Pawnee Buttes

Trail Length: 4.1 Miles (includes east and west buttes)
Trailhead Elevation: 5,435′
Elevation Change:  -215′ net elevation loss (+383′ total roundtrip elevation gain)
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead Location:    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.  County roads are packed dirt and gravel suitable for most cars under most driving conditions.

I decided to post a trip report of a hike I did several years ago with my son and his Boy Scout Troop.  My son’s Boy Scout Troop usually took a weekend camping trip to the Pawnee Buttes area every April or May. This is a great time of the year to head out to the eastern plains for some camping – not too hot yet and a chance to get out and do some camping/hiking while it’s still wintry in the mountains.

When most people think of Colorado, they automatically think of the mountains – especially when you think about taking a hike.  I had lived in Colorado for 18 years and had never been out to Pawnee Buttes or the Pawnee National Grasslands so going with my son’s Boy Scout Troop was the perfect opportunity to check it out.

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. The two buttes (East and West) rise nearly 300′ from the high plains floor.

We headed out from the Denver area late Friday afternoon for the Crow Valley Recreation Area and Campground , which is located 22 miles east of Ault at Highway 14 and County Road 77.  We arrived and set up camp for the night.  Of course, the evening wouldn’t have been complete without a campfire and roasting marshmallows.


The next morning we got up and cooked breakfast.  A shot of some of the boys washing dishes after breakfast.


After cleaning up after breakfast, we headed over to the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead to start our hike.  An expansive view of the open prairie with both the West Butte (to the left) and East Butte (to the right).


Continuing on toward the buttes, a section where we hiked along a dry creek bed.



After hiking another 45 minutes or so, we decided it was time for a lunch break.  Some of the scouts up on a small ledge near the West Butte eating lunch around 1.5 miles up the trail.


After lunch, we continued towards the East Butte.  A shot looking towards East Butte.


Getting closer to the butte.


Exploring around the buttes:




Pawnee Buttes

After exploring around the buttes, we headed back down the trail the 2 miles to the trailhead parking.  A great, easy trail in northeastern Colorado taking in the expansive views of the prairie while also enjoying the buttes, gullies, and mesas in the area.  Colorado does have more than mountains!

2 thoughts on “Pawnee Buttes

    • Andy – Yes, you can climb to the top of the Buttes. I haven’t done it, but it is allowed. The buttes are not made of rock, but of a fine clay- and chalk-like substance that crumbles easily under any direct pressure but people do climb them.

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