A few years back I stumbled upon the Paint Mines Interpretive Park in eastern Colorado. Sitting 38 miles east of Colorado Springs in the small town of Calhan, this park isn’t one of Colorado’s more obvious tourist destinations. Not nestled in the scenic mountain landscape the state is known for, it’s located amongst the eastern plains, seemingly hidden from the world. But over the years the park has gained attention as one of the most colorful places, boasting 750 acres of winding gulches, hoodoos, spires, and open grass meadows with wildflowers.
*all images were taken by me and are subject to copyright.
History of the Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Archeologists suggest that the Paint Mines have evidence of human life that dates as far back as 9,000 years! The name ‘Paint Mines’ is derived from the colorful clay material found in the area. The Native Americans that occupied the landscape years ago used the colorful clays to make paint for traditional ceremonies and pottery.
The park features fantastic geological formations including spires and hoodoos that formed through erosive action. Thus creating deeply cut gullies and exposed layers of shale, selenite clay, and jasper. The brightly colored bands were created by oxidized iron compounds with layers of purples, reds, yellows, and blues seen throughout the formations.
One of my favorite reasons to visit the Paint Mines Interpretive Park is to photograph the unique geological formations. The best time to photograph is at sunrise, in order to “catch the good light.” Sunset is a great option as well, but the best part about being there at sunrise is that there is not a soul out there! Not very common on Colorado trails.
Arriving before sunrise can feel a bit like you’re on a quest to nowhere. You drive for miles and miles, with nothing but the countryside, then suddenly you come upon an eroded ravine, revealing colorful rock formations, hoodoos, spires, and cliffs. The sandstone caps that sit atop these hoodoos protect the clay from erosion and help preserve the beautiful colors that make this place so special.
While you can hike along the perimeter of the park, looking down into the space for some great photos, my favorite is to walk amongst the hoodoos and spires.
Hiking at the park
The park features four miles of trails, accessible for all skill levels. Take in the views from above or walk amongst the colorful sandstone and towering spires for an up-close experience. Stop and read the interpretive signs that highlight the history of the area and how the hoodoos and spires came to be. The main trail, the Paint Mine Trail, is a 3.4-mile loop that circles the entire area, taking you down into the sandstone formations where you can walk amongst the hoodoos.
Do note: due to the fragility of the area, do not climb on the sandstone formations as this will damage the delicate landscape. But, seriously don’t do it!
Winter at the Paint Mines Interpretive Park
One of my favorite times to visit the Paint Mines park is during the winter, especially after a fresh snowfall. A fresh blanket of snow offers new details of the landscape along with a quiet peacefulness winter can only bring. Plus, in the winter, there tend to be fewer crowds, making it feel like you have the place all to yourself.
The Bare Necessities:
When to go: The park is open 7 days a week from dawn until dusk.
How much does it cost?: It’s for FREE!!!
Getting there: From Denver, head south on 1-25 for about 50 miles to exit 163, turn left on S. County Line Rd/Palmer Divide Rd. Follow the road for about 5 miles. Then turn right onto CO-83 S., which you will stay on for about 4 miles. Continuing onto Hodgen Rd. take Murphy Rd. to US-24 E. in Peyton. Stay on this road for about 20 miles. Then take a left onto US-24 E., which will take you directly to the park.
Once you’re there: There are 3 well-defined parking areas along Paint Mine Road (one with basic bathroom facilities). Each of them has access to the full 4-mile loop hiking trail, there are also shorter routes available throughout the park for easy accessibility.