Pawnee National Grassland is one of the few places you can go to see Colorado’s natural prairie landscape. It’s located east of Fort Collins in the plains by Ault, CO.
The designated grassland preserves and promotes the natural prairie landscape, which is nearly farmland everywhere else. The land is mostly flat with some rolling hills, bluffs and buttes. There’s not much water in the grassland, though there are a few seasonal creeks. Afternoon and evening lightning storms are common in the summer, and it get get windy.
Most of the land around the grasslands is open to the public, but some of it is private. It’s usually marked, but not always well. There is not a whole lot specific to see. The main attraction is probably the Pawnee Buttes, two small mesas that rise strikingly around the expansive flat plains.
The main activities within the park are biking, birding, camping, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and driving scenically. Dispersed camping is available on many of the roads within the park. The most concentrated number of sites is probably near the Pawnee Buttes on the eastern grasslands.
It gets real windy at night. The wind was thumping against my tent loud enough and non-stop enough, that I had to move outside for the night. It was beautiful, but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to camp here again. Although, if you want to catch a lightning show in the distance, the plains are the place to go.
For those that prefer a campground, Crow Valley, is the only one in the grasslands. It’s shaded by tall trees and there is a baseball diamond at the campground, which is kind of cool.
Birding: The grasslands are a famous birding site, with over 300 species, including Colorado’s state bird, the lark bunting.
- Dispersed camping is permitted on many of the roads within the park. The most concentrated section is around the Pawnee Buttes. Just look for existing fire rings. It does get real windy though for tent camping.
- Crow Valley is the one campground within the grassland. It’s located in the southern part of the grassland, close to Greeley. The campground has plenty of tall trees and a baseball diamond. Reservations
Hiking: There is a short trail out to an overlook at the Pawnee Buttes.
Horseback Riding: Allowed
Hunting: Permitted during appropriate seasons.
Scenic Drives: A national scenic byway, Pawnee Pioneer Trails runs through part of the grasslands, including the Buttes.
The roads within the park are not super well marked, nor is there really any place to go. Just drive into the grasslands and check it out. It’s best to have at least a CO map in your car, the more detailed, the better. There are several tiny, plains towns around the grassland worth checking out too.
Address: 115 North 2nd Ave., Ault, CO 80610
Motor Vehicle Use Maps: Large, PDF’s from the USFS. They show forest service roads and where dispersed camping is permitted.