Set amid the windswept plains of central Colorado, Pawnee National Grassland is a vast expanse that stretches along the Great Plains. The plains are dotted with unique geological features, including the Pawnee Buttes. A number of hiking trails cut across the grasslands, allowing you to climb up the buttes and explore the variety of ecosystems.
Pawnee National Grassland is best known for its birdwatching, attracting Audubon aficionados from around the globe. Hundreds of bird species visit the grasslands throughout the year, including large populations of lark bunting, Colorado's state bird. If you want to spot some raptors, head to Chalk Bluffs. History buffs will love visiting historical sites of interest, including homesteads from the 19th century that show you what life on the frontier was like for early pioneers. You can learn more about how the Dust Bowl of the 1930s impacted this area. Today, some of the land in the region has open to natural gas and oil drilling.
Developed RV camping opportunities are fairly limited on the grasslands. The main RV campground is Crow Valley, where you’ll have access to several hiking trails. You can also partake in dispersed camp throughout most of the grasslands, should you desire a bit more privacy during your stay.
Pawnee National Grassland is located in northeastern Colorado, just a few hours from Denver and right across the border from Wyoming. The area is easy to navigate by RV, with a number of wide, well-maintained roads taking you to the RV campgrounds in the area.
If you are driving from Denver, take I-76 and you’ll arrive to the grasslands in around an hour and 45 minutes. From Cheyenne, take I-80 east out of the city to reach the grasslands in around an hour.
The main RV campground is Crow Valley, which is right off CO-392. Large rigs should have no issues driving to the campground, as every road is straight. The only hazard is ice and snow during the winter. Although you’re unlikely to need snow chains, you should be prepared for icy roads, especially when driving at night.
This ten-site campground is great for birdwatching, hiking, and hunting. The basic sites do not have hookups of any kind, but each one has a picnic table and a fire pit. Drinking water can be accessed from a number of points throughout the campground, and there are also vault toilets. Dogs are allowed in the campground, provided they are kept on a leash at all times. Most sites can hold a rig up to 40 or 50 feet long, but a few can accommodate an 81-foot RV.
The campground is open from April through November. There is frequent flooding in the area, so check before your visit to make sure that the campground is open. A number of hiking trails lead directly out of the campground. You can also access a short birdwatching trail that loops through the area around the campground.
Although developed camping is limited in the grasslands, you can partake in dispersed camp throughout much of the area. The wide open expanse of the grasslands gives you plenty of privacy and breathing room. There are a number of private plots of land in the area, so make sure you are camping on public land.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities for RV campers on the grasslands. There are dozens of miles of trails that lead across the open plains. You can also hike up the Pawnee Buttes to get panoramic views of the grasslands. Hiking is usually best during the spring and fall, when the grasslands are draped in color. If you visit during the spring, you can enjoy hikes through the wildflower covered prairies.
With a number of multi-use trails and miles of open road, Pawnee National Grassland is a great place for mountain biking and road cycling. You can take trails that wrap around the side of the Pawnee Buttes, giving you stunning views of the plains below. The well-paved roads that cut through the area are perfect for spring bike rides. No bike rentals are offered at Crow Valley, the main RV campground in the area, so bring whatever gear you need along with your rig.
Pawnee National Grassland gives you a taste of life on the frontier, and one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the area’s history is on horseback. You can take a number of riding trails across the plains, as well as climb up to an outlook that looks out from the Pawnee Buttes. You can also check for fossils as you ride, as the buttes are known for their eroded rock faces. Just make sure not to take any archaeological finds you come across, as they are considered part of the area’s natural heritage.
The biggest draw to the grasslands is birdwatching, so toss those binoculars into the camping trailer before you head out. You’ll be able to spot hundreds of species throughout the year, especially during spring and fall migratory season. Lark buntings can be seen in large numbers, as well as mountain plovers, burrowing owls, and a number of different hawk species. You can hike up to outlooks along the Pawnee Buttes for even better views of the birds of prey as they hunt. Another great spot to check out is Chalk Bluffs, which is a well-known raptor nesting area.
Hunting is allowed on most of the grasslands, with a number of big and small game species throughout the year. Coyotes and deer are the most common game, and you will also find elk and antelope. Pawnee National Grassland includes a number of private lots, so take caution not to trespass while hunting in the area. You’ll need a Colorado state hunting license to hunt in any area of the grasslands.
The open expanses and long stretches of land make for a great cross-country skiing course during the winter. You can explore the flatlands that lead up to the Pawnee Buttes and enjoy the wildlife that sticks around for the winter. Most of the trails in the area are not groomed, so beginner skiers may struggle on some sections, especially after heavy snow storms. There are no gear rentals offered at the main RV campground, so bring everything you need along with your rig.