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Join us on this incredible Sandhill Crane migration trip. Each year, half a million Sandhill Cranes descend upon Nebraska’s Platte River. By March, nearly 80% of the world’s population crowds a 150-mile stretch of the river, creating a migration spectacle that is simply mind-boggling to witness. This is the largest gathering of cranes anywhere in the world! Here, the cranes rest and feed before they continue north to breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and even into Siberia.

Among the cranes are over 10-million ducks and geese, stunning in breeding plumage. This year we time this popular tour a touch on the early side so that our group has the chance to experience skies full of Snow Geese, too!

We base this Nebraska nature tour out of Lincoln to keep the driving time down and the airport quiet - yes! It’s a lovely city and galleries and restaurants abound. You may even want to come in early to enjoy the atmosphere and several excellent museums at your leisure.

Tour Highlights

  • Enjoy time at National Audubon’s Spring Creek Prairie Reserve and enjoy the pleasant trail system and plentiful feeder birds
  • Experience hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Crane as they roost, feed, and sing along the Platte River
  • Witness a “crane rise” at dawn as clouds of cranes awake with a cacophony of sound
  • See thousands of Snow Geese and other waterfowl at Rainwater Basin
  • Opt to visit the Nebraska Museum of art, small, but a true treasure
  • Watch the crane spectacle from privately reserved blinds at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary

Trip Itinerary

Sun., Mar. 7 : Arrival in Lincoln, Nebraska


Arrive in Lincoln, Nebraska, a city of the prairies. Our expert guides are at the airport to welcome you. Enjoy the historic Haymarket District, where shops, galleries, and restaurants abound. Some may even want to come in early to enjoy the city and several excellent museums. We plan a welcome dinner at a favorite restaurant in the Haymarket area.
Accommodations at Embassy Suites, Lincoln (D)

Mon., Mar. 8 : Spring Creek Prairie | Drive to Kearney | First Cranes


This morning we enjoy breakfast at the hotel, then pack up for our two-hour drive to Kearney. Your guides share their knowledge of birding and prairie ecology along the way. Our first stop west of Lincoln is at the National Audubon Society’s Spring Creek Reserve, where we walk trails and watch bird activity at the feeders.

We then enjoy a restaurant lunch in route, afterwards stopping to see our first Sandhill Cranes and watch their behavior as they feed in farm fields along the way. We settle into our lodgings, unpack, and unwind. Tonight we enjoy dinner as we get to know our guides and travel companions.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L,D)

Tue., Mar. 9 : “Crane Rise” Spectacle on the Platte River


In the early morning hours we experience our first “crane rise” as gray islands of the Platte River turn into clouds of Sandhill cranes departing for the day. Pre-dawn crane music turns into a crescendo of wake-up calls as the cranes awake and leave their riverine roosts. We have reserved blinds at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary for prime views of the cranes in areas along the river’s edge. With an expert crane naturalist from Audubon, we experience the almost deafening chorus and clamor of tens of thousands of cranes taking flight toward the cornfields and prairies where they forage during the day. After watching this exciting spectacle, we take time to view the displays at the sanctuary and to watch birds at the feeders: Harris, White-crowned, and White-throated Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, and possibly Red-bellied Woodpeckers. We also may find Green-winged Teal or some early migrating shorebirds feeding on the river’s mudflats.

The remainder of the morning we spend viewing more crane activity in the fields, returning to Kearney for a lunch in town.

In the afternoon we visit historic Fort Kearney to learn more about the pioneers of the Oregon and Mormon Trails. In trees near the fort we look for wintering and resident passerine birds like Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal, and Blue Jay, while keeping an eye out along the river for the majestic Bald Eagles that frequent the Platte. Tonight we enjoy dinner and a relaxing evening at a delightful local restaurant.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L)

Wed., Mar. 10 : An Easy Morning | Nebraska Museum of Art Option | Evening with Cranes


This morning we have breakfast and then head out to drive some of the farm roads parallel to the course of the Platte between Kearney and Grand Island. Many of the groups of cranes are restless by this time of year and displace their energies with dancing, calling, and other displays, or rising and riding thermal updrafts.

Late morning we head into Kearney, where two museums are of interest — the historic Arch Museum and the Art Museum, though small a real treasure! If you prefer to rest at the hotel, that is fine too, but we have lunch while out and about.

Close to the hotel we have an early dinner before we return to Rowe Sanctuary for an evening session in the blinds, savoring crane music at sunset. Spectacular!
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L,D)

Thurs., Mar. 11 : Rainwater Basin: Ducks & Geese Galore | Free Evening or Optional Evening with Cranes


This morning enjoy breakfast at the hotel, with a more leisurely rising time before we head south to wetlands and ponds of the famous Rainwater Basin, one of the west’s most important areas for migrant waterfowl. Depending upon season and weather conditions, the sheer number of birds in these wetlands often defies the imagination in a wet year.

We hope to find over a dozen species of waterfowl, and with luck we find some of the thousands of wintering Snow and Ross’s Geese and perhaps a few White-fronted Geese still lingering there. We scout a local prairie dog town looking for Burrowing Owls, too. Then, as we angle our way back through farm fields and roads, we have a chance to watch crane behavior in detail. We look for pair bonding activities, dancing, strutting, feeding, resting, and other flock dynamics.

Enjoy lunch at a delightful local café in Minden or one of the farm towns along our way. Returning to Rowe Sanctuary, we check the feeders to see if we can find Harris’ Sparrow or Cedar Waxwing. We also point our scopes towards the Platte River in search of migrant shorebirds.

Tonight you can choose to relax or die-hard crane fans can venture back out at sunset to watch the cranes come in to roost from the vantage point of a nearby bridge over the river. Those going back out can catch something to eat quickly and close to the hotel. Those at leisure can enjoy dinner at a local steakhouse or another restaurant in Kearney. The restaurant near our hotel can even deliver your meal, if you wish to tuck in after a full day.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L)

Fri., Mar. 12 : Morning Crane Immersion | Celebratory Dinner | Gibbon Bridge


This week is an immersion into one of the world’s truly great migration spectacles, and we have booked a final round of crane viewing at the Rowe Sanctuary for sunrise this morning. After an unforgettable crane rise, enjoy coffee and time to browse exhibits or shop at the Visitor Center. Keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagle along the river, or even a Great Horned Owl. By late morning, we head to lunch and then take a rest.

This afternoon, we drive out into the prairie, to celebrate our great week with an early dinner at a favorite restaurant located in a historic farmhouse inn and then return to the Gibbon Bridge over the Platte River for one last symphony of crane sounds.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L,D)

Sat., Mar. 13 : Departures


This morning, we return to Lincoln for flights out after noon, arriving the airport by 10:30 AM. (B)

  • Blind Orientation, Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Tall grass Prairie, Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys
  • White-tailed Deer, Nebraska, Platte River, Platte River Nature Tour, Sandhill Crane Nature Tour, Platte River Birding Tour, Naturalist Journeys

Cost of the Journey

Cost of the journey is $2190 DBL / $2650 SGL, from Lincoln, Nebraska. Cost includes: all accommodations; all meals as stated in the itinerary; group airport transfers; ground transportation; professional guide services; park, preserve, and other activity fees; and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour price does not include: roundtrip airfare to and from Lincoln, Nebraska, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, porterage, telephone charges, or alcoholic beverages. Gratuities for your guides and other staff are not included; these are at your discretion, but highlight appreciated and recommended.

Travel Details

Please plan to arrive in Lincoln no later than 5:00 PM on March 7. Please plan on departures after NOON on March 13.


Photo credits: Banners: Sandhill Cranes by Greg Smith; Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese by Peg Abbott; Sandhill Cranes at Sunrise by Greg Smith; Snow Geese by Peg Abbott; Western Meadowlark by Hugh Simmons Photography; Burrowing Owl by Greg Smith; Sandhill Crane Sign at Rowe Sanctuary by Peg Abbott; Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River by Greg Smith; Snow Geese by Peg Abbott; Bald Eagles, Sandy Sorkin; Northern Cardinal, Sandy Sorkin; Cranes at Sunset, Greg Smith; Sandhill Cranes at Sunset by Ed Pembleton; Blind Orientation, Ed Pembleton; Cranes at Sunset by Susie Russenberger; Misty Morning Cranes by Ed Pembleton; Group in Blinds, Ed Pembleton; Tall Grass Prairie, Ed Pembleton; Group on Boardwalk, Ed Pembleton; White-tailed Deer, Ed Pembleton.

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