Comanche National Grassland
Don’t let southeastern Colorado’s Comanche National Grassland’s 440,000 acres and 150 million years of history intimidate you. Procure a map from a ranger office and explore the many trailheads, primitive picnic areas and campsites, some perfect for RVs and others appropriate for pitching tents overnight.
Within this massive prairie destination near La Junta, discover desolate and rugged trails, see dinosaur tracks, keep an eye out for ancient Native American rock art and view long-abandoned 1800s homesteads. Hike, bike or ride a horse to amazingly scenic sites from several trailheads. Follow limestone markers along a portion of the famous Santa Fe Trail, and explore cliffs in numerous canyons, including Carrizo, Picketwire, Picture, Vogel and Rourke. Bring absolutely everything you need — including an ample supply of water and a spare tire or two — and leave nothing behind when it’s time to go home.
What makes it special?
Far from civilization, Comanche National Grassland is a wonderful place to be alone in nature or only with your favorite people. It delivers scenic hiking trails and historic areas, but you’ll see very few other parties as you wander in this wilderness.
The most “Colorado” thing about this place
The Purgatoire River — called the Picketwire River by many locals — runs the length of Comanche National Grassland, but you’ll find the most dinosaur tracks near Picketwire Canyonlands at a now-dried-up lake next to the river. About that name: Yes, it’s French for purgatory, but you won’t feel like you’re in that place; the name commemorates Spanish explorers who died without receiving last rites.
Most striking feature
If you love to watch wildlife, this is the place for you. Seek out the rare lesser prairie chicken, golden eagle and swift fox. More common throughout the grasslands are pronghorn, prairie dogs, roadrunners (yes, they’re real!) and 328 species of birds, including owls and hawks.
Places with the best view
While campsites offer spectacular canyon views during the day, these night skies are some of the darkest (and most sparkly) you’ll find. Enjoy stargazing for glimmering constellations and planets, especially at Picture and Carrizo canyons, with little light pollution to cloud your views.
Top sensory encounters you’ll experience
Under the shade of juniper trees at Withers Canyon Trailhead, take in canyon views at an elevation of 4,600 feet. If you like to explore places on horseback, bring your steed to the Picketwire Corrals Interpretive Site at the Picketwire Canyonlands trailhead.
Feeling hot? Go to the Carrizo Canyon Picnic Area for its swimming and fishing hole in addition to rock art, grills and picnic tables.
Our favorite traveler review
“If you go to recreation.gov and have a four-wheel drive, you can sign up for an all-day guided auto tour. You will get to see four eras in Colorado history. Dinosaur footprints in limestone (on both sides of the river; bring extra shoes), [Native American] rock paintings, remains of a Spanish settlement and a Colorado cattle ranch (closed in 1971). Look for Picket Wire Canyon auto tour. If you hike it, bring as much water as you can carry as it is a long, hot hike.” — SamSofnNadm, Tripadvisor
Things to see & do nearby
Motor over to La Junta for all the delicious dining options you’ll be craving after sleeping outdoors. Then head 9 miles out of town to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site to tour a rebuilt fur-trading post once inhabited by Western characters like famed Kit Carson.
Traveling with kids? Use this five-day itinerary to plan your adventures through the region