At a Glance
Easy to find in Northeast Colorado, the Pawnee National Grassland offers calm solitude, tremendous skies, wildlife, birding, and a chance to get up close and personal with the workings of a very subtle ecosystem.
Visit the Grassland’s most arresting geological feature, the Pawnee Buttes, for a well-developed trailhead with shaded picnic areas, vault toilets, and level trails for hiking.
What to Love
With sun protection, sturdy shoes, and lots of water, you can have a very pleasant crittering trip here. Watch for pronghorn antelope, short-horned lizards, songbirds, raptors, and rattlesnakes as you drive and hike. Both wildflowers and cactus flowers are in abundant supply as well.
If you prefer to explore by car, the U.S. Forest Service has created a 21-mile self-guided birding tour on the Grassland.
Should plans provide for an overnight, you’ll be treated to waterfalls of birdsong at sunrise and sunset, plus all the fresh air you can handle. Douse the campfire and contemplate a sky full of stars, with only a faint traffic hum and the windfarm’s LED arrays to hint that you’re not falling asleep in a covered wagon.
Where to Sleep
Dispersed RV boondocking and tent camping are easy and free on the Grassland, but make sure you’re on public lands. For maps and tips, visit the USDA Forest Service Pawnee National Grassland Office at 115 N. 2nd Avenue, Ault, CO 80610. (You may see a Greely address on older literature, but as of May 2017 it’s a nice little facility in Ault.)
If you prefer a campground, the U.S. Forest Service’s Crow Valley Campground in the Crow Valley Recreation Area offers online reservations.
For a unique RV or Tent camping experience, consider nearby Greeley’s Missile Site Park‘s seasonal campground with RV dump. Greeley also offers hotels, motels, and dining.
Good to Know
March to June, the Butte tops and some trails are closed to protect nesting raptors. Mountain bikes are not allowed on the Butte trails at any time.
The Grassland is a patchwork of federal, state, and private lands. To travel and camp without encroaching on personal property, stop at the U.S. Forest Service in Ault, Colorado and pick up a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM).
You can monitor InciWeb for controlled burn updates.
This is rattler country; urge children to remain “snake-awake.”
Travel Report and Commentary by Paul Mags at PMags.com – Pawnee Grassland – A changed landscape (includes Wild Earth Guardians’s map of drilling sites).
Travel Report by Toddlerado.com – Pawnee National Grasslands: It’s a Butte, Clark!
Travel Report and Photographs by James Beissel at Crittering.com – Tips for Visiting Pawnee National Grassland
More to Explore
Area History by Dorothy and Lee Rhoades – Pawnee National Grassland History
Area Natural History and Geology Brochure from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – An Introduction to the Pawnee Buttes
Video & Area Summary from Discover Weld County Colorado – Pawnee National Grassland