Pawnee National Grassland

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660 O Street
Greeley, CO 80631

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The Pawnee National Grassland lies 90 miles northeast of Denver in Weld county, near Briggsdale, CO. It includes 193,000 acres of public land in two units located approximately 30 miles east of Fort Collins, Colorado. It is managed by Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests.

The Pawnee is one of 20 National Grasslands administered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is public land and it is yours to use, to enjoy, and to protect.

The Forest Service is dedicated to multiple-use management of National Forests and Grasslands for sustained yields of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, and recreation. The Forest Service determines, with public involvement, the best combination of uses to benefit the American people and to ensure the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment for the present and future generations. Our mission is caring for the land and serving people.

Visiting the Grassland can be a unique and beautiful experience. Take time to observe the scenery and the wide variety of wildlife. The broad expanses of grassland are very scenic, especially at dusk and dawn.

Recreation Opportunities

Before traveling on the Pawnee National Grassland, purchasing a Grassland map is recommended to help a visitor distinguish between public lands and private ownership. The maps cost $6 each, and are available at the Greeley office. Local stores may also sell the map.

Crow Valley Recreation Area - A grove of elm and cottonwood trees provide a unique facility on the open prairie. A ball diamond, group camping area, the Steward J. Adams Education Site, group picnic area, and five-unit family campground provide opportunities for bird-watching, team sports and games, camping, picnicking, or just relaxing. The fee for the family campground is $8/unit/night for a single or $12/unit/night for a double. Facilities include tables, fire rings, drinking water, and toilets. Parties interested in reserving the group picnic area or education site should contact the Greeley office. The only developed facility on the Grassland, the Crow Valley Recreation Area, is 1/4 mile north of Colorado Highway 14 on Weld County Road 77 near Briggsdale.

Pawnee Buttes Trail - The Buttes are 45 minutes northeast of Crow Valley and Briggsdale. An easy one-and-a-half-mile trail provides an opportunity to view the Buttes up close. The Buttes stand approximately 300 feet above the surrounding prairie. As the rock is crumbling sandstone, climbing on the Buttes is not recommended. Take a hat, sunscreen, and water. Temperatures over 100 degrees can be encountered in July and August. HAWKS AND FALCONS NEST IN THE ROCKY CLIFFS. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB THEM. The overlook and the cliffs are closed to public access March 1 to June 30 to protect the nesting birds. The adults may desert their eggs or young birds, especially March through June. For more information on Pawnee Buttes, see GORP's "Into the Great Wide Open."

Other Opportunities - One of the main recreation uses is bird-watching. The Grassland supports many bird species, especially during migration. The area is known internationally as an area to see birds of prey, and has good breeding populations of unique high plains species such as the mountain plover, burrowing owl, McCowan's, and chestnut collared longspur, etc. A pamphlet describing a motor vehicle bird tour that leaves the Crow Valley Recreation Area and tours the west side of the Pawnee is available at Crow Valley and the Forest Service office.

Note: The Mountain Plover is a possible threatened or endangered species and must not be disturbed when nesting. Use binoculars and telephoto lens to observe this species. Research indicates human activity closer than 200 meters may disturb the birds. Disturbances from people wanting to get closer can drive an adult off the nest, and this may result in a destroyed generation due to sunlight heating the eggs.

The use of mountain bicycles on the Grassland is increasing. The Auto Bird Tour route is suggested for mountain bikers. Using Weld County Road 96 for the return trip to the Crow Valley Recreation Area will avoid traffic on Colorado Highway 14.

The rich grassland history is represented by old cemeteries and nearby museums. The Briggsdale Heritage House is in an old school house and has many photo albums and other forms of written history. The hours are flexible—call to make arrangements for a visit, (970) 656-3612. The Grover Grassland Museum is in the old railroad depot—call (970) 895-2349 for information. The public can explore the old homesteads and gain an appreciation of history. However, on National Forests and Grasslands, collecting artifacts, arrowheads, vertebrate fossils, or barn wood is prohibited. All these things should be studied by a trained archaeologist to gain knowledge of past inhabitants. If you take artifacts home, the knowledge is lost forever. Contact the District Office if you find arrowheads or other important artifacts.

Please stay on the vehicle travel routes marked with numbered posts (shown on the map). Two tracks across the prairie attract others, and in time, several sets of ruts can occur. If a numbered post is not present, motor vehicle travel on that route is prohibited.

Tips For Your Enjoyment and Safety

A large container of water is standard equipment. Water is very important as dehydration is a real threat in the warm months of the year. In the summer, hats with wide brims will provide more protection from sun and heat when you leave your vehicle. Gloves help protect your hands when crossing fences or opening gates, and a waterproof windbreaker helps protect against the unexpected cold wind and rain. We suggest long pants or trousers and sturdy shoes for better protection from insect bites, cactus spines, sharp pointed yucca leaves, and sudden drops in temperature. Mosquitoes and gnats can become a real nuisance in spring and summer, especially when the wind dies down.

Winter on the prairie can be dangerous if a traveler becomes stranded in a snowstorm without proper equipment. Before starting a tour on the Grassland, be sure to check the weather reports. Take extra clothing, blankets, tire chains, a shovel and sand, and some non-perishable food in the event you become stuck or stranded. Tell a friend or neighbor where you are going and the time you should return home.

The prairie provides a unique opportunity for solitude and open spaces. Take the time to appreciate a soaring hawk, a gentle breeze caressing a carpet of flowers and grasses, and the cloud shadows creating a mosaic on the horizontal landscape. Observe the power of a thunderstorm and enjoy the coolness and clean smell after it passes. There is much to see on the Grassland if you take the time to look.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Jun 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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