The state of Colorado never ceases to amaze. When you think about sheer opportunities to witness nature at its best, coupled with year-round activities, it really is one of the places on earth that has it all: 54 Rocky Mountain peaks that soar over 14,000 feet, red-rock canyons, sand dunes, skiing, hiking, biking, photographic landscapes. Add the Paint Mines to that list, too. Colorado really is remarkable.
What Are The Paint Mines
Among the many treasures that make Colorado so special is Paint Mines Interpretive Park in El Paso County, Colorado, near the town of Calhan. The name comes from wonderfully colorful clays that American Indians once collected to make paint. Over 900 centuries, the clays have oxidized to create brightly colored bands that can now be seen within the layers of soil.
The 750-acre park itself is located in the northeast part of the county. Here you’ll find glorious geological formations, spires, and hoodoos, which are those slender, spire-like rocks that protrude upwards from the base of an arid basin. The park is just one of three locations in the United States where you can find hoodoo rock formations, with the most famous of course being Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
Paint Mines Trail is a 3.4-mile loop trail that is good for all skill levels. The park’s features include a diverse ecological system that combines prairie, badlands, and wetlands. Wildlife is plentiful here, with coyote, mule deer, songbirds, horned toads, falcons, rabbits, and hawks all calling the park home.
How To Visit
The town of Calhan is about 30 miles east of Colorado Springs, which is about an hour south of Denver. From Denver, take U.S. 24 east through Calhan and look for the Calhan HWY. Here, make a right turn and look for Paint Mines Road. Here, turn left, and you see the parking lots.
When you arrive, you’ll find three parking lots and some bathroom facilities. No matter where you park, you’ll find easy access to the trail loop.
The trail is well marked with interpretive signs, but stay on the trail and know there are no picnic areas on the loop. This is a human-only hiking trail, so leave the dogs and horses home. It’s also for pedestrians only, so no mountain bikes, either.
While the park is open year-round, from dawn to dusk, be aware that El Paso County has begun a construction project at the park that could mean the closure of some parking lots and sections of trail. The project is to resurface some existing trails and install new culverts to protect them. The project will run through February 2021.
What Else Can Visitors Expect
Paint Mines Interpretive Park is a great place to take wonderful photos. The hike is easy, so you should have no problem hiking in with any equipment you might need. Keep your eyes open for slot canyons, small caves, and of course the hoodoos and the colored clay.
According to The Outbound, the park itself is located in a small valley, so it’s suggested you avoid sunrise and sunset if you’re going to take photos, as the sun patterns can be tricky. Night photography is supposed to be amazing, with little light pollution.
Know Before You Go
Like most Colorado attractions that don’t require snow, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is best visited in the spring and summertime. But, make sure you check the weather; you don’t want to be on the trail during a major storm, as it will get quite muddy.
The park is open to everyone, but do remember that the rock formations and the local ecosystem are fragile. The park has many signs asking guests to be respectful of the area. It is illegal to climb on the formations, and all the plants, wildlife, rocks, and historic artifacts are protected by law.