Pawnee Buttes National Grassland is a special place, spanning across much of northeastern Colorado. Railroad development and homesteading brought settlers around the turn of the century, and then the area was decimated by the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Towns like Keota were once bustling places where people congregated to worship and conduct commerce.
Today, Pawnee Buttes is a natural and historical marvel that has so much to offer. Camping, hiking, touring, and birding are just a few things you can experience.
We recently got back from a three-day camping adventure. We brought our two dogs, Emma and Vestal, and newborn and set sail into the plains. The wind ripped and the weather varied throughout our journey, but we had a marvelous time. The hike to the Pawnee Buttes was an unforgettable experience. It was four miles roundtrip and worth every step. We highly recommend the visit. The only notable downside was all of the oil and gas development that has occurred in the last five years. It’s too bad nobody had the foresight to establish – at a minimum – a larger buffer around the buttes.
About Pawnee Buttes National Grassland
The Pawnee National Grassland is 35 miles east of Fort Collins and 25 miles northeast of Greeley in Weld County. Contained within the 30-by-60 mile area are 193,060 acres managed by the Pawnee National Grassland. The rest of the land is a checkerboard of private land, State of Colorado ownership and the Central Plains Experimental Range.
While developed facilities are limited on the grassland, recreation opportunities are not. The Pawnee is an internationally known birding area. It supports many bird species, especially during migration. The Colorado State Bird, the lark bunting, is very common on the grassland in spring and summer. The grassland also has many unique high plains bird species such as the mountain plover, burrowing owl and many birds of prey. Hiking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding and stargazing are also popular activities. Pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, swift fox, snakes and prairie dogs are just a few of the species that make the Pawnee Buttes National Grassland their home.
The windswept plains have witnessed the pageant of the frontier, the tragedy of the “Dust Bowl” and the wonders of modern agriculture. The rich history of the area is represented by old cemeteries and nearby museums. A person can explore the old homesteads and gain an appreciation of the area’s history. The network of numbered forest service and county roads will take you within easy walking distance of almost all parts of the grassland. A visit to the Pawnee Buttes National Grassland is unique. Take a moment to experience the abundant wildlife, spring wildflowers and peaceful serenity of the prairie and let your imagination run wild.
Contact the Pawnee Ranger District if you have any additional questions.
660 “O” Street, Greeley, CO 80631
Phone: 970-346-5000, Fax: 970-346-5014
Camping in Pawnee Buttes National Grassland
There are two solid camping options in Pawnee Buttes National Grassland that provide different experiences:
- Dispersed Camping – Dispersed camping is allowed on the Pawnee National Grassland, year-round. This provides an alternative to campground camping for those who want to experience the grassland the way people have for millennia. No fee required. A Motor Vehicle Use Map will help you determine if you are on private or public land. There are about 10 dispersed camping spots along CR 685, which is probably your safest bet. This area can get very windy, so be fully prepared.
- Forest Service Campground – Crow Valley Recreation Area and Campground is located 22 miles east of Ault, at Highway 14 and County Road 77, adjacent to Briggsdale, CO, and is open April to November, weather permitting. It offers a variety of campsites depending on group size. Some are first-come, first-served and for others reservations can be made through the National Recreation Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777 or online at www.recreation.gov. All sites are wheelchair accessible. RV Camping is allowed, however, there are no water or electrical hookups. While there is electricity available at the Steward J. Adams Educational Site in the shelter, it is not for RV hookups. There is no dump station available at the campground. Campfires are generally allowed, unless fire restrictions are in effect.