What it is: A badlands-type area in the Colorado prairie. Gullies, spires, hoodoos, and sculpted walls carved out of brightly colored clay deposits.
Location: About a 5 minute drive from Calhan, Colorado, approx. 30 miles east of Colorado Springs. Take Hwy 24 to Calhan, turn right on Yoder Rd., and follow the signs. There are 3 parking area/trailheads, two off of Paint Mines Rd, the third after the fork in the road (head left).
Gear: Nothing special. Wear sneakers or trail shoes and bring a water bottle and a snack. There is a campground-type pit toilet at the first parking area.
Distance: Four miles of easy trails. Plan for a couple hours to wander and explore.
Details: This place USED to be well-kept secret, but as word got out it’s become increasingly popular. When you arrive at the parking area (there’s a big stone sign declaring the park’s entrance), you won’t see anything spectacular — just prairie in every direction. Pick a trail — doesn’t matter which one, they all intersect and take you to the same spots — and go. The park is rich in plant and animal life and is a beautiful example of native prairie.
Sooner or later you’ll walk up on the expanse of natural clay sculpture. It is nothing short of spectacular — chasms, spires, overhangs, carved walls, the works. The colorful clays — layers of snowy white, golden yellow, rose pink and purplish mauve — are what give the park its name. Native Americans used the deposits for paints and pottery, and settlers later mined the clay to make bricks.
Though they look like solid stone, the hoodoos and other formations are in fact very fragile. When wet, the clay will rub off on your fingers and leave colorful smears on your clothes. For this reason, CLIMBING IS NOT ALLOWED, and pets and bicycles are forbidden. Failure to comply can result in a trespassing citation. I know it’s tempting, but climbing literally hastens the erosion and damages the formations, so please obey the rules! Enjoy the formations from the wash beds and the trail overlooks and STAY OFF THE ROCKS.
The park is open from dawn to dusk. Photographers can purchase a permit to stay after dark to shoot the night sky among the hoodoos. For permit info call El Paso County Parks at (719) 520-7529.
For more information check out https://communityservices.elpasoco.com/parks-and-recreation/paint-mines-interpretive-park/ The county brochure and map is quite good.