Notice: The Paint Mines are a fragile destination. Visit it and enjoy it, as it’s one of Colorado’s many great natural beauties. However, FOLLOW THE RULES while you’re there. Leave no trace, don’t bring pets or off-road vehicles, and stay on the designated paths. Climbing on this terrain can be detrimental to its preservation.
Many consider the drive east of Colorado Springs dull, with nothing to see but flat prairie and steadily developing neighborhoods. But all eyes widen at a 750-acre expanse that emerges out of nowhere off U.S. 24. Throughout this colorful state, nothing is quite like Paint Mines Interpretive Park. With her sorcery involving water, wind and erosion, Mother Nature has left a masterpiece: Tall sandstone spires and hoodoos morph between pigments of purple and orange. A gully weaves through the formations, contributing to the nearly 4-mile-long figure-8 path encompassing the rugged park.
With the loops washed out in many places, we recommended not fretting to find a “proper” trail. In this fantastical area designated by the National Park Service, there’s no getting lost. Whether you’ve come for a jog or a picnic with the kids, simply wander as you please, keeping your eyes out for wildlife in the grassy surroundings and above for frequent hawks and falcons. While exploring, you might imagine the people who roamed this place long ago, seeking the clay to make their tools. Artifacts have been uncovered here dating back 9,000 years.
Pick the time of your visit with some consideration. After a rainstorm, the surface gets muddy, and when summer’s afternoon storms roll in, the wind gets intense, making for a rather unpleasant walk up and down the hill back to the parking lot.
Trip log: 2.2 miles, 329-foot elevation gain, 6,672 feet max
Getting there: Go east on U.S. 24 through Calhan, turning right on Yoder Street/Calhan Highway, then left on Paint Mines Road to the parking lot.
FYI: Park hours dawn to dusk. No fee. No dogs, horses, bikes or off-road vehicles. To avoid damaging the formations, do not climb.