One of Colorado's best-kept secrets, this park is brimming with vibrant colors and wildlife year-round.

This is the time of year that so. many. people. are motoring up the mountain roads to see Colorado in all its autumn glory. And who can blame them, the leaves are magnificent! But what if you could avoid the crowded highways and see a different, but no less brilliant, kind of natural color?

If you’re in the mood for a fall day trip with a twist, Paint Mines Interpretative Park near Calhan is for you. Less than an hour away from Colorado Springs and around two hours from Denver, it offers rare geology and natural wonder that has to be seen to be believed.

Visiting the park is a bit like taking a step into an alien landscape, and it is certainly unique for Colorado. In the midst of prairie land, towering hoodoos and shades of purple, yellow, pink, red, and orange cover walls of clay in this 750-acre, creek-bed environment. The paint mines have evidence of human life as far back as 9,000 years ago, and it’s the colorful rock used by Native Americans for pottery and ceremonial paint that earned the park its name. In addition, in the early 1900s, the clay was mined to make colorful bricks, according to the park website.

The park’s hoodoo geology, tall spires of rock topped with a boulder, is one of only three areas with these types of formations in the U.S. (the others being in Utah and New Mexico). They are caused by erosion from wind and rain, while the colors are the result of oxidized iron in the soil.

Hoodoos at Paint Mines

Hoodoos at Paint Mines Interpretative Park. Courtesy of

Add to this unique natural wonder the wide variety of prairie-dwelling wildlife that roams the open space, and you have a lot to look at on the four miles of trails offered. The trails are not open to bikes, dogs or horse, so you will have ample space and time to roam the park and snap pictures at every turn.

And there will be tons of photo ops that will make your social media buddies jealous – seriously, you’ll be one of the only people posting something other than aspen leaves this time of year.

Pro tip: Mornings and evening (sun up and around sunset) are the best times to see the colors really pop in the light, say park rangers.  

You are allowed to get up close and personal with the natural beauty of the formation, but the park requests that you stay on the designated trails, tread lightly around these fragile spires, and definitely don’t climb on them or try to climb into the many nooks and crannies. Let’s keep this beautiful ecosystem as pristine and intact as we can, as it is already contending with Mother Nature and her elements.

Earth can be pretty awe-inspiring, so if you want to dig a little deeper into the park’s formation and history, you can take a guided hike from a park ranger. For more information, visit the El Paso County website.

Have you visited the Paint Mines Interpretive Park? Did you get some Instagram-worthy pics? Share them in the comments below.

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