New site: Pawnee Grasslands, Eastern Colorado

Location: Pawnee National Grasslands East

Takeoff at 40.8460383, -104.1085337 (google maps link)

Wind Direction: Northwest, West, Southwest

Getting there: ~120 miles/2 hours 15 min drive from Boulder or Golden. From the small town of Grover, CO at the intersection of County Road 122 and County Road 89 where 122 turns to a well-maintained dirt road, continue east on 122 for 7 miles. Turn right (south) on County Road 103 and continue for 2 miles to County Road 118 (google maps link to this intersection). Turn right (west) and go through a wire gate and close the gate behind you. Continue for 1 mile to the top of the cliff. For best results, try not to drive off the end.

There is a takeoff area large enough for 2-3 gliders and can be used for SW through NW wind. The launch is marked with a star on the above image. To get there, cross the barbed wire fence within 500’ or less of the cliff edge (to stay within public land) and head north for 0.25 mi. The launch itself is located due west of the first wind turbine you encounter and is right at the cliff edge.

Important: This is a cliff launch! A slight slope exists, but it’s not terribly long or steep. However, it’s sufficient that given a confident, committed launch and/or soarable wind, you should be able to be flying before committing to the cliff. Bring solid ground handling skills, this takeoff is not suitable for anyone who is not completely confident in their launches. If you have any doubt about the wind or your abilities, there’s plenty of big grassy areas further back from the edge to practice in.

Public/Private areas: While most of the Pawnee Grasslands are actually private property, this site happens to be public land with the same regulations as National forest, as confirmed through the Weld County Assessor’s office ( and the USFS motor vehicle use map ( and There are bound to be other, possibly better, ridges in the area, particularly near the Pawnee Buttes so lots of pioneering potential remains! For now, the green area is our public access. There is a small east/west fence (marked as red) dividing two adjacent public parcels which is OK to hop to explore to the north of the access road, up until you hit the next east/west fence.

Flying: This weekend, Marcos, Ty, Carl, Kevin, Dusty, Natalia, and Myself flew a ridge soaring site in the Grasslands. From chatter on the WhatsApp group it sounds like this area has been flown before in the 80’s but is otherwise relatively unexplored. It’s a ridge soaring site with thermalling potential that ranges from approximately 75’-150’ high and runs roughly North/South for several miles. It’s essentially obstruction-free for over 50 miles to the west. From our experience over several weekends in the area, the wind tends to be quite laminar and steady, even on strong west days on the front range.

On our first day out, the wind was very strong and we were able to soar 16m mini wings. The next day the winds were light until the late afternoon, and once they picked up it was soarable allowing for flights of over an hour, until we ran out of time. A few guys were able to catch a thermal to over 500’ AGL.

Photo credits: Ty, Marcos, Dusty, Carl, Natalia

Nice job pioneering the site. We use to tow around there a long time ago.

i learned to fly in the Pawnee (my first and highest tow flights were from there).

As it turned out, the rangers were really pissed off about commercial operations happening on this public land(without permit). Thus, tickets were issued and all activity stopped. This was in 2005/2006.

The issue was with a commercial activity happening on public lands without permits (instructors with students). The point is, individuals can fly on these public lands without issue, but once it becomes in the realm of commercial (paid towing operations) then those lonely rangers have something to build a case.

Another issue may be that we (as glider pilots) are not a part of the user group for this area. This could mean that they do not care about our needs to use this site. It may be a good idea to check with those lonely pawnee rangers to see if we could be an active user group of this area. They must be so bored out there that we could have a easy way to become a permanent user group of these public lands.

Another side note… Colorado law states that having gatherings of more than 25 people requires a special use permit(Booo). That is required even if you didn’t expect that many people. So, rangers will be able to issue a ticket if we have a big turn out. I suspect we will have a circus show up.

Just a heads up…i am really looking forward to flying there as are many others given this winter season of crappy weather. I would be glad to help out with any logistics, let me know.

see you in the sky,

Is there a way to walk back up if you cannot top land?

Yes there are multiple places to hike back up. It’s a little loose and requires some very mild scrambling, but it’s not too bad. You will want to pack your wing up though, it’s a little bit too much to try and do it while carrying a rosette.