Walter Reed Butte lies in the central part of Nebraska’s Fort Robinson State Park. The Pine Ridge, which extends from Wyoming, through Nebraska, and into south central South Dakota, is truly a system of ridges, often making it hard to pin down exact boundaries for named landmarks. There are some exceptions, but Walter Reed Butte is not one of them. The butte is more like a ridge that lies on a northwest-southeast axis. Walter Reed Butte shows up on only a few maps, and is probably most useful as a name for the ridge that defines the western side of Mexican Canyon.
Mexican Canyon is arguably the most scenic canyon at Fort Robinson, with some exceptional rock formations in the soft rock composites that make up the walls. One box canyon, a branch on the east side, offers great photographic opportunities with sheer walls and nature-sculpted rock formations. The scenic rock formations of Mexican Canyon are best accessed by the East Mexican Canyon Trail.
For whatever reason, the local bighorn sheep population seems to especially like Walter Reed Butte, and is often found on the butte or nearby. The herd was hit hard by a mite-born disease (non-threatening to humans) from 2012-2013. Game biologists are hoping the worst is past, and are looking for the herd to rebound in the next few years.
Longhorns and pronghorns graze peacefully together not far from the trailhead.
The butte was named after famous Army doctor, Walter Reed, 1851-1902, who was the post surgeon at Ft. Robinson in the 1880s. Reed was the post surgeon when the famous 9th Cavalry unit of Buffalo Soldiers arrived to occupy the post. Reed was best known for leading the research which proved that mosquitoes spread yellow fever, a highly lethal infectious disease.
In 1893, Reed went to teach at George Washington University Medical School, as well as at the Army Medical School in Washington, DC. Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the prestigious hospital in Washington, D.C., used by U.S. presidents and senators, was named for him.
Fort Robinson is about 3 miles west of Crawford, Nebraska on Highway 20. The nearest major city, Denver, is about 300 miles away. There is no passenger train or bus service to this part of the country. There are small airports in the region.
The Mexican Canyon Trail gets hikers close enough for a quick scramble to the summit.
Almost everyone who hikes to the summit, goes by way of the Mexican Canyon Trail, which lies along the canyon’s west side. The trail is a two-track road often used by horseback riders, and occasionally by state park service Jeeps. The trail is accessed from the Mexican Canyon Parking Lot, which is just north of Soldier Creek Road, about ¾ mile past the historic officers’ homes. The true high point on the Walter Reed Butte ridge, is about 1.4 miles up the trail and a short bushwhack up the side of the butte. All this is not very difficult to find, and the Nebraska Interactive Trail Map website shows the trail route, as well as connecting trails in the park. The Nebraska National Forest - Oglala National Grassland map shows the area, but with no detail or labels. The USGS Crawford quad map may offer the best details.
Do not expect much helpful trail information from the people at Fort Robinson’s office. I have yet to meet a hiker that has ever been able to get helpful or up-to-date information from anyone on the staff. Their main interests are tourists and equestrians. This is understandable, since this is where they draw their greatest revenue. If you hike many of the trails at the fort, this outlook shows itself in the almost total absence of useful trail markers. Bottom line: Study everything you can before you get to Fort Robinson. It’s a great place to hike and climb, but you are pretty much on your own.
Small cave in the east wall of Mexican Canyon
You will need a state park vehicle pass to get into Fort Robinson. There are camping fees, and they really do enforce campfire regulations. The whole northwest part of Nebraska has lost over 200 square miles of forests and grasslands in the last few years. Everyone takes fire dangers very seriously. That is also why there are strict regulations on fireworks. Consumption of alcoholic beverages is quite regulated too, so be forewarned.
When to Climb
This box canyon is the most scenic branch of Mexican Canyon
The butte is open to climb any time of the year. But, deer hunting and wild turkey hunting seasons may not be the best times. If you must, wear lots of orange. There is no winter trail maintenance, so if there is much snow, you may need snowshoes.
Looking at the Soldier Creek Valley from Walter Reed Butte
Fort Robinson offers tent and RV camping, as well as lodging in the old barracks and the historic officer’s quarters. You can find out their latest information, including how to make reservations, by clicking on their website: