A Guide to Exploring Colorado’s Great High Prairie

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The mountains are for the birds. While so many flock west, find a bit of solitude with a different kind of adventure out east along the Great High Prairie. Discover enchanting grasslands standing tall against rugged canyons, an abundance of wildlife and the steadfast spirit of America’s frontier in southeastern Colorado.

Break free from the traffic heading west and head east where the Great High Prairie offers something the mountains cannot… infinite sunsets, wide-open spaces and the freedom to roam. Here’s our guide to exploring Colorado’s Great High Prairie.

Snow Goose Migration on The Great High Prairie

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

Thousands of snow geese descend upon the plains. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Swirling around as if doing a delicate dance in the sky, 100,000+ snow geese make their descent upon the Great High Prairie, near Lamar, Colorado. Within state wildlife areas and at local reservoirs, visitors are greeted with an incredible opportunity to witness the annual snow goose migration. Watch as this scene unfolds both in the fall with the southern migration and mid-winter for the northern migration

Lamar is located along an ancient corridor, named the Central Flyaway, that runs through the west-central part of the country. It is here that snow geese and other migratory birds follow a distinct migration pattern along this flyaway. In fact, The Great High Prairie and surrounding areas have recorded over 400 species of birds over the years, making it one of the top birding spots within the state.

Popular places for viewing include the Queen’s State Wildlife Area, the John Martin Reservoir, Midwestern Farms State Wildlife Area and Two Buttes Reservoir.

Before you go, state wildlife areas now require a valid hunting or fishing license for those 18 years or older.

Annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival

In honor of the great migration on the Great High Prairie, the town of Lamar hosts the annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival. With events, programs, tours, workshops and seminars, it is one of the largest birding festivals in Colorado. Come celebrate the arrival of thousands of snow geese as they make their way north for a truly unforgettable experience.

Note: Mark your calendars as they are on schedule to host the event in 2022.

Go see a rodeo

Experience the spirit and heritage of Colorado and what makes the Eastern Plains so unique by attending a local rodeo in southeastern Colorado. Throughout the year, Prowers County is host to several different rodeos. Popular events include the Sand & Sage Roundup Fair & Rodeo in August and the Colorado Mounted Thunder in September. Events are typically held at the Prowers County Fairgrounds.

Outdoor recreation at John Martin Reservoir

Rocky Sunrise at John Martin Reservoir via Shutterstock.

A prime destination for outdoor recreation near Lamar, the John Martin Reservoir features everything from fishing and swimming to boating, camping and hiking. As the largest body of water in southeastern Colorado, visitors will find no shortage of space or activities to keep them occupied. In addition to its recreational features, the reservoir is also home to nesting bald eagles in the winter and a prime spot to witness the snow goose migration.

Hike through canyons

Photo by Steve Olson to Colorado Native Plant Society

For a different kind of hiking experience, walk through rugged and colorful canyons at Picketwire Canyon, Picture Canyon, Carrizo Canyon, Vogel Canyon and many more. Picketwire Canyon, near La Junta, is the most popular and the easiest to access from Denver and the Front Range. Find unique rock formations, dinosaur tracks, wildflowers and more with a walk within the canyon walls.

Stop at these road-side attractions

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

The Petrified Wood building in Lamar. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Add on to your road trip with these unique roadside attractions. In Lamar discover the world’s oldest building. The Petrified Wood building, once a gas station, is made entirely from 175-million-year-old petrified wood.

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

Gobbler’s Knob Rest Area near Lamar. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Formed over 140 million years ago, visitors will find the distinct formations of Gobbler’s Knob. Easily spot them at the Gobbler’s Knob Rest Area on HWY 385, just south of Lamar, heading towards Springfield.

Uncover history

The Great High Prairie features many historical landmarks that stamp Colorado’s past and showcase its rich history, shaping the state we know and love today.

In the 19th century, southeastern Colorado was booming with the railroad industry. Evidence of this is visible throughout, with two notable historic landmarks in Lamar and the nearby town of Holly. In Lamar, visit the Colorado Welcome Center (the renovated original train depot) to see the “Prairie” steam engine, a locomotive that carried freight across the plains.

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

The “Prairie” engine at the Colorado Welcome Center in Lamar. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Heading east, just before you reach the Kansas border, visitors will find the 1881 Holly train depot. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this depot played an important stop along the Santa Fe Railroad. It remained in operation until the early 1980s.

Track the Santa Fe Trail

Years before the railroad, travel across the plains was made possible via the Santa Fe Trail. Connecting 900 miles of the Great Plains between Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, the section in Colorado is called the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

Santa Fe Trail marker near Lamar. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Running parallel to U.S. HWY 50, CO 350, and I-25 south of Trinidad, travelers will find historic markers along the trail’s rough route. Such markers exist at Bent’s Old Fort, Comanche National Grassland, John Martin Reservoir and the historic Holly Ranch House.

A significant stop for traders along the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Old Fort in La Junta is a great addition when exploring the Great High Prairie. Originally built in 1833, the fort served as a place for weary travelers to conduct business and rest up. A self-guided tour is available year-round with guided tours available in the summer.

Discover a lesser-known part of Colorado’s history at Camp Amache

Great High Prairie, Lamar, snow goose migration, Prowers County, Bent’s Old Fort, camp amache, high plains snow goose festival, Jessica Hughes

The guard’s watchtower at Camp Amache. Photo by Jessica Hughes.

Located in Granada, Camp Amache is a former WWII Japanese relocation center. While not one of the largest internment camps in WWII, it spanned across 16 square miles, surrounded by barbed wire fences and armed guards. At one point, with 7,500 internees, Amache was once the 10th largest city in the state of Colorado.

Where to eat and sleep

Lamar is the biggest city in Prowers County and will offer you the most opportunities for dining and lodging. Looking for authentic Mexican food, get your tacos to-go at Lucy’s Tacos. Or for your early morning coffee, breakfast, and lunch options, stop in at Brew Unto Others.

There are several lodging options in town including a quaint inn, the 3rd Street Bed and Breakfast. For a more retro lodging style, check-in to the Blue Spruce Motel. And for those who enjoy standard chain hotels, there is s a Holiday Inn and Quality Inn.

To learn more about how to plan your vacation to Prowers County and the Great High Prairie, go here.