10 Must Sees on the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway

1 . Cranes

Over 500,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate through Nebraska. Traveling the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, Nebraska Highway 2, Grand Island to Alliance in mid-February thru April is prime crane watching time. Visit the Crane Trust for a specific peek or mosey along the Byway to see the birds landing in open fields. If you appreciate birds and enjoy the great outdoors plan a trip to the Byway in the spring.

2. Borglum

Nebraska Highway 2 is home to many exceptional artist. Solon Borglum began his work in sculpture on the bluffs of his family farm five miles west of Cairo, Nebraska. Solon’s work went on to grace many locations internationally. His brother Gutzon is known for a much larger work you might find traveling the west end of the the Sandhill’s Byway and then traveling north.

3. Culinary Adventure

You will never find yourself hungry traveling the Byway. Coffee Shops like the Medina Street Vault to Breweries like Kinkiaders, pepper the Byway with unique takes on American Classics and at a hint of something new. Click here to find additional resources to plan your Journey.

Jenna Kaczor, owner Medina Street Vault, Cairo, NE Photo Credit Andrew Carpenean

4. Prairie Chicken

Get a front row seat to the Grassland Dance. The sharptail grouse and prairie chickens put on quite the show in the spring. Experienced Sandhill guide Mitch Glidden gets viewers up close and personal to watch these birds do short runs, rapid foot stomping, leaps into the air, and an inflation of their orange neck sacs. The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway is a paradise for birdwatchers.

5. Float the Byway

There is an abundance of outdoor recreational activities to be found on the Byway. Bring your ATV, kayak, canoe, fishing poles and find a day or a weeks worth of outdoor recreational activities on Nebraska Highway 2. Numerous river adventure, lakes and even a forest can be found while traveling the Byway. If you are up for a challenge mark your calendar for the Middle Loup River Challenge in September.

Annual Middle Loup River Challenge

6. History On the Byway

Driving on the Byway is a bit like taking a walk through history as you leave big cities behind you get a glimpse of pristine grass land. Travel the Byway and experience a small taste of what homesteaders must have felt seeing vast amounts of untouched ground. Solomon D. Butcher spent time capturing the first epic experiences of becoming a settler in the Sandhills. Spend a day driving from town to touching visiting history in museums on the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.

The Shores family near Westerville, Custer County, Nebraska, 1887 – Solomon D. Butcher

7. Star Gazing

The stretch of Nebraska Highway 2 from Grand Island to Alliance has plenty of wide open spaces to sit back and gaze at the stars. The wide open area is unmarred by artificial light providing beautiful views of the night sky. Click here to read Brad Mellema’s star gazing experience.

8. Potash Plant

Antioch, 15 miles east of Alliance, discover old potash kiln remnants. On the National Register of Historic Places, this community is now a near-ghost town.  The old kilns, long ago invaded by prairie grasses bent on reclaiming their rightful habitat, sprang to life originally at the beginning of WW1 when the U.S. supply of German potash dried up.  If only Antioch could tell its own story, I’m sure we’d all be mesmerized.  We do know that Antioch was once a city of over 2,000 people and was called the potash capital of the U.S.  Its proximity to several alkali lakes allowed five potash reduction factories to flourish but only until the war was over.  At that time, the U.S. procured its potash, once again, from Germany and France, and the short-lived boom town dried up. There is a State Historical Marker along the Byway just to the west of Anitoch.

9. Carhenge

Carhenge, an oddity on the western Nebraska plains can be found just a few miles north of Alliance along Highway 87.  In the summer of 1987 Jim Reinders, with the help of family members, built a replica of England’s Stonehenge.   Carhenge consists of thirty-eight American-made automobiles, all painted gray, in a 96 feet diameter circle with dimensions and layout to mimic Stonehenge.   Some of the automobiles that make up this tourist attraction are buried trunk-down in five-foot pits, others are soldered on top, creating arches. The heel stone is represented by a 1962 Cadillac.  Additional automobile sculptures have been added to the site as part of the “Car Art Reserve.”    This attraction is a great place to stretch your legs and be sure to sign the ‘autograph’ car!

10. Morgan Store

Ellsworth is home of Morgan’s Cowpoke Haven and is better known as simply, Morgan’s Store.  The store, on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally built in 1898 on the then-existing Spade Ranch as its supply store.  It was, at that time, a depository for inbound supplies to be used on the 500,000 acre ranch.  These essential goods were hauled 23 miles northeast to the Spade headquarters every three days by a 10-horse hitch.  Wade Morgan and his general store currently offer a wide variety of merchandise including a few snacks, western clothing, tack, and a large stock of guns. You really must experience this stop. After spending some time in Morgan’s Store, walk the very short distance to the Nebraska Historical Marker that provides information about the Spade Ranch.  Also located in the little town, see the well-preserved one room school house on skids – the first ”mobile home” in the hills. Check Morgan’s Cowpoke additional cultural finds on a trip through the Sandhills.

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