Colorful Rock Formations at Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Trail level: easy
Round trip distance: 4 miles
No dogs, horses, or bicycles, please!
By Gillian Sheehan
Less than 40 miles east of Colorado Springs, the Paint Mines Interpretive Park is a sight to behold. Comprised of 750 acres including 4 miles of hiking trails, this vibrant park will pique the interest of geology enthusiasts, archaeology buffs, families, and nature lovers alike. The Paint Mines are no secret, yet the minimal amenities and the secluded locale afford visitors an off the beaten path experience.
A friend and I set out to explore the Paint Mines in late May. We parked at the main trailhead, roughly two miles south of Calhan, and began our walk. Intending to save the best for last, we chose to take the long way around to get to the unusual hoodoos, majestic spires, and colorful clay. Should someone, however, be a little shorter on time, the second parking lot (Paint Mine Upper Parking Lot), offers immediate access to the most popular area of the park.
Thanks to the interpretive signs posted throughout the park, we noted the diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna as we trod along the trail through prairie grasses. We were also interested to learn that first human contact with the park is estimated as being more than 9,000 years ago and that the brightly colored clay was used by Native Americans in pottery and paints.
As we approached the sedimentary rock formations, we quickly understood why the Paint Mines are often described as otherworldly. Walking on the path through erosion-formed gullies, we gaped at the colorful clays and at the unique geological formations, all the while finding it hard to believe that we were still in Colorado.
In an effort to preserve the beauty of the Paint Mines and to prevent unnecessary erosion, the El Paso County Park Operations implores visitors to stay off formations and leave their pets at home. More information about the park, including a detailed map and an informational flyer pertaining to natural history, geology, and ecology, can be found on their website.