Round-Trip Length: 5 miles (loop)
Start Elevation: 6,687’
High Point: 6,790’
Elevation Change: 360’
Skill Level: Easy
Trailhead Location: Take highway 24 east from Colorado Springs to Calhan, turn south on Yoder Road/Calhan Highway, turn east on Paint Mines Road and look for the designated parking area.
A couple of months ago I stumbled across this hike online in eastern Colorado. I’ve lived in Colorado for 30 years and have never heard of the Paint Mines near Calhan. Calhan is a small town (approximately 800 people) located approximately 30 miles east of Colorado Springs. This park is a gem that sits in the middle of the plains of eastern Colorado that provides for some interesting scenery and contrast to the Rocky Mountains to the west. It certainly falls into the description of “Colorful Colorado”!
A little bit about the history of the area taken from a flyer about the park:
The Paint Mines are named for their colorful clays that were collected by American Indians to make paint. Brightly colored bands, caused by oxidized iron compounds, are found in varying amounts throughout the many different layers of clay. When the outcrops erode, a hard capstone allows columns of clay to be preserved beneath them, creating fantastic spires called hoodoos. Selenite (gypsum) contributes to the color, and white quartzitic crystals dazzle the eye.
Archaeological studies indicate that humans have inhabited the Paint Mines for nearly 9,000 years. The Paint Mines are considered significant in the prehistory of the area, and the park is listed as an Archaeological District in the National Register of Historic Places. Throughout the history of the Paint Mines, people are known to have visited the area to gather the colorful clays, tinged with red, orange, yellow, purple, and gray hues, to produce ceramics.
After a stop for a guided tour of the Serenity Springs Wildlife Center nearby, we arrived at the park and started our hike shortly after 11:00am. Information sign at the beginning of the trail:
After just a 0.1 mile we came to our first intersection. A turn to the right or south would take us directly to the Paint Mines. We opted to head straight ahead to the northeast to hike the entire loop across the open prairie.
Some wildflowers we saw as we headed on down the trail.
After 0.4 miles we dropped into a dry wash and headed to the southwest. More wildflowers along the way.
Me looping back to the west in the direction of the Paint Mines.
A few more wildflowers seen along the trail.
A view of the northern end of the Paint Mines.
We soon climbed to a nice overlook of a white badlands.
After taking in the views, we continued along the trail, looping back to the northeast to an eroded badland and old clay quarry.
A shot of some orange Indian Paintbrush and another white wildflower as we continued up the trail.
A view of the eroded badland and old quarry as we passed it and continued on up the trail.
We continued uphill with a view to the west of Pikes Peak off in the distance.
The trail now turned southwest and we continued a slight climb over the wide open prairie.
We continued to see wildflowers along the trail.
We soon began descending down towards the Paint Mines with a nice overview of the area.
A couple of close up shots of more of the white badlands and a table rock.
We continued down to the bottom and began exploring into the heart of the Paint Mines with their wonderful colors and formations.
A shot of Lisa and I in the canyon.
We climbed back up above the canyon for more views looking down into the Paint Mines.
A look back in the direction we had come from.
We descended back down into the bottom and hiked another artery into the Paint Mines for more exploration.
Some close up shots of a couple of the brightly colored pieces of clay that had broken off from a hoodoo and were laying on the ground. This one looks like a piece of frosted cake – you can see the white layer underneath with the very dark layer on top.
After exploring every artery of the mines, we headed up the last 0.7 mile of trail back to the parking lot. One final view of the Paint Mines before heading back down to the parking lot.
Our complete hiking loop across the prairie and the Paint Mines.
This hike was certainly worth the drive from Denver to explore an area of Colorado that we didn’t even realize existed!