One of the best things about living in Colorado is having the time and ability to explore the state’s natural wonders at your leisure. While visitors have limited time to tour the most popular sights and attractions, residents don’t have to burn through a checklist in just one week. Therefore, wondrous places like the Paint Mines Colorado Springs are yours to discover and return to as often as you’d like. If you plan to visit the Paint Mines, here’s what you need to know.
How to Get There
Paint Mines is located just 1 ½ miles southeast of Calhan, Colorado, 30 minutes outside of Colorado Springs. To get to the interpretive park, take Highway 24 to Calhan, and then go south on North Calhan Highway to Paint Mine Road. You’ll find parking and the trailhead about 2 miles ahead on the left.
The History of Paint Mines
According to El Paso County park guides, the Paint Mines look today very similarly to the way they’ve looked for more than 9,000 years. Through the centuries, native people have used the colorful clays and soils here to make paints for their pottery and other items. Previous excavations have discovered early tools made out of petrified tropical hardwoods, spearheads, and arrowheads, used by people living here through the ages. Today, both hobby and professional photographers use astounding colors and formations to create stunning photos.
Paint Mines is one of only three locations in the U.S. with “hoodoo” rock formations—hoodoos are a shaft of rock that looks like it has a boulder at the top (the capstone). The park also has spires—a smooth shaft of rock without capstone on top. The shapes and the colors were both caused by erosion centuries ago. Oxidized iron in the rock led to the surprising hues of pink, orange, mauve, grey, yellow, and more.
One of Colorado’s lesser-known wonders, Paint Mines Interpretive Park has been open to the public since 2005. The county worked through the 1990s to preserve the land that included the entire geological formation, so the park’s goals are the preservation of the archaeology and the wildlife living among it, as well as allowing people to respectfully explore its beauty.
When to Visit
Entry to the park is free, and the park is open to visitors from dawn to dusk. If you can swing it, try to visit first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, as the colors are even richer in the light of the rising and setting sun. Plus, it can get hot at mid-day in the summertime, and it’s cooler in the mornings and evenings. There’s no wrong season to come to Paint Mines, but know that the paths are old creek beds, so they do tend to get quite muddy after a rain or snowfall.
Who Should Come
Anyone and everyone should come to see the beautiful colors and unique formations at Paint Mines. The complete trail loop is 4 miles long, with options for shorter hikes along the way. There’s not a lot of elevation, so the trail is more of a nature walk than a hike, though boots are recommended because of the potential for mud and the rockiness of the walk in some places.
Visitors are asked to stay on the trail and not climb the rocks, in order to preserve them for future generations. If necessary, take children by the hand to keep them from climbing into off-limits areas. No dogs, horses, bicycles, or other pets are allowed. El Paso County park staff recommend calling 719-520-6387 to arrange for a guided nature hike, which will allow you to learn the rich history of the Mines.
What Else You Should Know
While there are no restrooms along the trail, there are some at the north parking lot. Don’t let the park underwhelm you from a distance—visitors only really appreciate its grandeur when they’re inside the canyon. Try to take the smaller trails that splinter off the 4-mile “figure 8” loop and you’ll get closer to the formations.
The rocks aren’t the only attraction in the park. Keep an eye out and you may see a variety of animals including short-horned lizards, long-eared jackrabbits, birds, and more.
To really spend time in Painted Mines appreciating the landscape and the flora and fauna, plan on spending two hours. If here during the summer, or any hot day, be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and a hat, as nothing provides shade at mid-day (there are no trees). Likewise, it can get quite windy here, too. As with most parks, there are no garbage cans. Always carry out anything you bring in and help keep this local treasure vibrant and surprising for thousands of years to come.