For six weeks between late February and early April, one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world takes place in Nebraska when more than 500,000 sandhill cranes descend onto the Platte River Valley in an area known as the Central Flyway. For up-close, guided tours of this majestic event, plan to visit Rowe Sanctuary and Iain Nicholson Audubon Center near Gibbon and Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Grand Island.
Held in late March, the Crane Watch Festival is 10 days of education, family activities and entertainment to celebrate the arrival of the sandhill cranes. Events take place in Kearney and the surrounding communities of Minden and Gibbon. Other events take place in Grand Island and Hastings. The Nebraska Flyway website is dedicated to bringing you the latest information on events, activities and tours taking place during sandhill crane season and throughout the year.
Other locations across Nebraska offer equally impressive opportunities to view birds and wildlife up close. Lake Ogallala below Kingsley Dam attracts one of the largest and most diverse bird populations in the country. It’s also open for eagle viewing from late December to early February, and guided tours are available. Johnson Lake in south-central Nebraska is another prime bald eagle viewing area, and guided tours are available there as well.
The Chicken Dance Trail across south-central and southwest Nebraska takes you face-to-face with birds of all shapes, sizes and species. Groups can take guided birding tours at the Sandhills Guest House near Lakeside.
Enjoy a breathtaking aerial view of the vast Nebraska Sandhills from an airplane or explore rangeland, meadows and wetlands closer to the ground in a vehicle tour at 4-D Rush Lake Reserve south of Lakeside and near Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Tour a neighboring ranch to view one of the most iconic native wildlife of the Great Plains—the bison.
Nebraska also offers a number of top-quality state parks, wildlife management areas and recreational areas where tours can be set up to view wildlife in their natural habitats. Explore 4,000 acres of grassland, woodland and wetland at Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Calhoun or 45,000 acres at Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Oshkosh. Southwest of Lincoln, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center is home to more than 300 species of birds and wildlife in a tall-grass prairie setting.
High Plains and Majestic Cranes Tour
Treat your group to a fun specialty tour with a high plains and majestic cranes theme. The itinerary includes tourism hot spots ideal for creating an exciting trip for your clients.
Exceptional wineries and tasting rooms, art galleries, western migration history, excellent restaurants and the cosmopolitan centers of Lincoln and Omaha are examples of the activities you can enjoy on a tour through central and eastern Nebraska.
McCook—a great starting point—is home to several restaurants, shops and boutiques in its charming historic downtown district. Don’t miss Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Café for mouthwatering homemade dishes and desserts. Sen. George Norris was one of the nation’s most influential senators and a McCook native. Take a glimpse of his life at the Senator George Norris State Historic Site, where you’ll see artifacts and memorabilia from his 45 years in Congress.
Visit the GROW Nebraska store in Holbrook for local and Nebraska-made crafts, products, gifts and souvenirs. The Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege houses an impressive collection of items from World War II German POW Camp Atlanta, works of art created by POWs and interesting historical structures throughout the museum grounds.
Minden is home to the world-famous Harold Warp Pioneer Village, where you can walk through 26 historically accurate buildings, including a sod house, a one-room school, a Pony Express station and an 1884 church. The historic arts of spinning, weaving and broom-making are demonstrated in the village year-round.
Kearney’s Great Platte River Road Archway is the only tourist attraction in the nation to be located over a federal interstate. This impressive, three-story, interactive museum commemorates the nation’s westward expansion. Your group will love MONA—the Museum of Nebraska Art. Housed in a 1911 Renaissance revival post office, the museum features 11 exceptional galleries and more than 5,000 works of art highlighting Nebraska and the Great Plains.
During the annual sandhill crane migration, you can encounter majestic birds at Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Grand Island, Rowe Sanctuary and Iain Nicolson Audubon Center near Gibbon and public sites throughout the area. It’s an amazing sensory experience that you’ll remember forever.
Noted as one of the top 10 living history museums in the country, Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer will transport you back to the early days of the pioneers. Afterward, spend some quality time shopping the galleries and specialty stores in Grand Island’s historic downtown district. The Hastings Museum is home to one of the best natural history collections in the state, and its one-of-a-kind Kool-Aid: Discover the Dream interactive exhibit tells the story of the birth of one of America’s favorite soft drinks.
Kick off this day exploring Aurora’s Edgerton Explorit Center , which is dedicated to the inventor of the strobe light—Aurora native Harold “Doc” Edgerton. Continue to York for a visit to Lee’s Legendary Marbles and Collectables, where more than a half-million marbles are on display, including some that are very rare. Afterward, browse the shelves of Four Winds Indian Books, the world’s largest American Indian bookstore, and then stop at Chances “R” Restaurant and Lounge for made-from-scratch food. For 50 years, this family-owned restaurant has upheld a tradition of outstanding cuisine and modest prices.
Head to Lincoln and take a guided tour of the impressive State Capitol building, home of the nation’s only one-house legislative body. The historic Haymarket offers galleries, restaurants, antique stores, shops, bars and coffee houses in turn-of-the-century buildings. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Philip Johnson, the Sheldon Museum of Art is an excellent modern art gallery housing 20th century American art. The International Quilt Study Center & Museum features more than 3,000 quilts from over 25 countries and across four centuries.
Nearby Ashland has a rich variety of shops, restaurants and galleries in a charming historic downtown. It’s also the gateway to three stellar attractions: Strategic Air & Space Museum, Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari and Eugene T. Mahoney State Park. The Holy Family Shrine near Gretna is an impressive glass chapel and offers respite for the weary traveler.
Your final day brings you to TripAdvisor’s No. 1 ranked zoo in the United States. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers many exciting activities, including America’s largest indoor rain forest and the world’s largest indoor desert. Enjoy a ride high above the zoo on the Skyfari. El Museo Latino highlights the important contributions of the Hispanic population on the history, culture and development of Omaha. The 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens includes an arboretum, bird sanctuary, rose and herb gardens, spring flower walk, Victorian and festival gardens and a woodland trail.
Enjoy lunch in the historic Old Market, an eclectic shopping and dining district with dozens of boutiques, nightclubs, bars, cafés and upscale restaurants. The Durham Museum is housed in a restored Art Deco train station and showcases the history of Omaha. Hot Shops Art Center houses 44 art studios, three art galleries and exhibition spaces, while Love’s Jazz & Arts Center showcases the impact of African Americans on Omaha’s art scene. The world-class Joslyn Art Museum features exquisite works of art from antiquity to the present, and west Omaha is home to the world-famous Father Flanagan’s Boys Town.
Find Endless Possibilities
This is just one of the many opportunities awaiting your group in Nebraska. Our new Group Tour website is designed to make planning and operating your tour through Nebraska as easy and profitable as possible. You’ll find our electronic Group Tour planner, itineraries, escort notes and much more. So what are you waiting for? Go to GroupTravel.VisitNebraska.com and start planning a journey filled with interesting stops, fun-filled days and unforgettable moments.
Micheal Collins, Group Travel Manager
Nebraska Tourism Commission
PO Box 98907
Lincoln, NE 68509