This tiny state park is only 98 acres in size and offers visitors few amenities. The park really only has one thing – Prairie Dogs! Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park is home to a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs that are easy to spot and fun to watch. The park is 16 miles east of Big Timber, MT right at an I 90 exit making it perfect for quick visits.
It’s hard to imagine that a park could be easier to find than this one. It’s right off Interstate 90 at Exit 377, the Greycliff exit. The state park is well signed and easy to find. It’s on the south side of the highway and just east of the exit on the frontage road. The directions make it sound more complicated than it is. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks administers Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park and there is no fee for admission.
A Great Place to See Prairie Dogs
There’s not much at the park. A couple of interpretive signs and a few picnic tables are the only amenities. There are no restrooms – not even outhouses – and no water. This is a day-use only area and no camping is allowed. The park is open year-round but you may have to walk in during the winter.
The habitat in the park is different than you would usually expect from a state park. The entire park is all open ground with no trees. Plan on full sun whenever you visit. The entire site is open for hiking and exploring but you will probably find that the best way to view the prairie dogs is by finding a good spot to just be still and watch.
Prairie dog watching is the only activity at the park but it is a great way to spend some time. There are 5 different species of prairie dogs and Prairie Dog State Park is home to black-tailed prairie dogs. Prairie dogs were once abundant across the western United States. However, populations have plummeted. Many consider prairie dogs to be pests and in the past large-scale extermination campaigns were conducted. Today we know that prairie dogs are a keystone species that is incredibly important to the ecology of many western habitats.
If you want to learn more about these cute and interesting animals Amazon has a lot of prairie dog books for kids and adults.
Creating Prairie Dog State Park
In the late 1960s Edward Boehm, a Livingston, MT wildlife photographer, realized that prairie dogs were vanishing and new highway construction threatened the Greycliff colony. In 1969, according to the Montana Standard, “Prairie dog champion Edward Boehm, Livingston, is waging a one-man crusade to save a prairie dog village threatened by interstate highway construction near Greycliff, southeast of Big Timber. Boehm wants the dog village designated a state park or wildlife refuge and has entered petitions to the state.” Ultimately, the state paid heed and the site was set aside to protect the prairie dogs. We all owe a debt to unsung heroes like Edward Boehm who did so much to leave a legacy for us all.
Be sure to bring binoculars to the park and plan to spend some time watching these social creatures. You will notice that there are a number of family groups inhabiting their own homes that combine to make the town. Watch carefully and you will see lots of interesting interactions between various sexes, ages, and families. Be sure to listen too. It’s reported that prairie dogs have as many as 11 different calls or sounds that they use to communicate. They have a complex series of warning sounds and have different calls for each type of predator.
Prairie dogs spend much of their time below ground and their tunnels can reach up to 14 feet in length. They typically have separate rooms for sleeping, bathroom, a listening room, and several other rooms. The bare tunnel entrances are easy to spot and the dogs will often be found close to the tunnel mouth.
Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park is a great place to stop and stretch your legs if you are traveling on I 90. Although the prairie dog town on this hundred-acre park is tiny compared to many in the west, this is a great place to get a close-up view of the fascinating world of the prairie dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
The park is open 24 hrs a day every day of the year. However, snowy roads can prevent entrance at times in the winter.
The prairie dogs in the park are black-tailed prairie dogs. They are one of five species found in North America.
Prairie dogs are almost entirely vegetarians. They feed on grasses, leafy plants, roots, and underground plant stems.
Early French trappers called them “petite chien” which translates to “little dog”. Although they have no relationship with dogs, prairie dogs do make a sort of barking sound when they are alarmed.