U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Thunder Basin National Grassland


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Grassland Information

Visit Date: 8/14/2011

Thunder Basin National Grassland (NG), comprised of 560,166 acres, is located in northeastern Wyoming in the Powder River Basin between Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills. It is administered by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest supervisor's office, Rocky Mountain Region. There are no developed campgrounds, but a number of dispersed campsites are described in the table below.

Thunder Basin NG was settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts," which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, which was tasked with the management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty national grasslands, including Thunder Basin, from sub-marginal lands. "The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."

Today, Thunder Basin NG provides the public with livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, minerals production and a number of opportunities for recreation, including hiking, sightseeing, hunting, off-highway riding, and fishing. It is a land that is a patchwork pattern of federal, state, and private lands, blending uses in ways to conserve and protect the land. Thunder Basin NG has two sections; the northern Spring Creek area and the larger, southern Thunder Basin area. Both are rolling grasslands and sagebrush, cut through by four rivers - Cheyenne, Little Powder, Belle Fourche, and Little Missouri. Herds of Pronghorn antelope roam the open spaces and hundreds of bird species find homes in the riparian areas along the rivers and ponds and in grasses in Spring Creek area. The southern section, Thunder Basin area, is rich in mineral resources, and in the past there was mining for a variety of minerals. However, now only the coal and bentonite mines are active. Both sections of the grassland is spotted with traces of the past, from prehistoric hunting camps to ruins not 60 years old. Please do not disturb or remove any artifacts.

The Thunder Basin NG is very important to many species of grassland and shrub land bird species. Some of these include: Northern Sage-grouse, Ferruginous Hawk, Bald Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Mountain Plover, Merlin, Burrowing Owl, and Great Horned Owl. Thunder Basin NG is also an important component to the survival of Great-sage grouse.

One recreational opportunity growing in popularity in the Spring Creek area is off-highway trail riding. Currently, this activity is in the Weston Recreation Area but other locations are under consideration. Contact the Forest Service for more details.

One activity unique to the Thunder Basin NG is Coal Train watching. Several massive coal mines are located between Gillette and Wright, WY and within the grassland. Mile long trains transport the coal where it is need across the country and pass under a bridge on Forest Route 942. Visitors to the grassland stand on this bridge and watch trains full of coal leave the area and empty coal trains return. The number of coal trains and their lengths is incredible.

Another memorable aspect of Thunder Basin NG is wildlife. Pronghorn antelope, deer, hawks, and eagles are often seen on the grassland. A robust population of jack rabbits, desert cottontails, Prairie rattlesnakes and other small mammals support the grassland's population of coyotes, badgers, weasels, red foxes and bobcats. Over 13,000 acres of the grassland have been dedicated to Prairie Dog colonies. These colonies, while not welcomed by many ranchers, are a natural part of the grassland and provide hours of viewing for visitors. One word of caution, although Prairie dogs are cute and fun to watch, they can carry various illness dangerous to both human and our pets - don't let pets run free through colonies. Maintain a safe distance from these cute critters and NEVER touch one whether alive or dead. It is suggested, if you walk through a Prairie dog colony, spray a quality DEET product on your clothes and shoes.

The Thunder Basin NG doesn't have a lot of developed recreation opportunities and there are no developed campgrounds. What this grassland does have is lots of space, endless horizons and limitless recreation possibilities. There is the excellent Weston Recreation Area's Off-road trails, the serenity of Kellog Reservoir Protected Wildlife Habitat, the peacefulness of Gibson Draw, the quiet of Soda Well, the fight for Brown trout in Turner Reservoir and more. This is not your national forest with crisscrossing trails and defined recreation but a place where you find your own fun and that is as limitless as the sea of grass covering Thunder Basin National Grassland.


Name GPS Coordinates Comments
Forest Rt. 942C N43 27.016,
W105 12.114
Elev. 4700'
Camp at end of road; good views; remote/solitude; no shade; best suited for small, high clearance vehicle, e.g. slide-in
Gibson Draw N43 28.833,
W105 13.166
Elev. 4500'
Shade from Cottonwoods; large parking area; open range for cattle; Prairie dog town; best suited for small, high clearance vehicle, e.g. slide-in
Kellog Reservoir - protected wildlife habitat N44 03.174,
W104 27.402
Elev. 4300'
Fenced 5 to 7-acre lake (no fishing); some shade; wildlife viewing; small RVs and tents
Kellog Reservoir - in the pines N44 03.049,
W104 27.513
Elev. 4300'
Shade from Ponderosa pine; on hilltop half mile from Kellog Resv.; tent and medium size RVs
Little Powder Reservoir N44 38.850,
W105 19.583
Elev. 3700'
Reservoir is about 5 acres; limited parking/shade; primitive boat ramp; tranquil setting; Little Powder River nearby; tent and high clearance vehicle
Soda Well Picnic Area N44 38.858,
W105 12.114
Elev. 3700'
large gravel/grass parking area; quiet; no shade; historic stone shelter w/picnic table; Weston RA close by; large RVs not recommended
Turner Reservoir N44 02.100,
W104 25.284
Elev. 4400'
Total solitude & quiet; fishing - Brown trout; fishing pier; no shade; small, level parking area; small RVs
Weston Recreation Area N44 38.192,
W105 20.248
Elev. 3800'
ATV "heaven" w/network of trails; large parking area; no shade; Weston Reservoir w/vault a mile away; any size RV
Click on a site name for picture.

*The following are suggested dispersed campsites.  
However, subject to Forest Service rules, one can 
camp most anywhere on the grassland. 

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SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2468 Jackson Street Laramie, Wyoming 82070 307-745-2300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESS Douglas 2250 E. Richards Douglas, Wyoming 82633 307-358-4690

Fred and Suzi Dow