Updated: Jul 14, 2022
The Paint Mines are a about a two hour drive from Denver. Katie and I made this unique day trip in the middle of May on a sunny day and were glad we had worn long sleeves. The air was cool but without a cloud in the sky and no trees to shade our hike, we found ourselves in this cool but sunburnt place.
The mines are not underground. Rather, they encompass a small valley created by little streams that have carved grooves in soft rock, exposing colorful layers of sand like textured walls. For not expecting to derive very much enjoyment from this trip, we had a surprisingly good time. Maybe it was the fact that we had never seen an environment quite like the paint mines, or maybe it was the vast expanse of rolling hills sprawling away from us in all directions, but this bleak countryside setting captivated our imaginations (and we were content captives).
Because there’s not much in the way of restaurants in Calhan, we packed our lunch along with several bottles of water to keep us hydrated on the trek. The drive from Denver isn’t very scenic as you are driving away from the mountains, so I recommend listening to a favorite audio book or podcast. This will help fill the semi-boring drive to and from the park.
There are two parking lots for the paint mines. One has a bathroom, and one does not. It doesn’t cost anything to park. We parked at the northern most lot (the one with a bathroom) and hiked the Green Trail.
If you stay on the Green Trail, you will walk straight into the largest of the paint mines. This is like walking into a different world! The curving rock walls bespectacled of purple and yellow hues will pose challenge to the brain to recall another place quite like it.
After exploring every little nook and cranny of the largest paint mine, hop back on the Green Trail walking uphill (but south in direction) to pick up Paint Mines Trail and enjoy the ridge top splendor of countless windmills gracing Funk Road Ridge. Looping all the way around back to Green Trail, this two-mile loop will have you ready to take a well-deserved rest back in your vehicle as you head north west home to Denver.
If you’ve still got some energy to burn and time on your hands, check out Castlewood Canyon State Park. This park sits about an hour outside Denver and is on your way back to town. There is a ten dollar entrance fee but, like most state parks, this charge goes towards supporting the upkeep of these natural beauties. For a quick, mile long stroll, park the car in the lot closest to the visitor center and make your way down to the Cherry Creek Overlook. This spacious deck provides an unencumbered view of Cherry Creek, unlike the rest of this short hike. Backtrack to the parking lot and turn right to walk along the cement path, closest to Cherry Creek. Be sure to read some of the informative placards that adorn the walkway and learn about this unique geography and the importance of keeping it intact. After walking a half mile, you’ll come across a second parking lot. Spin around and head back the way you came to walk about a mile. Or pick up the Lake Gulch Trailhead and explore Pike Peak Amphitheater, just a few hundred feet from the trailhead start.
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