Image segmentation plays a crucial role in many image processing and understanding applications. Despite the huge number of proposed image segmentation techniques, accurate segmentation remains a significant challenge in image analysis. This article investigates the viability of using echo state network (ESN), a biologically inspired recurrent neural network, as features extractor for efficient color image segmentation. First, an ensemble of initial pixel features is extracted from the original images and injected into the ESN reservoir. Second, the internal activations of the reservoir neurons are used as new pixel features. Third, the new features are classified using a feed forward neural network as a readout layer for the ESN. The quality of the pixel features produced by the ESN is evaluated through extensive series of experiments conducted on real world image datasets. The optimal operating range of different ESN setup parameters for producing competitive quality features is identified. The performance of the proposed ESN‐based framework is also evaluated on a domain‐specific application, namely, blood vessel segmentation in retinal images where experiments are conducted on the widely used digital retinal images for vessel extraction (DRIVE) dataset. The obtained results demonstrate that the proposed method outperforms state‐of‐the‐art general segmentation techniques in terms of performance with an F‐score of 0.92 ± 0.003 on the segmentation evaluation dataset. In addition, the proposed method achieves a comparable segmentation accuracy (0.9470) comparing with reported techniques of segmentation of blood vessels in images of retina and outperform them in terms of processing time. The average time required by our technique to segment one retinal image from DRIVE dataset is 8 seconds. Furthermore, empirically derived guidelines are proposed for adequately setting the ESN parameters for effective color image segmentation.