Hiking the Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Posted at 8:42 PM, May 30, 2016

If you haven’t hiked at Paint Mines Interpretive Park -- put it on your “to do” list. This place is very unique.

The paint mines are geological formations in a valley near Calhan, in El Paso County. When the rock eroded over time, it left behind spires, caves and other formations that are white, yellow, orange and purple, in places.

The colorful rock was used by Native Americans for pottery and ceremonial paint, according to the park’s website. It says in the early 1900s, the clay was mined to make colorful bricks.

Most people start their journey into the formations from the main parking lot off Paint Mines Road (directions below). There’s a bathroom here and some signs, but if you want a map, you should print one from the park’s website.

Take the flat, wide, dirt path out of the parking lot. Just a short distance from the parking lot, there’s a trail split. On a post it says, Formations 1.5 and it has an arrow to the right. Since we came to see the formations, we turned right. The trail climbs a short hill here. At the top is a bench and a view of the formations below.

Drop down into the valley and turn right into the first set of formations.

The first formations you reach are mainly white, with some orange and yellow. You can get up close to the formations, but the park has signs asking visitors not to climb on the formations.

After exploring, return to the “trail,” which is really more of a social trail at the bottom of this canyon-like spot.

About 0.75 miles from the parking lot, you’ll come to a sign that explains the geology of the area and says the stone and clay layers have been weathered by wind and rain. As you walk the path here, turn right occasionally and follow the paths into the formations.

When you reach the end of the canyon, about one mile from the trailhead, you’ll find the most intense colors and very deep reds and oranges.

Turn back until you find the trail going up.

Walk up the hill to another area of formations — an area that is very white in color.

From this spot, look back into the canyon you just hiked and check out the levels of formations and colors from this vantage.

You’ve now hiked about 1.4 miles from the trailhead, depending on how much exploring you’ve done. It’s decision time. If you go back the way you came, you’ll have a hike of about 2.5 miles roundtrip. However, there is a loop trail here.

The loop trail winds through the grasslands with a view of the nearby wind turbines. Along the way, a sign explains that this area was used by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Ute and Comanche tribes after the 1500s. The sign explains that the Native Americans used the badlands here as hunting overlooks or entrapment locations for bison and other games.

Details: The hike around the loop was about 3.6 miles with 450 feet of elevation gain. However, looking at the map, we may have missed the upper loop trail in the northwest corner of the park.

Directions: There are several ways to get to Calhan. Once in town, drive east on Highway 24. Turn right/south on Yoder Road/Calhan Highway, turn east/left on Paint Mines Road. The road eventually bends to the right. Look for the signed parking area on the left.

Find more great hikes and places to explore in our Discover Colorado section.