Pawnee Buttes Trail, Pawnee National Grasslands - Pawnee Buttes Trailhead, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado

Pawnee Buttes Trail - 4.1 miles

Pawnee National Grasslands - Pawnee Buttes Trailhead

The Pawnee National Grasslands

The Pawnee National Grasslands

Round-Trip Length: 4.1 miles (includes east and west buttes)
Start-End Elevation: 5,435' - 5,220' (5,435' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -215' net elevation loss (+383' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Pawnee Buttes Trail - 4.1 Miles Round-Trip

The Pawnee National Grasslands are located within a 30 x 60 mile quadrant of northeast Colorado between Highway 14 and the Wyoming border. The grasslands span 193,060 acres of short grass prairie in the South Platte River Basin.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Pawnee National Grasslands support a wide range of wildlife, and are a renowned birding destination. Lark bunting, mountain plover, burrowing owl, and numerous raptor species are seen throughout the year. Pronghorn, mule deer, coyote, swift fox, rattlesnakes and prairie dogs are primary residents of the Pawnee Grasslands.

At first glance the grasslands appear monotonously flat, but closer inspection reveals a complex and visually stunning landscape.

Soft surface layers on the high plains from the Brule Formation have eroded faster than areas capped by a harder sandstone conglomerate called the Arikaree Formation, resulting in intricately carved buttes, gullies, mesas, and escarpments throughout the grasslands.

The Pawnee Buttes are among the grasslands' most prominent topographic features, rising nearly 300' from the high plains floor. A short trail leads down a major escarpment into a sea of open space, and to the base of each butte. Visitors will enjoy up close inspection of these geologic oddities, magnificent vistas, and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities along the way:

The Pawnee Buttes Trail drops quickly down the east face of the Overlook escarpment to the prairie floor, negotiating a few minor washes on the way. It bends northeast into open space framed by Lips Bluff to the south.

The trail reaches West Pawnee Butte (1.5 miles : 5,222'), and crosses private property lines soon after (see rules and regulations below). The trail remains level to East Pawnee Butte (2.05 miles : 5,225'), a larger butte complex with rugged gullies emanating from its southern base.

Enjoy buttes from a distance, and never attempt to climb them. The buttes and surrounding mesas are comprised of loosely bound sediments that crumble easily, and cannot reliably support weight and pressure.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 48.825 W104 00.033 — 0.0 miles : Pawnee Buttes Trailhead
  • N40 49.201 W103 58.814 — 1.4 miles : West Pawnee Butte
  • N40 49.376 W103 58.233 — 2.05 miles : East Pawnee Butte

Worth Noting

  • Rattlesnakes inhabit these grasslands. Remain on designated trails at all times, and never place your hands or feet where you can't see them.

  • Climbing on the buttes can be dangerous, causes erosion, may disturb wildlife, and is strongly discouraged. The buttes' loose rock composition crumbles easily and does not provide reliable footholds or anchors.

  • Spring and summer weather conditions can change rapidly over the plains. Afternoon lightning, hail, and tornadoes are possible. Be mindful of changing weather patterns, and plan travel time accordingly. Always carry extra water, layers, and sun protection.

  • Mild grades and maintained surfaces make the Pawnee Buttes Trail ideal for families, runners, and winter recreation.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Dispersed Backcountry Camping is permitted year-round in the Pawnee National Grasslands. Restrictions may apply, and vary by season and location. Contact the Pawnee National Grasslands District Office with your specific itinerary before setting out (970.346.5000).

  • Backcountry campers at Pawnee Buttes must remain at least 200' away from developed areas and trails. There are no reliable natural water sources.

  • The Crow Valley Recreation Area and Campground is located 22 miles east of Ault at Highway 14 and County Road 77. The grounds are open April - October, weather permitting. Reservations may be made up to 6 months in advance, but at least 4 days in advance are required for family sites.

  • There are 4 family sites, first come, first served. There 6 individual sites. Each single family site can accommodate 8 people, and each double site can accommodate 16 people.

  • Fees: $10 for single non-electric sites; $14 for double non-electric sites. Fees are half-price when water is off. An additional $9 reservation fee applies.

  • One large RV or tents and campers can fit at each site. There are picnic tables and fire rings at each site. All sites are handicapped accessible. Reservations are from 2 p.m. day one to 2 p.m. the last day of your stay.

  • Crow Valley Recreation Area houses a large picnic area, ball field, horseshoe area and volleyball area. There are also day hiking trails, and the Pawnee Birding Tour starts at the campground.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted on the Pawnee Buttes Trail but must be under strict voice control at all times.

  • Horses are permitted on the Pawnee Buttes Trail.

  • Bikes and mechanized vehicles are not permitted on the Pawnee Buttes Trail.

  • The Overlook Bluff and Lips Bluff areas are closed March 1 - June 30 each year to protect nesting raptors. Respect seasonal closures and remain on designated trails at all times.

  • East Pawnee Butte is located on private land. Respect property boundaries and remain on designated trails at all times. It's the public's responsibility to know where private property line exist

  • It is illegal to move, remove, or disturb artifacts, fossils, historical buildings, plants, or wildlife. Report finds to the Pawnee National Grasslands district office (970.346.5000).

Directions to Trailhead

The Pawnee Buttes Trailhead is located 23.2 miles northeast of Highway 14 on CR 685. County roads are packed dirt and gravel suitable for most cars under most driving conditions. There are signs for Pawnee Buttes on along county roads in the vicinity.

From Highway 14, turn north on CR 390. Travel 13.7 miles on CR 390 to CR 112. Turn right (east) on CR 112. Travel 6.4 miles on CR 112 to CR 107. Turn right on CR 107. Travel 1.9 miles on CR 107 to CR 685. Turn left on CR 685 for 1.2 miles to the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead.

Grover, Keota, Sterling, and New Raymer are the nearest towns. Ault, located on Highway 14, is the nearest major population center with a range of facilities.

The Pawnee Buttes are located in a remote, rural setting. Have a full tank of gas before setting out.

Contact Information

Pawnee National Grasslands - District Office
660 O Street
Greeley, Colorado 80631
Open weekdays 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland
2150 Centre Avenue, Building E
Fort Collins, CO 80526
Open: Weekdays 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, and Saturday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"I spent months exploring the Pawnee Grasslands while doing research for my Masters Degree in Geology. When you are heading back up to the trailhead, after you cross the gully between West Butte and Lipps Bluff you will find a delightful area where you can listen to multiple echoes of your own voice if you make a sound toward Lipps Butte. Also really focus on the subtle colors of the soils and siltstone out there. Most of all Love and enjoy this beautiful and magical place. I learned that the more quiet and still you are out there, the more you will become aware of the abundance of wildlife. Other fun includes exploring Keota ghost town and other less explored areas of the grasslands. I never found any road out there which was not safe to drive in a passenger car, so do some exploring. However, get a full tank of gas, and bring lunch since its kind of empty of civilization out there. Plenty of water is also recommended. "
Mike  -  Greeley  -  Date Posted: November 20, 2015
"I first hiked Pawnee Buttes about 5 years ago. Really interesting how the land masses were just raised above flatlands around it. Sunflowers lined the dirt roadsides. Now, 2013, I'm deeply saddened on what has become of this area. It's become an industrial wasteland as oil and gas development is destroying every acre - frack wells, open evaporation pits where chemicals are supposed to go away into the air, tanker trucks speeding down the dirt roads carrying the hazardous wastewater, flaring. It's very depressing seeing what they're doing to this state. I'll never go back to Pawnee because of this."
Dave  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: December 16, 2013
"Hiked trail #840, it was fairly easy. Be sure to stop at the point where it becomes private property!"
Sandy Sticken  -  Loveland, CO  -  Date Posted: February 18, 2013


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