Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Calhan, CO
The information in this piece may be out of date. I have moved away from Cheyenne and am no longer maintaining this site. You may leave a comment if you wish. Useful comments will continue to be posted.
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.
May 15, 2009
I need to know if there are restrooms at this site. Please let me know. It looks like a great place to visit.
May 16, 2009
There are some toilets there; however they seem to be open only seasonally. Last time I was there, they were locked.
Sep 7, 2009
is there a place were you can actually dig up the clay and take it home? We are looking for clay to build an adobe oven.
Sep 7, 2009
Well, not at Paint Mines. As you know it’s a county park set aside for preservation. I suppose you could go out to Calhan and visit with some locals. I wonder if the material in that vicinity is suitable for adobe construction. You certainly want the right mix of clay, sand, etc.
Sep 8, 2009
Thanks so much, of course the county park must be preserved. I will check with someone local.
Jan 2, 2010
Thx for the article!!
Jul 8, 2010
Thanks for the nice information. I might add that dogs, horses, and bicycles are now prohibited in the park. The park is truly a jewel that needs all our protection.
Jul 12, 2010
My elderly mother wants to visit the park, but mobility is an issue. Can we see much of anything from the car? Are the trails easy enough to push her in a wheel chair??
Jul 14, 2010
I recommend you continue past the first parking area. You’ll get a pretty good view from the road about a half mile further up. If you continue on, the road curves left; there is a second parking area about half mile after the curve. The broad trail from there is definitely smooth enough for a wheel chair and leads to a great overlook about 200 yards up.
Sep 1, 2010
Is the park open only at certain times on certain days? Is there a cost?
Sep 2, 2010
No, and no. No entry fees, and as far as I know, it’s open 24-7.
Oct 15, 2010
Interesting, I use to visit my grandfather out there back in the 80s and into the early 90s. (He actually lived in Yoder just south of Calhan). I use to visit Paint Mine when it was privately owned and I had to jump a fence to gain access; I even was called out over a bull-horn by a Sheriff once to come back to the main road. =)
Interesting its open now to the public, that is great. I miss that area, it was my childhood.
Oct 28, 2010
Gonna visit there this morning. 🙂 Can’t wait….I have been wanting to photograph it for quite sometime!
Mar 21, 2011
Can I overnight there in my camper?
Mar 22, 2011
No, the parking lots are quite small.
May 5, 2011
No, it’s day use only. Sorry!
Apr 19, 2011
Can you go camping here, my brother and I want to go camping for the night?
May 20, 2011
Are there facilities this time if year such as restrooms and picnic area?
May 22, 2011
Restrooms yes, not sure about picnic tables. They didn’t have any the last time I was there, but it’s been quite a while.
Peter & Brenda
May 22, 2011
Hiked Paint Mines Interpretive Park today 5/22/11 today. Was great but I strongly suggest to do this hike in the Spring or Fall as Summer would be unbearably hot. We also came across “fresh” mountain lion tracks (big ones). Tracks lead to the garbage in the parking lot so a word of caution and be careful.
I have pics of tracks if anyone is interested.
Good hiking! PLG
May 24, 2011
wow… I’d never heard of mountain lions being there, but I did some web searching and did find one other mention of their presence. Good to know!!
Jun 2, 2011
We found an article about this area in a Colorado Springs tour guide we picked up at the Colorado Welcome Center in Red Rocks. Definitely plan on going to the area next trip to the Springs area. By the way, Mapquest shows Yoder St. going out of Calhan. Definitely will go before the summer heat sets in.
Jun 4, 2011
Brett, is there a way I can pictures to you (the next time i’m out near Yoder, Calhan, and Falcon)?
Jun 4, 2011
You can post them on Flickr and let us know the url. Who is Brett?
Jun 18, 2011
Is there a price to enter the park? Can you email me this info?
Jun 21, 2011
No, it is free.
Jun 20, 2011
any details on how long (miles)the hike is thru the praire until you reach the paint mines?
Jun 21, 2011
Not long, I think a half-mile or less.
Jun 30, 2011
Is there a good map somewhere? Also, I read that the trail is short. Is there a way to make it a loop and make it longer?
Jun 30, 2011
I don’t know of any maps. You really don’t need one — there is only one trail, it meanders through the park from one side to the other.
Jan 5, 2012
Thanks for your great review and pictures! We went out there today and had a blast. There were patches of snow lying around, but with the temperature being 65F today it felt great.
Jan 16, 2012
We took our six and four year old out there today, January 16, 2012. We loved the experience and the trail brochure was informative and a great learning opportunity for the kids. There was snow on the ground, but trails were definitely still accessible. If you go in the winter, bring jackets, there was a lot of wind! Have fun!
Jan 18, 2012
My daughter from Colorado took me to this beautiful location and I must have taken a hundred pictures of the beauty I saw there… I am from New Jersey was so impressed that I have told many friends to visit these Paint Mines if they ever get to Colorado….definitely worth it…..
Feb 21, 2012
Is it wheelchair acceccable?
Feb 21, 2012
If you have a sturdy wheelchair and someone with strong arms to push you, then I’d say yes. I recommend you continue past the first parking area. You’ll get a pretty good view from the road about a half mile further up. If you continue on, the road curves left; there is a second parking area about half mile after the curve. The broad trail from there is definitely smooth enough for a wheel chair and leads to a great overlook about 200 yards up.
Mar 16, 2012
I would love to try this with my husband who has MS. Can the trails handle a mobility scooter?
Mar 26, 2012
I think so..
Mar 24, 2012
Loved out trip here. I must reiterate how fragile these forms are and please do not climb them. The photos above show many violations of this rule. We are asked to stay on designated trails and paths and many seem to lead to and onto the rocks unfortunately. This is uninteded by the park caretakers I’m sure and it’s clear erosion is taking place due to foot traffic. Equally as impressive as the rocks are the surrounding plains that stretch for miles. Beautiful…
Jun 23, 2020
I know. I wish they would clearly designate the ‘allowed’ trails and block off anything that’s not! I think it’s fairly safe to explore the formations from the ground — the washes — and from overlooks. Just don’t go scrambling up and over.
Apr 5, 2012
Are pets still forbidden in the park?
Apr 9, 2012
As far as I know, yes.
Apr 23, 2012
Are the hours of operation? Winter/Summer?
Apr 25, 2012
Not to my knowledge. there are no gates or fences, it’s open 24/7.
May 10, 2012
In the description it says “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.”How far of a walk is it to that point?
What is the best time of day for the least tourist activity? Thanks for a reply.
May 12, 2012
The length of the walk depends on which branch of the trail you take. There is a map sign at the entrance. The shorter is about five-ten minutes, I think. And any time of day is fine, there are never crowds.
May 26, 2012
El Paso County says park is open from Dawn until Dusk. FYI.
Jun 17, 2012
Outstanding place, great little hike I went about 4 miles through alot of the terrain. Beautiful & Fun Fun Fun very dog friendly if anyone wanted to know! Thank you for posting this park.
Jun 23, 2020
FYI, it is no longer pet-friendly. I’m assuming there was too much trouble with waste, pets off leash, etc.
Jul 25, 2012
Went today, 25 July 2012. It was warm, but not unbearably so. I have issues with my right foot, but I mostly found it easy walking. There are enough hills that wouldn’t be a problem for hikers but I think are very problematic for wheelchairs or mobility scooters. The are also erosion gullies in the path which might well cause problems with wheels. There a unisex rest room at the 1st parking lot and a couple of benches located along the trail. Water would be advisable, but if you take a snack, be aware that there are no trash containers–you’ll have to carry your trash out with you. Even in July, there were a pretty fair number of wild flowers, saw four types of butterfly, damselflies, dragonflies, meadowlarks, mourning doves and crows–no animal life, but we were there from about 2-4 in the afternoon. The “badlands sections are really wonderful to see, and you’re likely to be alone of nearly so. I can’t wait to go back in the other seasons. A truly undiscovered gem
Jul 31, 2012
Are service dogs allowed? I have one in training and this would be good training experience for him.
Aug 10, 2012
I’m not positive, but I should think so, since service animals are pretty much allowed everywhere.
Sep 30, 2012
We went yesterday for the purpose of taking senior pictures of my daughter. This place is SPECTACULAR!!!!! I can’t believe we’ve lived here 10 years and have never been. It was a beautiful Saturday, we arrived about 2:30 and stayed for about 3 hours. We saw exactly 9 other people. It started to get a little windy and chilly toward the end. I think there should be more signs about not climbing as we didn’t see one until we were leaving.
Jan 9, 2013
Is it allowed to go around the formations as long we aren’t climbing on them?
Jan 9, 2013
I think so — but I’m not positive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out there and from others’ comments, it sounds like there have been some changes made to the trails and rules.
Apr 24, 2013
I work for Bethesda Lutheran Communities for adults with Developmental Disabilities and want to bring a group out to see the beauty! We have VERY small groups, want to make sure there isn’t a charge? And is it wheelchair accessable?
Apr 24, 2013
With that responsibility in mind, is there a way you could make an advance trip with a friend to check everything out? Then you will know exactly where to go and what to expect.
Apr 27, 2013
@Kim Bunt: fwiw the park’s site lists that it is accessible: http://adm.elpasoco.com/Lists/Parks/DispForm.aspx?ID=19
I think the recommendation of taking an advance trip is a good one…
James Edward Jr Rose
Apr 30, 2013
I just visited the mines on Sunday April 28, 2013, and no it’s not wheelchair accesible as far as the trails goes. But if you go past the first entrance to the park and continue about another 1/4 mile on the left there is overlook parking. There are some beautiful sights to see after only about a 150 yard walk with hardly any incline.
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Nov 12, 2013
Hubby and I took our kids (ages 12 and 3) to the Paint Mines this past weekend. Temps were in the 60’s (ideal!) and the skies were fantastically blue and clear. We enjoyed it SO much.
Some important points (that I’m sure have already been stated, but bear repeating):
1)The rules say to stay on the designated trails. It’s SO tempting to go off trail, but don’t. And don’t climb on anything – the rocks are fragile.
2)No dogs or bikes allowed.
3)One vault toilet in the main parking lot. There are no other restrooms.
We took the kids to the restroom before we started walking, but on our way back, our 3 year old suddenly had to go again. There was still quite a walk back to the parking lot. We barely made it.
4)Make sure you bring water and a camera, too – you’ll want to take lots of pics.
5)The Paint Mines website (http://adm.elpasoco.com/Lists/Parks/DispForm.aspx?ID=19) says it’s handicap accessible, but just from walking there on Saturday, I think it would be somewhat difficult for wheelchairs or people with mobility problems. Just my opinion, though.
6)If you go past the main parking lot, a little ways down the road there’s a scenic overlook.
May 1, 2014
I go there often, i live in the calhan area . although equestreian and dogs are prohibited, i see dogs with there owners on the trail often . some on leash some off, mostly OFF ! it is getting over run by dog poop! this is upsetting ,this is a historical site, for people not thier dogs! rules are no climbing , i am 70 years old and im not about to climb, but it isnt about my age it is a rule!!!!
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Jan 10, 2015
It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.
Feb 18, 2015
Visiting from Florida, I was out there with my son and his family this past week and I must say that it is one of the most beautiful and unusual sites that I’ve visited in this country!! However, I was extremely saddened and dismayed to see people with dogs on and off leashes, their waste left on the trail. There was a couple hunched over filling their backpacks with at least one arrowhead, some flint and who knows what else- the backpacks were full!! And left and right were people of all ages climbing all over the rocks!! And when we asked these people why they were blatantly breaking the rules, they just shrugged it off and laughed. So sad that this amazing place is being so disrespected- 🙁
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Jun 19, 2015
Are dogs allowed in the park?
Jun 20, 2015
No, they are not, according to El Paso county. Due to plethora of cacti you probably wouldn’t want to put your dog at risk anyway. Roger
Sep 27, 2015
It was my understanding that the Native American Indians also were in the area and artifacts,were found.
Sep 27, 2015
The info boards say that Native Americans did frequent the area, and use the clays, but I don’t think any artifacts have been found here. Maybe a random arrowhead or two, like those found all over the region.
Jun 4, 2016
I do a lot of photography and was wondering whether early morning or early evening are the best times to photograph. We are traveling there this summer and I will probably only get to go there once.
Jun 5, 2016
I’d go with early morning. The best sections of the erosions face east, if I recall.
Jun 5, 2016
Thanks for your help.
Sep 30, 2016
As kids my brothers and friends hiked out there and had a lot of fun. Good memories Dad also worked there operating a Huff end loader for Robison Brick and Tile.
Jun 10, 2020
About how long should I estimate a stop there if i want to hike the trails? I’m working my way west & want to plan a stop there. Thanks!
Jun 23, 2020
Plan for about two hours.