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Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

The Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is a botanical treasure consisting of 612 acres of never-been-plowed native prairie, located five miles south of Red Cloud on Hwy. 281. We are working to return this land to its 19th century conditions, a time before the encroachment of man and foreign plant species.

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As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running. My Ántonia

The Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is open to pedestrians year-round, with nearly two miles of trails to explore. Our unbroken horizons provide excellent sunrises and sunsets, and the prairie is an excellent grassland birding site. Photography is welcome. Please observe a few simple park rules:

  • Absolutely no smoking, fires, or open flame
  • No hunting
  • No overnight camping
  • Please leash pets for their safety
  • Please use pedestrian gates only
  • Please pack out trash
  • Respect others by limiting noise and artificial light

PLEASE NOTE: This site does not offer restroom facilities, water for human consumption, or storm shelter in case of severe weather. Please plan ahead, watch the skies, and stay safe while you visit!

Guided tours of the prairie are available by pre-arrangment. Please contact director of education and engagement Rachel Olsen at to schedule! The prairie is open for self-guiding year round. Please follow park rules during your visit.

The importance of the prairie in shaping America's art, history, and culture has been lost to much of the world. Of the millions of acres of grasslands that once covered the continent, only a small percentage remains. In order to protect the last American prairies, extraordinary efforts must be made not only to preserve them, but to bring visitors to the prairie, to teach them the importance of this special ecosystem. As the largest relict prairie in six counties, the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is the perfect setting for teaching in nature.

Birders will enjoy our special location which features many grassland species, including eastern and western meadowlarks, eastern and western king birds, upland plovers, wild turkeys, bobolinks and other New World blackbird species, vesper sparrows and their many related grassland sparrows, wood ducks and other migratory birds, and greater prairie chickens. The Cather Prairie is listed as a National Birding Site and is a partner site of the Chicken Dance Trail. We are also partners in the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition.

The Cather Prairie also boasts an ever-changing tapestry of native grasses, flowers, and forbs. Some of our most notable species include big and little bluestem, side-oats, hairy, and blue grama grasses, indian and switch grasses, as well our native cool-season buffalo grass. The wildflower season stretches from April through October, beginning with the sedges and fringed puccoons, and finishing big with ten-petal mentzelia and several varieties of sunflowers and goldenrod. In between, primroses, asters, native thistles, prairie coneflower, echinacea, dalea, ironweed, and many others grace the edges of our visitor trails. 

The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. —My Ántonia


Can't visit in person? Take a virtual prairie tour any time with our education director, Tracy Tucker, who shares her beautiful images and informative narration.

Our longer version, with Willa Cather readings.