lake Nature Trail

Turquoise Lake is almost totally flat. There is slightly easier beach access. It’s basically right in town. You will see more people because the trail goes along some campgrounds and crosses the parking lot for the boat ramp. The road to get there is significantly easier to drive on. This hike is pick-your-own length. Just walk as far as you want to go and then turn around!

Views of Twin Lakes from the Interlaken Trail outside of Leadville and Buena Vista, CO

Interlaken is 20 minutes outside of Leadville. It’s hillier. The access road requires a higher-clearance vehicle (our Forester was fine). There’s a very cool historic site that you hike to (the old Interlaken resort). And just beyond that is a meadow with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding peaks. If you walk to this meadow and back, it’s just under five miles. It took us just over two hours.

Both are fantastic options for beginner hiking or trail running, so if you have the time, why not do both?!

How do I get there?

Turquoise Lake can be accessed from multiple points around town. We drove to the south end where Matchless Boat Ramp is, which was a 12-minute drive from in town. The road is paved the entire way and very easy to drive on. If there are parking spots available along Route 9C, you can park there to access the trail. If you’re leaving from the boat ramp, head to the north side (to the right if you’re facing the lake) and you’ll see the trail heading out from that end of the parking lot.

The Interlaken trailhead is just outside of town in Twin Lakes. It’s a 20-minute drive on paved, flat roads until the last half-mile when you get off of the main road into Twin Lakes. The road gets very hilly and rocky, and I wouldn’t recommend driving it in a car with low clearance. Alternatively, you can add a half-mile onto your hike and park in the lot on Route 25, which is easily accessible by any car (but still requires driving a short distance on a dirt road).

Where do I go?

Turquoise Lake has just one trail that goes around the lake, so it’s not hard to find or stay on. Because of all the beach access, there are a lot of meandering social trails down to the shore, but they all hook back up to the main nature trail.

The only point that was truly confusing was when there was actually a sign for the trail near the campgrounds. It pointed away from the lake but said that the nature trail continued that way. We walked a short ways in that direction before realizing it was definitely the wrong way. Maybe it led back to one of the campgrounds? Regardless, when in doubt, stick close to the lake and you can’t go wrong.

Interlaken runs along the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, so there are a few intersections along the way. There’s only one way to go from the parking lot, so getting started is easy. There are a few forks for the Colorado Trail or CDT, but stay to the right and you’ll be headed the right direction. This is also considered the Collegiate Peaks East segment, so follow signs for that when they pop up.

Make sure to keep walking past the first historical building you see. This is the Dexter Cabin; I thought it was the actual hotel and was ready to turn around. Not only is the second site where the Interlaken Hotel is very cool, but if you walk just past that, you hit a meadow with absolutely spectacular views (see the image at the beginning of this blog post). Don’t turn around early and miss it!

What is the trail like?

Both trails are a few feet wide, dirt paths with rocks and roots.

Turquoise Lake has almost zero rocks and very little elevation change. There is one very small hill just south of the boat ramp, and one or two spots with some roots sticking out. There were two downed trees across the path as of August 2020. One that you had to limbo under and the other that you had to step over. Both were manageable, although I had a baby in a backpack on, so limbo-ing required some guidance from my husband and liberal use of my hiking poles to stay upright!

The steepest hill on the Interlaken Trail in Twin Lakes, CO

Interlaken has three hills that are steep but short. Even if you take a lot of breaks, they wouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes to get up. You’ll be hiking up them on your way back, so you’ll be going downhill on the way out. The hills are the rockiest parts, and otherwise the trail is quite smooth. There are a few points where one side of the trail steeply drops off and slopes down into the reservoir, but the likelihood of you tripping, falling, and tumbling down the hill is slim to none.

What should I wear and bring?

Plenty of water! You’re at 10,000 feet, so it’s very very easy to get dehydrated or forget to drink enough water. I would define “plenty” as one liter per person.

I also recommend a hat, sunglasses, and liberally applied sunscreen. The sun doesn’t mess around at 10,000 feet! You’ll burn faster than you would at lower elevation. Find safer sunscreen on this website. I like this sunscreen from Thinkbaby (for adults and kids). If you have darker skin, it does leave a pretty significant cast, but I have heard good things about Black Girl Sunscreen.

Also, because we’re in COVID-19 times, bring and properly wear a mask! That means over your mouth AND your nose. It’s easiest to wear a Buff or other neck gaiter and just pull it up or down as you run into people. We forgot those and wore regular fabric masks, which were a little less convenient to take on and off a bunch, but of course worth it!

These are both popular trails and you WILL run into other people. You definitely will not always be able to get six feet apart to pass, so wearing a mask is critical. Try not to touch any of the signs/plaques along the way, and if you do, hand sanitize!

I wore trail running shoes for both of these hikes, which was perfectly adequate. You can of course wear hiking boots if you have them! If you don’t have trail shoes, just regular sneakers will do but be careful going downhill since you have a little less traction. At no point will you be getting your feet wet, so don’t worry about that.

For more information on what you should bring hiking no matter what trail you’re on, read my previous post here.

Is it crowded?

Busy, yes. Crowded, no. (Particularly if you are from Denver and judging based on those trails)

You will definitely see other people and you won’t be by yourself. The later in the day you go, the busier it gets. When we hiked Interlaken, the mountain bike traffic also picked up significantly around 10:30 am. We started both trails around 9 am and enjoyed nice, cool weather, and very little company.

Anything else I should know?

Neither trailheads have maps at them, so an app like AllTrails can be useful in keeping track of where to go. I have T-Mobile and had service the entire time on both hikes, so you should be able to refer to any map on your phone while you’re out there.

There’s a bathroom at the boat ramp of Turquoise Lake. I didn’t see a bathroom when we were at Interlaken. There are campgrounds near by, so I’m sure you could find one in the general vicinity before or after your hike, but be prepared to pee in the woods if you need to! For my fellow ladies, this requires being okay with getting some pee on your heels (unless you can find a tree to hang onto while you lean back and squat!).

If you want to make a day of it in Twin Lakes (where Interlaken is), drive into the very small town of Twin Lakes after your hike and stop at Punky’s Food Truck for BBQ. Don’t miss the curly fries!!

We didn’t see any wildlife while we were out, but being Bear Aware is always a must in Colorado. There are also people backpacking throughout the Colorado and Continental Divide trails, so if you stumble upon anyone’s campsite, be respectful!

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