When the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad came through the Nebraska panhandle in 1886, a tent city sprang up three miles east of military post Fort Robinson. The town was named after the late cavalry officer Lt. Emmet Crawford, who had been previously stationed at the Fort.
In its early years, Crawford provided entertainment for the soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Robinson, giving the town a reputation for being wild and rowdy. It was an important point for commerce for many years, being located at the junction of two railroads. Crawford's economy also depended largely on Fort Robinson up through World War II, when the Fort contained a German POW camp and a training site for military dogs.
Crawford has since transformed into a quiet rural town. The main local industries are agriculture and uranium mining. The town has become popular as a hunting destination and is visited by tourists traveling to and from the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. Fort Robinson, a state park since 1955, has become a travel destination in itself.
The town is far from the oceans and as such the climate is continental with daytime highs in the 80s (around +25-30°C) during the summer. Winter temperatures are usually a bit below freezing. The weather is fairly dry with humidity around 50% around the year, and three rainy days in January and nine in May.
Crawford is located at the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and Nebraska Highways 2 and 71 and is accessible exclusively by car. The nearest airport is Chadron Municipal Airport, located approximately 25 miles east of Crawford in Chadron.
The city limits of Crawford are roughly one square mile in size, small enough to walk around in. Travel by car is obviously an option also. The town is connected to Fort Robinson by highway and also by a walking path, beginning at the entrance to Crawford's city park. Crawford's small downtown district can be accessed by turning west on Main Street from Nebraska Highway 2/71 or turning north on 2nd Street from U.S. Highway 20.
The adjacent Fort Robinson site is the main attraction of Crawford, albeit there are also a couple of other places of interest.
- 1 Crawford Historical Museum, 339 2nd St. (at the northwest corner of 2nd and Elm Streets in downtown Crawford), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Mid-May through mid-October 9AM to 4PM, Monday—Saturday. Local hometown museum run by the Crawford Historical Society. Contains a variety of displays and research materials concerning Crawford and the surrounding area. Free admission.
- 2 Co-operative Block Building, 435-445 2nd St. Built in 1909 and named after the business it was built for – the Crawford Co-operative Company. This cream-colored two-story building next to Crawford's main street was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is still a commercial building.
- 3 Fort Robinson Museum, Hwy 20 (3 miles west of town), ☏ . Memorial Day-Labor Day: M-Sa 8AM-5PM, Su 9AM-5PM. Rest of year: M—F 10AM—5PM. A must-see if you're into military history. The Red Cloud Agency, an "Indian agency" (government organization set up to interact with Native Americans), was established here in the 1870s, after which the fort was used by the army, more specifically the cavalry. You can visit buildings from this period of time, such as a blacksmith shop, veterinary hospital, officers' quarters, guardhouse, adjutant's office and cementery. Around the time of the world wars, the U.S. Army Remount Service providing horses to the army was stationed here, and during the WWII it also served as a POW camp. After the war the army left, and a museum was opened on the premises in 1955. Eventually the whole fort and surrounding area became a state park and visitor attraction. $2 adults, free for children when accompanied by an adult.
- 4 Post Playhouse, Fort Robinson State Park (3 miles west of town), ☏ (summer), (off-season), ✉ email@example.com. multiple shows weekly during the summer. Live theater venue with several showings every week during the summer. $10—$18 per ticket.
- 5 Trailside Museum of Natural History, Hwy 20 (3 miles west of town), ☏ . April & May Thur—Sun, 10AM—5PM; Memorial Day—Labor Day, 9AM—6PM; September & October Thur—Sun, 10AM—5PM. Lots of fossils and bones. If bones and fossils aren't your thing, don't go. Adults $3, children 5—18 $1.00, children under 5 free, family (up to 2 adults with children) $6.
- 1 Fort Robinson State Park, U.S. Highway 20 (3 miles west of Crawford), ☏ , ✉ ngpc.Fort.Robinson@nebraska.gov. Trails, fishing, jeep rides, and an indoor swimming pool. Park pass fee plus fees for certain activities.
- 2 Legend Buttes Golf Course, 3440 Hwy 20 (just west of Crawford), ☏ . April 1-Oct, or later as weather permits. 9 holes. Reservations suggested.
Crawford's small downtown district contains most of the town's shopping options. The businesses include a grocery store, hardware store, pharmacy, quilt shop, second-hand store, several restaurants and bars, and a gift shop or two.
- 1 Q's Dairy Sweet, 3554 Hwy 20 (next to the gas station at the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and State Highways 2/71), ☏ . Year-round. A vintage drive-up restaurant popular locally because of its barbecued fare.
- 2 Fort Robinson Restaurant (on the north side of U.S. Highway 20 at Fort Robinson, in the brick barracks also housing the park office), ☏ . 6:30AM to 9PM Memorial Day — Labor Day.
- 3 Staab's Drive-In, 110 McPherson St (on the north side of U.S. Highway 20 between 1st and 2nd Streets), ☏ . March—November. A vintage-style drive-up restaurant known locally for its fried chicken and curly fries.
- 1 Diamond Jacks Corner Bar, 304 2nd St (downtown at the southeast corner of Main and 2nd Streets), ☏ . Somewhat notorious location. Plenty of bikers during the summer.
- 2 Frontier Restaurant and Bar (Formerly known as the Frontier Bar and R Bar.), 342 2nd St (downtown across from the museum), ☏ . A well-kept establishment, although bikers are common here also in the summer.
There are also multiple bed-and-breakfasts in the rural area surrounding Crawford. Crawford City Park, located at the west end of Main Street, has free camping and electrical hookups; just be aware that the railroad tracks are close to the park and the trains whistle frequently.
- 1 Fort Robinson, U.S. Highway 20 (three miles west of Crawford), ☏ . Camping spots and a varied assortment of cabins, barrack rooms, and officer's quarters available to rent for the night.
- 2 Hilltop Motel, 304 McPherson St (on the north side of U.S. Highway 20), ☏ . Your best bet for a motel if you need to stay in the actual town of Crawford. It needs updating and is several blocks from a train track, but it's definitely better than Crawford's other motel. rates from $55.
- 3 High Plains Homestead Glampground and RV Park, 263 Sandcreek Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 10AM. Camping site and RV park near the Oglala National Grassland and Toadstool National Park (see Go next below) northwest of Crawford.
Crawford does have cell phone coverage (AT&T and Verizon have 4G coverage), although the networks of certain providers require some cell phone users to be out-of-doors to get good reception. Wi-Fi is available at the Crawford Public Library (601 2nd Street, on the south edge of the downtown district).
- 1 Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, 301 River Road, Harrison (from Crawford: Travel 25 miles west of Crawford to Harrison, and turn right on Nebraska Highway 29. After 22 miles turn east on River Road and follow the National Park Service signs for three miles), ☏ , fax: . Daily dawn until dusk; Visitor Center: Memorial Day—Labor Day: 8AM-6PM; Off Season: 8AM—4PM; Closed Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving. Fossils of ancient mammals, Native American history, hiking. Be aware that there is no camping at the monument. Free.
- 2 Toadstool Geologic Park (follow Nebraska Highway 2/71 for 11 miles, then turn left on Moody Road. After 7 miles, turn right on Toadstool Road, then turn left onto the first road you encounter that crosses the railroad tracks.), ☏ . Year-round. Hiking trails in and around otherworldly rock formations. 6 camping sites with fire rings, pedestal grills, and covered picnic tables, but no water. Getting here requires driving on ten miles of unpaved roads, but it's worth it if the weather is good. $3/vehicle/day use; $15/vehicle/night (charged about May 1st to Mid-Nov. Pay onsite).
Scottsbluff and Scotts Bluff National Monument are approximately an hour and a half's drive south of Crawford. Chadron, with its museums and state park, is 25 miles east of town. Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Sturgis, and Deadwood are all north of Crawford in South Dakota.
|Routes through Crawford|
|Casper ← Lusk ←||W E||→ Chadron → Valentine|
|Hot Springs ← becomes ←||W E||→ Alliance → Grand Island|
|END ← Hot Springs ← becomes ←||N S||→ Scottsbluff → Limon|