Crane Viewing Sites

Crane Watch Brochure

Central Platte NRD has crane and waterfowl viewing decks along the Platte River with free parking.
▪ Richard Plautz Crane Viewing Site: 1.5 miles south of 1-80 Exit 285 (Gibbon)
▪ Alda Crane Viewing Site: 2 miles south of 1-80 Exit 305 (Alda)

There are three additional roadside turnouts to enjoy safe viewing located south & east of the Alda interchange on Platte River Drive, and west of Rowe Sanctuary on Elm Island Road. (See maps below.)

Other Crane & Wildlife Viewing Sites

Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary  44450 Elm Island Rd Gibbon NE 68840, Located 20 minutes from Kearney, NE  (308) 468-5282

Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival Arrives March 21-24

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the habitat they need, today and tomorrow.  Audubon Nebraska has two Audubon centers in the state, Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary focuses on conservation of the Platte River ecosystem and the birds that rely on it and Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center focuses on the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and the birds that rely on it.

Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival, March 21-24, brings together nature enthusiasts from around the country to Kearney, Nebraska, for an exciting weekend of field trips and speakers, all centered around the amazing migration of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes and millions of waterfowl through central Nebraska. Festival registration is $150/person ($160 after February 15). Tickets are available at the festival’s webpage, Registration includes all speakers; Friday lunch; Saturday breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and Sunday brunch. Field trips can be added for additional fees.

National and local speakers will present information on a variety of wildlife and conservation topics during concurrent sessions on March 22 and 23. Saturday’s banquet will feature David Mizejewski, television host, media personality, author, blogger, and naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. Additional speakers include Lili  Taylor, actress and National Audubon Society Board member; and Michael Farrell, co-creator of the Platte Basin Timelapse Project.

Audubon Nebraska will host a showing of the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications production of “Follow the Water” at the World Theatre in Kearney on Friday, March 22, at 7:30 pm. Doors will open for festival participants at 7:00 and to the general public at 7:15. The Wild Experience Room returns to the Kearney Public Library on Saturday, March 24, from 10 am-2 pm with free, family-fun activities and live animals.

Visit Audubon Nebraska’s festival page for updates of the festival’s line-up:

Contact: Anne Winkel, Audubon Nebraska


Crane Trust Nature & Visitors Center 
9325 S Alda Road, Wood River, NE 68883 – Exit 305 towards Alda (308) 382-1820

Come inside to discover the Wild About Nature Display including murals and touch-screens full of information, shop the Crimson Crown Gift Shop and view magnificent photographs and art in the Hornady Art Gallery. When you venture outside you’ll encounter the butterfly garden, a small research herd of American bison along the path to a 35-foot observation tower which is near two footbridges leading to roughly 10 miles of nature trails along the Platte River.

2019 Migration Season: March 1 – March 31
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Trail 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
Sunday, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Trail 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
Trail hours vary to protect roosting and/or loafing cranes in the area.

Crane Trust Wild Rose Ranch 
6611 W Whooping Crane Dr, Wood River, NE 68883  (308) 384-4633

The Crane Trust’s Wild Rose Ranch is located in south-central Nebraska on 5,000 continuous acres of native grassland prairie and wet meadows that are owned and managed by the Crane Trust.

The main ranch facility is closed to the public. It includes the headquarters office, research laboratory, dormitory, Legacy Cabins, meeting/dining facilities, private crane-viewing blinds, and an outdoor deck and observation platform with breathtaking views of the tallgrass prairie and Platte River waterway. Reservations are required to access this rare ecosystem which includes an uninterrupted seven-mile stretch of the historic Platte River, which has been preserved by the Crane Trust to mirror the unique and extraordinary habitat that has been used by the endangered whooping crane and two sub-species of sandhill cranes for millennia.


Migration in the Platte River Valley

The Platte River valley and neighboring Rainwater Basin provide essential food and nutrients for Sandhill Cranes, Whooping Cranes, and other waterfowl during migration and during nesting season.  At least 257 species of birds have been observed in the Rainwater Basin including 27 species of waterfowl, 27 species of shorebirds, and 5 threatened and endangered species–whooping cranes, bald eagles, least terns, piping plovers, and peregrine falcons.

  • Disturbances can jeopardize their health, physical condition and reproductive success. Encourage others around you to use the following proper etiquette:
  • Do not approach cranes or waterfowl while in the field.  It will disrupt their feeding.
  • Do not approach birds on their roosts.  Panicked flights use up precious energy resources.
  • Do not honk your horn, flashlights or yell at migratory birds. It is illegal and disrupts the bird watching experience for others.
  • Do not stop on roadways, driveways or any other farm road or gated entry. It’s unsafe to stop on roadways & most land in this area is private property.


In 1993, a task force of various governmental & private agency representatives was brought together by Central Platte NRD to develop ideas in response to concern about safety for local residents, farmers and crane watchers in the Central Platte Valley, especially during early morning and late afternoon hours on local roads. The Task Force developed a comprehensive plan known as the Central Platte Historic, Scenic & Trails Project to be completed in phases.

Approval was granted in 1994 by the Nebraska Department of Roads under the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) for Phase I of the comprehensive plan developed by the task force.  According to the grant application, the multi-year project promoted awareness of the historic importance of the Central Platte Valley as a transportation corridor dating from the early 1800s. The corridor was used by explorers such as Stephen H. Long and John Charles Fremont and by fur traders who passed back and forth on and along the Platte River. In the period from the 1840s-1860s, the Platte River Valley was a virtual “superhighway” as the major transcontinental route of the covered wagon migration; it became known as “The Great Platte River Road.”

Three roadside turnout areas between Doniphan and Shelton on the road along the south side of the Platte were developed in Phase I. A portion of the cost was paid under the ISTEA and the remaining cost was contributed by the NRD and participating counties-Hall and Buffalo. The Audubon Society provided land for a roadside turnout near Shelton.  Use of the Platte River for recreational purposes occurs now, but it is restricted by accessibility and use of the river by endangered and protected wildlife species.

The public viewing decks provide free crane/waterfowl viewing and provide a safe and bird-friendly way to view cranes throughout the day.  Parking is available at each deck.  Locations: Richard Plautz Crane Viewing Site is1.5 miles south of 1-80 Exit 285 (Gibbon), Alda Crane Viewing Site is 2 miles south of 1-80 Exit 305 (Alda), three additional roadside turnouts are located south and east of the Alda interchange on Platte River Drive, and west of the Rowe Sanctuary office on Elm Island Road.

For more information on CPNRD’s viewing sites, contact David Carr (308) 385-6282