Embark 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. 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 have based 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.

  • "This was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. I have traveled to all seven continents and all 50 states. The birds and the shared experiences during this Naturalist Journeys trip brought joy to my heart in a new and special way. I am grateful to Kent and Randy Skaggs and to my lovely travel companions for their knowledge, sweet spirits, and delightful ways." — 2023 Traveler
  • "Unexpectedly amazing! I couldn't believe the amount of birds, specifically cranes, we saw. I learned a lot about them and about that area. Everything, from hotels to food to companionship, was great." — Lillian LaFrance, 2023 Traveler
  • "I'm probably not a birder but I loved this experience, my fellow travelers were delightful, and the cranes were astonishing! I can't stop telling people about this trip!" — Anne McIntosh, 2023 Traveler
  • "Amazing, adventurous, a bit challenging, and so full of joy to see the cranes. Superb guides, great group, exquisite country. Not to be missed in your life." — Marcia Pauly, 2023 Traveler
  • "From a birder's perspective, it was a wonderful journey in terms of trip leaders, accommodations, food, and the interest the leaders showed in terms of taking us to all the places where we had maximum opportunity to view a variety of species." — Robert Davis

Tour Highlights

  • Immerse yourself at the 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
  • Marvel at the thousands of Snow Geese and other waterfowl at Rainwater Basin
  • Opt to visit the Nebraska Museum of art, small, but a true treasure
  • Enjoy the crane spectacle from privately reserved blinds at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary

Trip Itinerary

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Sun., Mar. 16     Arrival in Lincoln, Nebraska

Arrive in Lincoln, the state capital of Nebraska. Our expert guides are at the airport to welcome you. After getting settled into your room you can take a short walk to enjoy the historic Haymarket District or relax at the hotel prior to dinner. We plan a welcome dinner at a favorite restaurant in the Haymarket area.
Accommodations at Embassy Suites, Lincoln (D)

Mon., Mar. 17      Spring Creek Prairie | Crane Trust

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

Next we enjoy a restaurant lunch en route and then head to the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center where we hear about the conservation work they are doing along the Platte River. The group also gets an in-depth introduction to the Sandhill Cranes we see in the coming days.

After we are finished at the Crane Trust, it’s on to Kearney to settle into our lodging, 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)

Tues., Mar. 18        Sunrise on the Platte River | Crane Behavior

We start our day at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary where we experience our first sunrise with the cranes. The walk to the viewing blind is approximately a quarter of a mile one way. After a couple of hours in the blind, we return to the visitor center to see what birds are at the feeders.

After our visit to Rowe, we return to Kearney for brunch and then have a couple of hours of down time back at the hotel.

In the afternoon we head out to find cranes in the fields to look for the behaviors the group learned about the day before. Tonight we enjoy dinner and a relaxing evening at a delightful local restaurant.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (Br,D)

Wed., Mar. 19        Sunrise on the Prairie | The Archway Option | Evening with Cranes

This morning we drive north of Kearney to experience sunrise with Greater Prairie-Chickens displaying on their lek. The walk to the viewing blind is approximately 200 yards one way. After an hour or so in a blind, we return to Kearney for brunch.

After brunch, we again have a couple of hours to rest. In the afternoon, we have the option to visit The Archway Monument, followed by an early dinner. After dinner we travel to the Crane Trust for an evening with the cranes.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (Br,D)

Thurs., Mar. 20      Harlan County Reservoir | 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 Harlan County Reservoir to search for waterfowl and other early migrants. We grab lunch while we're out and about and on our return to Kearney, we stop at a Prairie Dog town located in the Rainwater Basin where we also hope to see Burrowing Owl.

Tonight dinner is at a restaurant that is just a short walk from the hotel. Afterwards you can choose to relax or die-hard crane fans can venture back out at sunset to watch the cranes come back to roost in the river.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (B,L,D)

Fri., Mar. 21       Sunrise with the Cranes | Celebratory Dinner | Ft. Kearny Bridge

We start our day with a return to Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary to enjoy one more morning with the cranes. There is time after the tour to peruse the gift shop in the visitor center as well as check out what’s at the feeders before we head back to Kearney for brunch.

After brunch, we again have a couple of hours to rest. In the afternoon we seek out cranes in the fields to observe their behavior.

We celebrate our great week with an early dinner and then return to the Fort Kearny Hike-Bike Trail Bridge over the Platte River for one last evening with the cranes.
Accommodations at the Hampton Inn, Kearney (Br,D)

Sat., Mar. 22     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 $2,990 DBL / $3,690 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: round trip 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 highly appreciated and recommended.

Travel Details

Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.

Arrival & Departure Airport: Lincoln Airport (LNK)

Arrival Details: Plan to arrive March 16, no later than 5:00 PM

Departure Details: Plan March 22 flights leaving after 12:00 PM. Alternative Arrival or Departure Plan: Another option is to fly into the Omaha Eppley Airfield (OMA) and take a shuttle to the Lincoln Airport (LNK). The drive is approximately 1 hour.

Shuttle Recommendations from Omaha to Lincoln: Omalink (402) 475-5465 Leisure Limousine and Sedan (402) 476-8132

Travel Tip: If you would like arrive early, especially to avoid any winter weather delays, there are plenty of things to do in Lincoln! The University of Nebraska State Museum is the state’s premier natural history museum with a variety of exhibits including paleontology, biodiversity, and geology. The museum is within walking distance of Haymarket Square, where our hotel for the first night of the tour is located. Are you fascinated by fast cars or the history of the automobile? Then the Museum of American Speed is a must visit. It’s located a little over a mile from Haymarket Square and can be visited by taxi or Uber/Lyft.

Hotel Recommendations:

Top Choice: Embassy Suites by Hilton Lincoln, (402) 474-1111. This is our first night tour hotel, so booking here makes the best use of your time (and it’s located in a great area!) The hotel offers an airport shuttle. If this is your choice, please book this online and give us the confirmation number. We will submit that when we send our final room list, the goal being you don’t have to change rooms! If you want to stay near the airport we recommend you book: Holiday Inn Express and Suites Lincoln Airport (402) 464-0588 Hampton Inn Lincoln Airport (402) 474-6465.

Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.


Platte River

  • Kent Skaggs

    Kent was born and raised in Nebraska and this is where he developed his passion for birds and nature in general. He worked 20 years at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary where he helped countless visitors experience the annual spring staging of Sandhill Cranes along the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. While at Rowe, he conducted bird surveys on the sanctuary and coordinated and led birding field trips for the annual Audubon Nebraska Crane Festival. He also spent three seasons leading tours to see displaying Greater Prairie-Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse for Calamus Outfitters in the Nebraska Sandhills. Kent and his partner Kathy currently reside in southwest Virginia.

    Other trips with Kent Skaggs

Map for Platte River Cranes:  A Migration Spectacular

Essential Information +

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have Read more

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!

Ahead of Your Tour

  • Please talk with your doctor about general health needs. It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about general vaccinations recommended for travel.
  • Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed. After you make travel reservations, please send a copy of your travel itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.com.
  • Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance.
  • Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Remember to pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.

Health Information

We will share a copy of your health and emergency contact information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important in case of a medical emergency. In addition to bringing any prescription medications with you, we recommend that you have a copy of the prescriptions in case of loss.

Pace of the Tour & What to Expect

You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.

Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.

The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.  

We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.

Food & Drink

We carry water and juices/cold drinks in the cooler each day, and sodas if people like them. Please also plan on bringing and filling your water bottle for hiking each day. We try to use as few plastics as possible!

Packing, Clothing & Laundry

Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Please pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.

Dress is informal and is casual even at restaurants. Layering is a great way to stay comfortable. Protective clothing is essential, whether it be from sun, rain, cold, insects, or vegetation. You need closed toe shoes, and wear comfortable walking shoes with good tread. Hiking boots with good support for hiking and on rocky terrain can work well.

Spending Money

Many people ask how much to plan to bring as spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Most shops will take VISA and MasterCard or American Express. Typical items people purchase include local souvenirs and T-shirts, caps, and natural history books.  You may want to bring cash for drinks with dinner (if available) or smaller local purchases.


Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this amount can be split among them.

Cell Phones & Internet Service

Wi-Fi and cell phone service are available in most US destinations, although there are some exceptions in remote locations. Wi-Fi is generally provided in all hotels, lodges, and restaurants you visit, at least in public areas. Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency as this disrupts other guests – please plan cell phone calls on your own time.


Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.


For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask all attendees to please rotate your seating, so you ride with different drivers and alternate between front and back seats.

Photo Release & Sharing

We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.

By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives permission to record photos and/or video of your participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochures, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.


Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.


Packing List +

Please Pack Light! Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid Read more

Please Pack Light!

Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.

Dress is very informal. In general, the most important advice is to make sure you bring warm clothing. The weather during your stay can cover a wide range of temperatures – some years it is mild, while others, very cold. And you will spend time standing or sitting in unheated blinds. We want you to be comfortable and the key to that is layering. You can always shed layers if you bring too much! Fabrics like fleece, as well as rain gear, will protect you from rain and wind and keep you warm. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty – and things that are comfortable and easy. Supportive hiking books are essential for our walks.  If possible, bring outer layers of a dark color, as that helps you blend in with your surroundings when walking to and from the blinds.

Clothing and Gear

  • Long pants, 2-3 pair
  • Long sleeve shirts/turtlenecks, 3-4 (think layering)
  • T-shirts or equivalent (optional) for layering
  • Set of long underwear (top and bottom)
  • Personal underclothing and pajamas
  • Socks – several very warm pairs (wool or synthetic), and several pairs of a lightweight, easy to wash and dry material
  • Comfortable clothes for evening (can be a cleaner version of your field clothes)
  • Raincoat and pants (can double as wind breaker)
  • Very warm coat/jacket – the warmest you have
  • Sweater or fleece shirt
  • Down or fleece vest (windproof, if possible, this is a great clothing item for this climate)
  • Scarf or neck gaiter, very warm and water-repellent gloves/mittens
  • Warm hat
  • Hat with broad brim for sun on dry days
  • Comfortable walking shoes (such as tennis shoes)
  • Supportive hiking boots that can keep your feet very warm and dry
  • Comfortable shoes for evenings, travel days
  • Bandana (optional)
  • Swimsuit (optional)

Equipment and Miscellaneous 

  • Personal Identification
  • Small daypack or fanny pack to carry gear while hiking (essential!)
  • Umbrella
  • Walking sticks (optional but recommended if you usually hike with them)
  • Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries and extra batteries
  • Alarm clock
  • Sunscreen/lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletry articles
  • Sleeping mask or equivalent to cover your eyes if you are light sensitive
  • Earplugs if you are noise sensitive
  • Binoculars (a hotel shower cap is great to cover these when it is raining)
  • Spotting scope (optional). Guides will have a scope to share, but feel free to bring your own.
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Camera and extra batteries, digital chips etc., lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional). Do a good check before leaving. Please note that flashes may not be allowed in the blinds.
  • Water bottle (or plan to reuse our store-bought water bottle if preferred)
  • Gallon-size ziplock bags for keeping things dry
  • Laundry soap for hand washing, travel sewing kit
  • Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
  • Field guides (optional)
  • Rechargeable power bank (optional)

WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!

Medical and First Aid Items

  • Medical Insurance plus a copy kept in a separate location
  • Personal medications kept in their original, labeled packaging
  • Backup copy of all prescriptions you are bringing with you (i.e. eyeglasses and medicines), and any medical alerts; kept in a separate location
  • Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed
  • Personal first aid kit plus medications for common ailments and digestive issues.
  • Band-Aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
  • Foot powder, lotions for dry skin, general “comfort” items
  • Small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
  • Eye-drops (can be very dry and windy)


Suggested Reading List +

There are many titles of interest for Nebraska; the following are a few that we Read more

There are many titles of interest for Nebraska; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started. 

Field Guides

Merlin App. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. You can download it here.

Sibley Guide to Birds

Field Guide to the Birds of North America

The Complete Birder: A Guide to Better Birding

Lives of North American Birds

Natural History

Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices over America's Wetlands

A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds

The Migration of Birds: Seasons on the Wing

A Chorus of Cranes

On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America

Booming from the Mists of Nowhere: The Story of the Greater Prairie Chicken

Those of the Grey Wind: Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane Display Dictionary: What Cranes Say With Their Body Language


My Life with Cranes: A Collection of Stories

This River Beneath the Sky: A Year on the Platte

There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.


Useful Links +

Learn more about your destination at these external websites, carefully researched for you. Read more


Lincoln, Nebraska & Historic Haymarket

Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center

Great Platte River Road Archway – NY Times Article about struggle to keep this great museum afloat

Harlon County Reservoir

Nature, Wildlife & Biology

Sand Hill Crane

Birds -  Nebraska Game and Parks

Field Guide to Crane Behavior

Birding Harlan County Reservoir

Platte Basin Time-lapse

Platte River Prairies – by CHRIS HELZER, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska

Rainwater Basin


“Crane Habitat Conservation Efforts Have Flourished in Nebraska…” – Article by Nebraska Public Media

Crane Trust  - Research

Sandhill Crane Conservation – National Geographic

International Crane Foundation

National Wildlife Federation – Platte River

Audubon’s Nebraska Rowe Sanctuary

The Nature Conservancy – Nebraska

The Nature Conservancy Platte River Projects

History & Culture

Historic Haymarket Square, Lincoln

Fort Kearney and the Oregon Trail

Mormon Trail along the Platte River Banks

Nebraska Sandhills

Origami Cranes

Geology & Geography

Geology of the Platte River

Geography of the Platte River

Helpful Travel Websites

Lincoln Airport (LNK)

Homeland Security Real ID Act

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

ATM Locator

Date & Time

Photo credits: Banners: Sandhill Cranes by Greg Smith; Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese by Peg Abbott; Sandhill Cranes at Sunrise by Greg Smith; 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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