As the Platte River flows, so does Interstate-80, making stops at the valley's marvels as easy as choosing an exit. In the east, the river widens into wetlands supporting a multitude of waterfowl. In the west, the waters lap the sandy shores of Lake McConaughy.
Spring in Kearney is Sandhill crane time: Thousands of birds stop here to rest on their migration north. A short drive to the Rowe Sanctuary or Crane Trust for guided bird-watching trips satisfies enthusiasts (call for reservations). Morning and evening are the best bird-viewing times, as the cranes take off or land on the Platte River.
Sandhill cranes. Photo courtesy of Kearney Visitors Bureau.
After the morning wildlife show, stop at The Archway, spanning Interstate-80. Inside, a high-tech museum recounts centuries of human travel along the Platte River.
For lunch, try the local favorite Thunder Spud at Thunderhead Brewing Company in Kearney. It's an entree-size potato loaded with Alfredo sauce, roasted chicken, bacon and pepper Jack cheese. Walk some of it off on a tour of 200 mint-condition vehicles at the Classic Car Collection.
All seven volumes of James John Audubon’s Birds of America are housed at the Museum of Nebraska Art, which also features a sculpture garden.
Dig into pizzas and calzones with funny names like The Dude at The Flippin' Sweet.
Several national chain motels provide lodging options.
You'll want to devote at least a half day to exploring the more than 100 re-created 1800s and early-1900s buildings on the 200-acre Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island.
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
For a cultural switch, try some of the creative sushi rolls and garlic edamame at Wasabi Bistro.
Shop on West Third Street, also known as Antique Avenue, and browse works by more than 30 area artists at Prairie Winds Art Center.
Savor Italian creations at family-owned Napoli's Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar.