35+ Great Hiking Trails Near Omaha

Now that my kids are a little older, we’re starting to venture beyond Heron Haven and other easy trails near Omaha that we’ve loved. There are a lot of hiking trails in Nebraska and Iowa that are within two hours of driving for us, so we won’t run out of new-to-us trails for a while.

Yes there are great hikes in the Midwest! Here are some great hiking trails in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa, all within 2 hours of Omaha.

Trails Near Omaha - Within 30 Minutes

Looking for a quick hiking getaway from Omaha? Below is a list of trails that are within about a 30-minute drive from the city.

Lewis and Clark Monument Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 5 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this park

Fairmount Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this park

Vincent Bluff State Preserve

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Folsom Point Preserve

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this preserve

Schramm Park State Recreation Area

Where: Gretna, Neb.
Details: 4.5 miles of trails. Schramm is also home to an archeological dig site (free) and an educational center (additional fee).
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this state recreation area

Fontenelle Forest

Where: Bellevue, Neb.
Details: 19 miles of trails. Also home to the Raptor Woodland Refuge and TreeRush Adventure.s
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this forest

West Oak Forest

Where: Oak, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this forest

Hitchcock Nature Center

Where: Honey Creek, Iowa
Details: 10 miles of trails. Has a great visitor's center and lookout tower. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 25 miles
Learn more about this nature center

Pony Creek Park

Where: Pacific Junction, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 25 miles
Learn more about this park

Platte River State Park

Where: Louisville, Neb.
Details: 17 miles of trails, including one that leads to a small waterfall.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about things to do at this state park

Mile Hill Lake

Where: Glenwood, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about this county park

Glenwood Archaeological State Preserve

Where: Glenwood, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Hikes Within A One-Hour Drive From Omaha

Once you've explored all the nearby trails around Omaha, time to venture further afield to these trails. Included in this list are a lot of trails throughout the beautiful Loess Hills.

Old Town Conservation Area

Where: Missouri Valley, Iowa
Details: 10 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 35 minutes
Learn more about this conservation area

Sawmill Hollow Wildlife Area

Where: Missouri Valley, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 40 minutes
Learn more about this county wildlife area

Murray Hill Scenic Overlook & Brent’s Trail

Where: Little Sioux, Iowa
Details: An 8-mile route through Loess Hills State Forest ending at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area (a half-mile is on county land at the northern start of Brent's Trail). Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 50 miles
Learn more about this trail, one of the newer ones to open in the Loess Hills in recent years.

Loess Hills State Forest

Where: Pisgah, Iowa
Details: 38 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 50 minutes
Learn more about this forest

Willow Lake Recreation Area

Where: Woodbine, Iowa
Details: 6 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about this county recreation area

Pawnee State Recreation Area

Where: Lincoln, Neb.
Details: 6 miles of trails
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about this state recreation area

Pioneers Park Nature Center

Where: Lincoln, Neb.
Details: 8 miles of trails. The nature center has small animals on exhibit, but the bison and elk on the preserve are the highlights.
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about Pioneers Park

Indian Cave State Park in southeastern Nebraska has 22 miles of hiking trails.

Trails That Are One To Two Hours From Omaha

Pack some road trip snacks before taking off to these trails. They're more than an hour's drive from Omaha, so at least two hours round-trip. But, I've been to some of these trails and they're worth it!

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Where: West Oak, Neb.
Details: 2 miles of trails, plus the Hans Burchard Arboretum. It's a little generous to call these hiking trails, but the lake is pretty, at least.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about Branched Oak, including what to expect if you camp there.

Waubonsie State Park

Where: Hamburg, Iowa
Details: 7 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about this state park

Preparation Canyon State Park

Where: Moorhead, Iowa
Details: 6 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about Preparation Canyon State Park.

Whiting Woods Recreation Area

Where: Castana, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this county park

Southwood Conservation Area

Where: Smithland, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this county conservation area

Fowler Forest Preserve

Where: Smithland, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this preserve

Sioux City State Prairie Preserve

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this prairie

Bacon Creek Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this park

Curtin Timber

Where: Anthlon, Iowa
Details: This county park is a 210-acre undeveloped public wildlife area with abundant wildlife and wildflowers. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this park

Oak Ridge Conservation Area

Where: Oto, Iowa
Details: 5 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this conservation area

Indian Cave State Park

Where: Shubert, Neb.
Details: 22 miles of trails, and home to an interesting living history area that features re-enactors on seasonal weekends.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this state park

Mount Talbot State Preserve

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: No actual maintained trails, but hiking is permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Stone State Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 11 miles of trails. This is a unique state park located in a city and home to the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, a great place to visit with kids. Don't miss the outdoor nature playscape. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Learn more about this state park

Ponca State Park

Where: Ponca, Neb.
Details: 22 miles of trails
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about the trails at Ponca State Park

Five Ridge Prairie State Preserve

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: No actual maintained trails, but hiking is permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about state preserve

Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this preserve

Knapp Prairie

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintained trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this prairie

Hillview Recreation Area

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: Five miles of trails, though the Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this county park

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Hiking trails aren't far from the Omaha metro! Here are dozens of options within a two-hour drive from the city. Trails include those in the Loess Hills (like Preparation Canyon and Hitchcock Nature Center) and those in Nebraska state parks like Indian Cave, Schramm and Platte River. #Nebraska #Iowa #hikes #hiking #midwest #guide #outdoors

These Nebraska Instagram Accounts Are Bringing The State To You

I’m not traveling these days and like the rest of the world, I’ve had to settle for virtual experiences. Being a Nebraska-born explorer, I decided to curate a feed Nebraska Instagram accounts featuring beautiful images from around the state. I’ve been following a few of these photographers and Instagrammers for a while, and a few I’ve only just discovered. Enjoy the (virtual) trip around Nebraska!

While you’re at it, follow @ohmyomaha on Instagram!

Nebraska Instagram Accounts

Follow these Nebraska Instagram accounts to curate a feed of beautiful scenes around the state.

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Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

These Instagram accounts feature gorgeous photos of Nebraska, so when you can't take a trip, take a virtual one! See accounts to follow for scenic Nebraska images.

Iowa’s Hidden Gem: Hotel Pattee

Earlier this year, we had a weekend getaway in Iowa to ski and hang out with friends. Our destination: Perry and Boone, Iowa, too small towns with big personalities. Our home base was in Perry, where we stayed at the historic Hotel Pattee.

Inside the historic Hotel Pattee - This unique Iowa hotel in Perry, Iowa, has its own bowling alley, spa, and themed rooms to inspire families who stay there. #familytravel #thisisiowa #Iowahotel

Disclosure: My family’s stay was hosted by the Hotel Pattee, though our food, bowling, and spa experience was on our own dime. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

Hotel Pattee is temporarily closed due to the national pandemic. The hotel is closed until April 1, and will re-evaluate at that time when it is safe to reopen.

Where is Hotel Pattee?

Since 1913, Hotel Pattee has been a grand presence in the town of Perry, (about 130 miles from Omaha).

Exterior of Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa

Perry is a town of about 7,700 people and is considered part of the Des Moines metro area. One thing to note is that the hotel is near quite a bit of interesting public art. I took a stroll with the kids (a brief one because it was, well, winter) and found some fascinating stuff.

Public sculpture alleyway in Perry, Iowa

Next to the hotel is an alleyway that you should just stroll through to see. There were some statues, tributes to local notable people, and large scale metal sculptures.

What are the rooms like in the Hotel Pattee?

The hotel has 40 individually-decorated and themed guest rooms, which definitely was a highlight for us. Our room was a junior suite with a travel theme (perfect, right?).

A junior suite is perfect for families. They include a king-size or queen-size bed and an adjoining room that either has a bed and trundle bed, or bunk beds.

The travel theme junior suite at Hotel Pattee had a separate space for kids that included a bed with a trundle bed beneath it.

The nice thing about the junior suites is that the adjoining room is separated by sliding doors. Both rooms have their own televisions.

Bed in the travel-themed junior suite at Hotel Pattee

Other options include a full suite, which includes a sitting room, premier rooms, and classic rooms.

The thing about these theme rooms is that if you have a specific one you want, you’ll need to call to book it. You can’t request specific rooms through online booking.

What are the hotel amenities?

Being a historic hotel, I wasn’t really going to expect a large pool or anything to entertain my kids. It’s usually a requirement for wherever we stay. However, Hotel Pattee has some unique offerings to make up for lack of splashing pool time.

Bowling alley at Hotel Pattee

First, the hotel has a small bowling center that’s pretty unique. There is an additional fee to bowl.

The hotel has a dining room and lounge, which sells some local beers for those who are interested.

Our large group had breakfast at Harvey’s inside the hotel one morning. It had a railroad theme, a nod to the town’s history. While the wait was a bit long when youngsters were involved, the food was delivered promptly and warm.

Dining room at Harvey's inside Hotel Pattee

Just a note: There is no kid’s menu, so our kids ordered off the regular menu and no child finished their meal. Think about splitting dishes.

The dads of the group spent one happy together at the lounge one evening, and the moms got the next night in the lounge for a late dinner.

Cheeseburger and fries

Sure, there were salad and healthy options in the lounge. I went with a massive cheeseburger instead. We also tried some unique appetizer, like buffalo cauliflower.

The highlight, for us moms anyway, was the full service spa in the basement of the hotel. Copper Door Spa offered massage, and while we waited for each mom to have her turn, we alternated between sitting in robes in the lounge and sitting in robes in the sauna. (We forgot swimsuits or we would’ve totally taken advantage of the hot tub near the spa)

Spa at Hotel Pattee

Is it kid-friendly?

Absolutely. But, not in the traditional sense, where my kids spent most of their time in a pool. There is no pool.

Evening cookies at Hotel Pattee

But when I asked them what they liked best about the hotel, here’s what they said:

  • – There’s a self-playing piano in the lobby that fascinated them.
  • – Each night, the staff puts a plate of warm cookies on a table on each floor. There may have been more than one cookie eaten by each kid.
  • (And each adult.)
  • – My kids noticed, and appreciated, how each room was uniquely decorated. Like I said before, our room had a travel theme. The other rooms in our party had rooms with a storybook theme and a Swedish theme.
Stairwell at Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa

What’s nearby?

We stayed at the hotel in February for a weekend ski trip. That’s right – a ski trip in Iowa. And you know what? It was awesome and we’ll probably be doing it with the same group of families next year, too.

Girls skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa

Hotel Pattee is not located next to a mountain. It’s still Iowa. But, it is about a 30-mile drive to Boone, where you can find the rather hilly terrain of Seven Oaks Recreation. Seven Oaks also offers summer recreation, which I think we’ll try out later this year (river floats).

Now, Boone also happens to be home to another warm-weather activity a few of you might like: Train rides. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad departs from a small station in town. We went on a train ride with the kiddos a few years ago.

It is scenic, but it can be rather long for younger kids. Pack entertainment, just in case, or opt for one of the themed rides.

If you stay in Perry, you are also near one of my favorite Iowa State Parks: Ledges State Park. It’s about 30 miles from the hotel. I wrote about our quick visit there when we were taking our Great Iowa Road Trip.

Ledges State Park in Iowa
We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

If you want to stay at Hotel Pattee

Where: 1112 Willis Ave., Perry, Iowa

Reserve a room: If you want to reserve a specific themed room, call 515-465-3511. Otherwise, you can reserve a room online on at hotelpattee.com.

Looking for a unique place to stay in Iowa? Check out Hotel Pattee in Central Iowa. The hotel has 40 themed rooms, a small bowling alley, and plenty of local character. #familytravel #midwest #Iowa #IowaHotels

Virtual Nebraska: Experiencing The State While Staying Home

I miss a lot of my favorite places around my home state, and I imagine a lot of you do too. Since most places are closed, or it’s too hard to maintain social distancing if you do visit them. What’s a family to do? Virtual tours and virtual experiences. And maybe, if we’re lucky, live cams. Here’s my guide for some of Nebraska’s virtual experiences.

Virtual Omaha: Tours & Videos

My hometown, Omaha, is the city I know best. If you follow me on any social platform, you know I’m usually out exploring, so these days are tough for me. So, I started looking around to see where I can find virtual experiences of the city. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Virtual tours in Omaha

I’m not sure how frequent these will be, but Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts had a live virtual studio tour today on Facebook with one of their resident artists.

Omaha Children’s Museums’ “Diggin’ Dinos” special exhibit which is currently at the museum (which is closed through March 31). You can see some of the museum’s past exhibits’ virtual tours, too.

Joslyn Art Museum has a virtual tour of its temporary exhibit, “Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Photography.”

Ever wonder what “the vault” at The Durham Museum is like? There’s a virtual vault tour for that.

360-degree virtual tour of "Diggin' Dinos" at Omaha Children's Museum.

Daily videos and activities with Omaha institutions

Miss Omaha’s zoo? Yeah, me too. Each day at 2 p.m. CST you can visit the zoo’s Facebook page and watch a live, interactive video from inside the zoo.

Omaha Children’s Museum has daily programming geared for kids ages 8 and younger. Stay tuned for daily videos on the museum’s Facebook page. Recent ones have been a story time, game suggestion, and a tinker challenge.

Do you know of any Omaha businesses or museums doing virtual tours or interactive videos? Leave me a comment so I can add them to the post!

Virtual Nebraska road trip, anyone?

Outside of Omaha, you have other virtual options.

Iain Nicolson Audubon Center in Kearney, Neb., has a live crane cam, which is perfect timing to see the impressive sandhill crane migration.

Head to Lincoln, Neb. (virtually, that is) and take a virtual tour of the Capitol and Governor’s Residence. While you’re “in” Lincoln, you can also take a virtual tour of Lincoln Children’s Museum.

Lincoln Children’s Zoo has a fun program going on each day on Facebook. Each day at 3 p.m., the zoo shares a new Keeper Corner Facebook video and a fun activity to go with it. They even have an activity punchcard that you’ll be able to bring into the zoo someday and get a free ice cream cone.

Ever been to Red Cloud, Neb.? You can go there virtually and tour four of the town’s most important sites linked to Willa Cather.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer has been doing some live Facebook videos around their facilities.

Image to link to more Nebraska stories

More online entertainment and resources

If you’re looking more for activities and educational resources, I have a few posts to help:

Educational Resources For Nebraska Families – These are downloadable materials related to Nebraska history, Nebraska wildlife and nature, and other helpful links to museums and local teachers.

25+ Free Online Resources For Bored Kids – This post contains a ton of links to free sites, including celebrity storytimes, printable Madlibs, and children’s museums with DIY projects for kids.

Bored at home? Here's a running list of Nebraska live cameras, virtual tours and interactive videos from Nebraska museums and zoos.

Educational Resources For Nebraska Families

I always wondered what I’d do if I worked from home and homeschooled my kids. Now that school is canceled and my work is closed for two weeks, we’re going to see how it goes. I’m sure there will be a lot of video games, movies, in addition to some mandatory outdoor time, but I also like to think that maybe we’ll do something educational too.

If you have that lofty goal too, read on! I found stuff that’s specifically for us, Nebraska families. So read on to find resources geared toward Nebraska history and Nebraska wildlife. Plus, I added some virtual tours of other places around the world because if you can’t travel to them right now, why not just pretend you can?

Nebraska resources

You can find plenty of free resources online for general history and nature, but I love it when you can find specific information that relates to your home state. So for us, that’s Nebraska.

Fort Atkinson located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. History Nebraska has an educational printable about the fort's history.

History Nebraska

History Nebraska is a great online resource. I just came across Nebraska Trailblazer publications that are designed for fourth-grade classrooms, but you can just as easily print them (or read them off the computer screen), too. Topics include:

Native Americans

Explorers 

Oregon Trail 

Nebraska’s First Farmers 

Settlers’ Homes 

Nebraska Territory 

Early Settlers 

Ranching 

Fort Atkinson (Someday, you really ought to go check out the actual fort. It’s in Fort Calhoun. They weekends they have historical re-enactments are the best time to go.)

Railroads 

A Nebraska Childhood 

What’s for Lunch? Food Choices of the 1890s 

Banking in Nebraska 

The State Capitol 

Nebraska State Symbols 

Red Cloud and the Sioux Nation 

Notable Nebraskans 

Aviation in Nebraska 

Czechs in Nebraska 

Conservation and Preservation 

The Nebraska Commemorative Quarter 

History Nebraska has a YouTube channel featuring some interesting interviews and they even have their own version of an “unboxing” video.   

Nebraska Game and Parks

Nebraska Game and Parks is another great resource full of educational goodies. This page has lesson plans, videos, and maps all geared toward a better understanding of Nebraska wildlife and habits. There are even scavenger hunts.

The topics include: Birds and birding, Pollination and pollinators, Prairies, Animals and habitats (lower elementary), Water and wetlands, Life cycles, Soils and worms, Scavenger hunts, Threatened and Endangered Species.

The Durham Museum

The Durham Museum has started a great digital learning series geared toward kids in grades K-5. Each weekday morning at 10 a.m., they have a new session. Register for FREE at durammuseum.org. Subjects include pioneers, Native American life, and Lewis & Clark, for example.

Ashfall Fossil Beds

While nothing beats an actual visit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in northeastern Nebraska, there are a few online educational resources to learn bit more about this important site.

There are downloadable activity sheets including:

10 Important Things About Ashfall

Paleodetective Word Puzzle

Paleodetective Word Jumble

Paleodetective Elementary Crossword

Answer sheet for all activities

Teleoceras Coloring Sheet

Pliohippus Coloring Sheet

Crowned Crane Coloring Sheet

World Hindsight

A Bellevue high school teacher has a website with some resources geared toward older kids. World Hindsight has world history and American government, as well as links to other sites that have lesson plans.

Virtual tours and virtual museums

I couldn’t find many Nebraska ones (still looking!). Omaha Children’s Museums’ “Diggin’ Dinos” special exhibit which is currently at the museum (which is closed through March 31). You can see some of the museum’s past exhibits’ virtual tours, too.

360-degree virtual tour of "Diggin' Dinos" at Omaha Children's Museum.

You can also take a virtual tour of Lincoln Children’s Museum.

Once you’re done virtually touring local museums, here are a few other museums, parks, and historic sites you can “visit”:

Smithsonian Virtual Tour (National History)

Monticello Virtual Tour

Virtual Tour of Yellowstone National Park

Battlefields Virtual Tours

Corning Museum of Glass

Travel and Leisure has a list of 12 more gorgeous museums with virtual tours, too.

The best list I’ve found for virtual tours and 360-degree tours of monuments and historical sites can be found on this University of Nebraska at Omaha page.

I love museums, and many have online resources instead of virtual tours. I’ve written a post that includes a list of museums and educational websites with FREE, age-appropriate activities, games, coloring pages and scavenger hunts.

Link to more Nebraska stories

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Beginner’s Guide To Sandhill Cranes In Nebraska (2020)

One of Nebraska’s most epic experiences is getting the chance to observe the sandhill crane migration in Central Nebraska. Bird-watchers from around the world flock to the state each spring to witness the marvel. But what about the rest of us? If you’re not a well-versed birder, here’s how to get the most out of seeing the sandhill crane migration.

Updated: This post contains information about closures as a precaution to health concerns surrounding COVID-19. It’s wise to call ahead before your travels.

Everything you need to know about the Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska for 2020 (especially for beginners!) | Where to view the Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska | What events are planned for the Sandhill Crane migration | Best viewing opportunities and tours for bird-watching. #Nebraska #birdwatching #birding #Midwest

What’s so special about sandhill cranes?

Everyone says you’ve got to see the sandhill crane migration at least once. Why?

I think I read the best explanation in Smithsonian.com“Every year 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes — 80 percent of all the cranes on the planet — congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska, to fatten up on waste grain in the empty cornfields in preparation for the journey to their Arctic and subarctic nesting grounds. This staging is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles, on a par with the epic migrations of the wildebeest and the caribou.”

Why is Nebraska so important to sandhill cranes?

There’s a stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska that serves as a rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migrating cranes twice a year.

And just a heads up so you look like you know what you’re doing, there are more than just sandhill cranes to view while you’re there. There have been at least 257 species of birds observed in the Rainwater Basin including 27 species of waterfowl, 27 species of shorebirds, and five threatened and endangered species (whooping cranes, bald eagles, least terns, piping plovers, and peregrine falcons).

Where are the best places in Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes?

There are several communities in central Nebraska that are prime starting points for sandhill crane viewing. Kearney, Neb., is known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World…for good reason. By all accounts, the most cranes seem to arrive in that area (like 400,000 to 600,000).

Of course, places like Grand Island or North Platte are not to be overlooked. You’ll still see hundreds of thousands of cranes there in March, too.

Related post: Headed for Kearney, Nebraska? You’re going to need some restaurant suggestions! Start with these seven must-try places to eat in Kearney.

When is the sandhill cranes’ migration in Nebraska in 2020?

The cranes usually start arriving in mid-February continue in waves until in mid-April. The peak is typically the last week of March.

Audubon Nebraska’s 50th Crane Festival commemorating the migration is March 20 and 21, 2020 in Kearney. This would be a great festival to not only to view the cranes, but to learn everything from the basics about the cranes to in-depth presentations on habitats and conservation. Registration is open and includes Saturday meals and a T-shirt: $160, adult; $70, student (high school and above); and $30, child.

Are there sandhill crane viewing tours?

Of course, there are bird-watching tours! There are some that you’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of (as well as overnight options). And then there are the options for a guided experience for the average person who isn’t a major birder.

Sandhill cranes at the Crane Trust in Wood River, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

For the serious birder

It’s recommended that you reserve a blind if you want to get up close to the migrating cranes. In Kearney, Neb., your best bet is Rowe Sanctuary. You’ll spend between $20-$40 to rent one for a few hours.

Serious bird photographers are going to want to consider guided tours that include photography blinds ($100) and overnight blinds ($250).

For the casual birder

Don’t want to early morning? If you’re in the North Platte area, you can do a tour with Dusty Trails LLC, which starts its tour at 2:15 p.m. (and ends at about 5 p.m.). In 2020, the tours will be held on Saturdays and Sundays, March 14 and 15, and then daily from March 20 through April 8.

Dusty Trails’ Tours are $35 for adults, $17/50 for children ages 5-10, and FREE for children ages 4 and younger.

The Iain Nicolson Audubon Visitor Center at the Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, Nebraska offers kid-friendly sandhill crane viewing opportunities.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

What if I told you that you could go bird-watching without going outside? (I’ve done this in eastern Nebraska, actually). Iain Nicolson Audubon Visitor Center at the Rowe Sanctuary has that option every Wednesday evening starting at 6 p.m. during the migration season. This is a great option for families since they have kid’s activities while you waited for the birds to arrive.

The cost for evening at the Audubon Visitor Center is $10 per person and kids 4 and younger are admitted for FREE. The 2020 dates are: March 11, 18, 25, and April 1 and 8. The Rowe Sanctuary is located about 20 miles from Kearney at 44450 Elm Island Road in Gibbon.

Where are crane viewing sites?

I remember my parents taking us kids on a wild ride one year, trying to find the birds and it was just the most unimpressive experience. I remember standing in a field, shivering, just to see about a dozen birds and wondering what the big deal was. Clearly, my parents hadn’t researched where we needed to go…or we were lost and not at a legit viewing site.

Crane watching on the hike bike bridge at Fort Kearny State Park in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

Save yourself the bad memories and go to one of these sites instead:

UPDATE: Crane Trust is closed to guests and volunteers through April 5, 2020. One of your best bets to not only learn about cranes, but see them, is to head to the Crane Trust Nature & Visitors Center (located at 9325 S. Alda Road in Wood River, Neb.). Here, you can see the displays and then head outdoors to the 35-foot observation tower and the 10 miles of nature trails along the Platte River. Some trails may be closed to protect cranes that are roosting or loafing.

– For sunrise and sunset viewing near Kearney, go to Fort Kearny Bridge spanning the Platte River. You’ll need a state park permit to get into the Fort Kearny State Recreation Area. The address is 1020 V Road, Kearney, Neb.

– A free option is located just off the Interstate 80 exit to Gibbon. To get to the Plautz Viewing Platform, take Exit 285 and drive 1 ½ miles south. The Central Platte Natural Resource Department has view decks set up for a good view of the sandhill cranes, as well as herons, egrets, and pelicans. Parking is free.

– CPNRD also has a view site set up near Alda, Neb. Take the Interstate 80 Exit 305 to Alda and drive 2 miles south. Find three roadside turnouts south and east of the Alda interchange on Platte River Drive, and west of Rowe Sanctuary on Elm Island Road.

Is there bird watching etiquette?

Good question. Since we’re all non-birders here, I’m guessing this is on everyone’s mind. Of course there’s etiquette.

Close-up photo of a sandhill crane in Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

I had to research it, though, since I’m a novice. Luckily, there are sites like Nebraska Flyaway and visitors bureaus to explain it to us. 

Here’s what not to do:

– DON’T stop on roadways, driveways or gated entry.

– DON’T stop abruptly in the road, either. The person behind you may not be as eager as you to see the cranes.

– DON’T attempt to approach the birds in the field. “One alarm call from a bird can send the entire flock into a panicked flight using up precious energy reserves.”

–  DON’T harass the cranes by honking your horn, flashing your lights, or yelling. It’s illegal, plus it annoys everyone else.

– DON’T use flash photography.

Sandhill cranes resting in Nebraska during their annual migration
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism Commission

Here’s what to do:

– Always obtain permission before entering land – most land in the Platte River Valley is private property. It’s trespassing if you don’t have permission.

– Respect the rights of people who live and work in the area.

– Silence your phone.

– Stay in your car or right next to it. Migratory waterfowl are used to being hunted by humans, so your car acts as a blind.

– Plan for the weather. It can get cold in Nebraska and the weather changes quickly in the late winter and early spring. 

What should I bring for sandhill crane viewing in Nebraska?

I mentioned earlier that Nebraska weather can be fairly unpredictable, but a safe bet is to assume it will be cold and windy. Wear warm, seasonally appropriate clothing. Hats, gloves, thermal underwear, heavy coats and outerwear and sturdy boots are recommended.

Some tours will have a few binoculars available to share with others, but if you have your own binoculars, bring them.

If you book any overnight experience, like the overnight photography tour, it’s recommended that you bring two sleeping bags per person, foam or insulated pads, extra clothing, and warm drinks and food.

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A helpful guide for first-timers wanting to see the sandhill crane migration in Nebraska 2020. Find central Nebraska viewing locations, tour options, as well as details on the Audubon Nebraska's Crane Festival. #Nebraska #birds #