Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

The point where the Arikaree River flows out of Colorado and into Kansas is the lowest point in Colorado, at an elevation of 3,317 feet (1,011 m).

It holds the distinction of being the highest low point of any U.S. state, and higher than the highest points of 18 states and the District of Columbia.

The Arikaree River has been made one of the designated areas under the Colorado Natural Areas Program because it is “part of the largest and best remaining example of a naturally functioning Great Plains river system in Colorado.” It has several species of reptiles, fish, and amphibians that are native and uncommon. The area is a sanctuary for many bird species, including burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and greater prairie chickens. The habitat is near-pristine and there are high-quality riparian and native prairie plants.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

Weather

GPS Route with Elevation

All the elevation maps indicate the lowest point is approximately 3,317′. My GPS on the hike recorded elevations in the 3,200′ range. This may be because I was able to walk on the river bottom or possibly a calibration issue with my GPS device, I’m not sure.

Video Tour

Trail Directions

I was unable to find the recommended route to the Arikaree River basin near the Kansas border from resources online. I initially tried to access the basin from the south, but the area was fenced and looked like I had to cross private property. 

I then approached the basin from the north and found an unfenced area along the border. This is the route I took. I cannot recommend any route as I am not sure of the status of the area I crossed to get to the river. 

The river itself did not have water flowing when I visited in early May. I was able to walk along the river bottom with only a few pools of water scattered along the route.

The approach from the north also provides access to the Tri-Corners area, where the Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska borders meet. There is a road leading to the point and a plaque describing the area for visitors.

 

Trailhead Directions

Picket Wire Canyonlands Tracksite (4,403′), Eastern Plains

Picket Wire Canyonlands Tracksite (4,403′), Eastern Plains

Picket Wire Canyonlands Tracksite (4,403′), Eastern Plains

Picket Wire (Purgatoire) Canyonlands, in the Comanche National Grasslands, is home to the largest dinosaur track site in North America. 150 million years ago this area was part of a large shallow lake and was teaming with Brontosaurs and Allosaurs. As these massive beasts plodded along the muddy edge of this lake, they left their footprints in the mud, which were eventually buried and turned to stone. Today, over 1,300 of these footprints, extending a 1/4 mile, are exposed at the Picket Wire Canyonlands dinosaur track site.

Another interesting geological attraction on the Eastern Plains is Paint Mines Park, with it’s richly colored clay spires.

Ranger led vehicle access can be arranged in advance during certain times. Vehicle access does not traverse same trail.

Weather

GPS Route with Elevation

Video Tour

Trail Directions

There are no navigation issues with the trail. The reason for the difficulty rating is the distance.

Starting at the Withers Canyon Trailhead, the trail descends 250 feet into the canyons. Along the way you will encounter many ruins including the Dolores Mission and Cemetery. Many rocks above the trail have centuries old petroglyphs left behind by nomadic tribes.

Trailhead Directions

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park is located on the eastern plains near Calhan, Colorado. The 750 acre park features geological formations including spires, chasms, overhangs, and carved walls. These formations were created through erosion, creating gullies and exposed layers of clay and jasper. Oxidization of iron deposits created the colorful clays, which range from light yellow to deep red.

Another interesting geological site on the eastern plains is the Picket Wire Canyonlands Tracksite. Further south on the eastern plains, it is home to the largest dinosaur track site in North America.

Elevation Map (select to enlarge)

Weather

GPS Route with Elevation

Video Tour

Trail Directions

From either trailhead the best approach is to head for the west side of the park as this is where 90% of the rock formations are located that make this park distinct.

Taking the loop from Paint Mines Rd trailhead, the trail initially heads east and curves to the south. Once heading south you’ll have views into the valley and a bench to soak it all in. The trail then descends into valley with white carved walls and spires immediately to the west.

Shortly after the white spires you’ll approach a trail junction. Take the trail to the right (south), which leads deeper into the gully area. There are many beautiful dead-end spurs that take you closer to the formations. This is a great place to take your time and explore all of these side trails. The canyons here range in color from deep reds, to yellows, to white.

The main trail continues east and gradually climbs out of the gully. There are more formations to the north before leveling out on grasslands. From here the trail continues east to a junction with a second trailhead. Take the left trail northwest over vast rolling grasslands to continue the loop. The trail widens here and provides views of Pikes Peak far off to the west along with a bench on top of a slight rise.

There are a couple of smaller formations to the south as you continue to the southwest. Eventually you’ll come back to the original trail junction. Head straight (west) to get back to the trailhead.

Trailhead Directions