Grand Island, Nebraska is nestled on the banks of the Platte River Valley, a site which has become famous for its place on the migration route of no less than 80% of the world’s Sandhill Crane population. Every year thousands of visitors come to wonder at the majestic oscillations of wave after wave of birds heading southwards to the warmer territories of Florida and the Gulf, a phenomenon that has been hailed by National Geographic as one of America’s most fascinating migrations. But, while birdwatchers have long been Grand Island’s biggest touristic group, a newfound cultural impetus is slowly but surely transforming it into a family friendly stopover on the way through Nebraska, complete with historic museums and water parks. What’s more, in late summer Grand Island now plays host to the 11-day State Fair, an all-round celebration of the arts, sports and Nebraskan culture; definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in town.
As one of the eco-tourist hubs of the Platte Valley, the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center hosts year-round programs that aim to educate and introduce guests to the diversity of the region’s wildlife. A special focus on the crane migration starts in early March, when birdwatching tours and viewing sessions are organized near the river, making this the destination for visitors looking to catch a glimpse of the natural phenomenon that first made Grand Island famous.
Enjoy this award-winning museum that’s dedicated to preserving the heritage and lifestyle of Grand Island’s first inhabitants, the German pioneers. The center chronicles the hardships and strife that was overcome in order for the city to develop into what it is today, while honing in on hands-on exhibits that help every visitor get a taste of what it meant to be an 19th Century pioneer.
The new home of Nebraska’s State Fair has long been a recreational institution in Grand Island. Since 1954, the horse racing track here has hosted springtime events, attracting locals and visitors alike with an offering of excitement, great dining and laid-back social vibes all rolled into one. What’s more, general admission is free, so you can spend a day at the races without breaking the bank!
Heartland Public Shooting Park is one of the best equipped and most encompassing firearms ranges in the whole Midwest. Visitors are invited to try their hand at a range of different shooting styles and disciplines, from 3-dimensional archery to clay pigeon shooting. But, if you don’t feel like pulling the trigger, then the park also boasts a scenic lake and RV ground that’s open to the public.
Sweet toothed visitors will love this chocolate and cake oriented café, which boasts some of the most creative and tasty desserts in all of Grand Island. Regular workshops and events have made it a popular local joint, while the coffee is legendary throughout town as one of the best. The Chocolate Bar is open Monday to Friday, but closed on Sundays.