Did you know the USDA Forest Service manages 20 National Grasslands across 13 states? Grasslands are special environments teeming with wildlife, unique plant and grass species, and are great less-traveled places to visit and explore. Every year during the third week in June, we observe National Grasslands Week to acknowledge the unique beauty and significance of these diverse ecosystems. Celebrate National Grasslands Week by learning more or visiting a grassland near you!
Take a walk on the wild side when you visit these 10 National Grasslands
North and South Dakota
Little Missouri National Grassland (Donald Underwood, Share the Experience)
Four unspoiled, idyllic grasslands await your discovery across the Northern Great Plains. Check off the largest grassland in the United States with a visit to Little Missouri National Grassland. This area is characterized by colorful and beautiful badlands and rugged terrain extensively eroded by wind and water. If you’ve been to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you may not have known that the park sits entirely within the grassland!
Next, pay a visit to Sheyenne National Grassland for some great hiking opportunities. A 30-mile (48.2 km) segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail leads hikers through the grassland’s unique landforms and plant communities. For a shorter route, the Oak Leaf Trail is a 4-mile (6.4 km) loop attached to the northeast end of the North Country Trail.
If fishing is more your speed, Grand River National Grassland in South Dakota boasts bass, catfish, walleye, panfish, and pike. The Blacktail Picnic Area also offers a rainbow trout fishing area.
Cimarron National Grassland (National Park Service)
Encompassing 108,175 acres (43,777 ha) in southwestern Kansas, Cimarron National Grassland offers incredible recreational opportunities for every kind of adventurer. Backpack through the grassland or explore via the self-guided Cimarron National Grassland Auto Tour, an approximately 30-mile (48.2 km) tour that showcases all the best scenery and points of interest. Travel back through time when you mountain bike the Santa Fe Companion Trail, a 19-mile (30.6 km) stretch that parallels the original Santa Fe National Historic Trail. Stay awhile and fish at one of the four fishing sites. First-come, first-serve campsites are open year-round for you to enjoy all the grassland’s sights, day and night.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands (Debra Lawrence, Share the Experience)
Head northeast or northwest from the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and you’ll find two of Texas’ three National Grasslands. Black Creek Lake, Coffee Mill, and West Lake Davy Crockett all offer first-come, first-serve camping opportunities near the water. Make the campground home base, then head out to hike, bike, or horseback ride. “LBJ” National Grasslands has nearly 75 miles (120.7 km) of multi-use trails for you to explore.
Fishing is also a popular pastime on the grasslands. Coffee Mill, Crockett, Fannin, Cottonwood, and Black Creek Lake are favorites among anglers. Windmill Lake on the LBJ Grasslands is designated a fly fishing only lake. Hunting is permitted seasonally with the appropriate permit. Review this hunting guide for more information about seasons, game, permits, and designated hunt areas.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland (Cristina Morgan, Share the Experience)
If you’re seeking truly wide-open spaces, Buffalo Gap National Grassland is the place for you. Stop in at the National Grasslands Visitor Center to learn more about the National Grasslands System and how the Forest Service manages these lands for ecological and recreational benefits. Interpretive programs and Junior Ranger activities are a great way to get the young ones excited about your trip.
French Creek Camping Area offers quiet first-come, first-serve camping. This recreation area is a well-kept secret for rockhounding, so if rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils are calling your name, this might become your new paradise. Remember to recreate and collect responsibly!
Railroad Buttes OHV Area is an open-play area including hill climbs, multiple trails, and makeshift motocross tracks. Most of the terrain is hard packed and can get dusty and there is little to no shade. There is a large parking/staging area. Dispersed camping is allowed but note there is no potable (drinking) water.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (Janet Lyons, Share the Experience)
As the largest public open space in northeastern Illinois, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie offers vastness and solitude unavailable elsewhere. Experience prairie ecosystems and view grassland wildlife just an hour and a half drive from Chicago. There are many miles of trails available at Midewin for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. Nonmotorized recreational activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also welcome in the winter when there is enough snow on the ground.
Hundreds of species of wildflowers dominate the landscape in the summer and fall. Remember to practice Leave No Trace and leave what you find to play your part in prairie restoration efforts.
Interested in learning more about the history and culture of the Illinois prairie? Consider adding a stop along the Iron Bridge self-guided interpretive tour Midewin created and shared on the National Forest Explorer App.
Pawnee National Grassland (Walter Bonora, Share the Experience)
Pawnee National Grassland sits east of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where elevations range from 4900 feet (1494 meters) on the prairie to 9500 feet (2896 meters) at the summit of the Pawnee Buttes. Birding is a popular activity on the grassland, with over 200 species living around the Crow Valley Recreation Area. Follow the 21-mile (33.8 km) Pawnee Bird Tour to get a true feel for the grassland’s varied habitat. Pay close attention to the map and weather conditions before setting out on your drive.
If you’re looking for a more traditional experience, the Pawnee Pioneer Scenic and Historic Byway explores how this short grass prairie was viewed by Native Americans, frontiersmen, early cattlemen, 19th and early 20th century homesteaders, and those who faced the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s. Experience solitude and explore nature through bird watching, wildlife study, photography and hiking.
Thunder Basin National Grassland (Marcus Heerdt, Share the Experience)
Thunder Basin National Grassland provides unique opportunities for hiking, sightseeing, hunting, and fishing. Elevation on the grassland ranges from 3,600 to 5,200 feet (1097 to 1585 meters). Plan your visit for the fall to experience warm days, cool nights, and plenty of fall colors.
OHV fun for the whole family abounds at Weston Recreation Area, with over 15 miles (24.1 km) of OHV trails that travel across 3000 acres (1214 ha) of public land jointly managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Wyoming State Trust. In the summer, Little Thunder Reservoir offers a warm-water fishery with small-mouth bass and blue gill.