Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length272 miles
Two hundred and seventy-two miles of Nebraska Highway 2, east to west from Grand Island to Alliance, was deemed by the late Charles Kuralt as one of the most scenic roads in America. Between the portals on either end, visitors will find some of the most diversified landscape in Nebraska. In the east, corn and soybeans give way to God's cattle country, the central 20,000 square miles of the Nebraska Sandhills, before again giving way to farm ground of wheat, sugar beets, and potatoes on the far west end of the Byway. The Byway offers 3 Rs - River, Rails and Road, so visitors enjoy 3 Rs of Rejuvenation, Rest and Reconnection with nature.
Story of the Byway
There is a place in America virtually untouched by the hand of man. It is the Nebraska Sandhills, the largest area of stabilized sand dunes in the northern hemisphere, occupying nearly 20,000 square miles. In this wind blown ocean of undulating dunes, native grasses, wildflowers and vivid blue lakes abound. Nature is still the master of the land. Nebraska Highway 2, the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway, (SJNSB) bisects this ancient ground, leading travelers to treasures undiscovered anywhere else.
Grand Island, the eastern portal of the byway, has the largest gathering of Sandhill Cranes on earth descend upon the nearby Platte River for a stopover on their annual migration northward every spring. Over 500,000 of these birds make brilliant morning eruptions into the sky as they leave their nighttime river roost to feed. Their evening return ritual is no less breathtaking as backlit by pink, orange, and amber sunsets, they settle onto the river, their distinctive vocals provide a concert like no other. April birding enthusiasts can view the mating ritual of the prairie chickens or sharptail grouse on leks, which is called 'booming'. Those who have seen both of these century old rituals, the cranes and the booming call it spiritual, awe inspiring.
Farms of corn and soybeans dot the viewshed from Grand Island west until just past Anselmo, where the Sandhills start gently rolling. One is now entering ranch country, where some of the best beef in the world is raised. Farms and ranches on this byway have been home to multigenerational families. Small towns punctuate the road every few miles and friendly residents are always ready for rich conversation or give one an unique, friendly 'steering wheel wave' as they pass you on the road. Visits to out-of-the-ordinary shops and hometown cafes with some of the finest dining in America are musts for any traveler. Along the byway travelers can see in Alliance, the western portal, a replica of a tribute to England's Stonehenge made of classic American cars, or enjoy a drive-in movie in the summer at one of the few remaining outdoor theatres in the United States.
Trains are a constant companion while traveling the SJNSB. The highway and railroad tracks follow the same route through this hardy country and both parallel the trails blazed by the pioneers. Many residents from the area are descendants of those iron-willed homesteaders and harbor that same determination and work ethic today. Here are the original environmentalists, for if they have not cared for the land and the livestock that is their business, they would not be here for 5 or 6 generations. Here man adapts to the land and Mother Nature.
In the center of the byway, the largest hand-planted forest in the northern hemisphere is found, where hiking, river recreation, birding, or horseback riding can be enjoyed as well as the largest public ATV area in the state is found.
Part of the largest underground aquifer in the world is under the Sandhills. The Ogallala Aquifer percolates into ponds and marshes providing habitat for a myriad of fish, reptile, amphibian, and bird species, as well as watering holes for deer, antelope, coyote and other creatures. Wildlife and wildflowers abound because of the water beneath.
Explore Nebraska Highway 2, the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway. You'll leave with an immediate desire to return, a sense of rejuvenation and the comforting feeling of knowing that there is still a wild place in the world right in the heart of Nebraska.
Route is 272 miles from Grand Island on the east to Alliance on the west. East to west from mile marker 354 (GIS N40.55.280 W 9821.965) to mile marker 85 (N42.05.977 W102 52.34) At no point does one need to meander off the route unless they want to enjoy the attractions on or in close proximity.
Points of Interest
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island
This is America's largest living history museum.
Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway Visitor Center
Visitors can learn about our byway from enthused volunteers!
Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Ranger District, Halsey
This is the largest hand-planted forest in northern hemisphere and oldest nursery in the U.S Forest Service.
Crane Trust, Alda
Enjoy photos and viewing of cranes and other wildlife, including bison herd of over 100 animals
Established in 1925, Victoria Springs State Recreation Area is the third oldest area in Nebraska’s state park system. Located 6 miles east of Anselmo or 7 miles north of Merna, Victoria Springs has justly been described as an oasis in the Sand Hills.
Knight Museum and Sandhills Center, Alliance.
Learn about the Ogallala Aquifer and those who homesteaded and tamed this part of the wild west
Quirky replica of England's Stonehenge, only with cars, not stones
Nature in the Sandhills
Begin at Grand Island, NE. Visit the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. You should allow time for a side trip to Alda to see the Crane Trust. It’s a short trip south of town, near I80. Migratory birds, especially the Sandhill Crane, love this area of the Platte River to rest, feed, and congregate. Dusk and dawn are the best viewing times. If you have more time, one-night and two-night stays are available at the Trust. Check out the nature and visitor center here.
Return to Grand Island and leave on Highway 2, heading northwest. Traveling through land untouched by man, it’s clear that nature is still in charge. Just before arriving at Broken Bow, stop in the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway Visitor Center. Highways 2 and 92 conjoin for a bit. Just before Merna, take Victoria Springs Road north to Victoria Springs, famous for its mineral springs. View the historic log cabins or stay in a modern-day cabin or camp and picnic here. Camping and cabin reservations do go quickly- some are booked a year in advance.
Continue on Highway 2. Between Dunning and Halsey is the Nebraska National Forest to the west. This area offers camping and picnicking as well as biking, hiking, OHV, and horse-riding trails.
Arriving at Alliance, take Highway 87 north to see Carhenge, Nebraska’s take on Stonehenge. It’s artistry with an automotive touch. Return to Alliance and stop at the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center. There you will learn about life in the Sandhills, Native Americans, life in the country, life in town, and railroad history. The Byway ends in Alliance. Get some rest and enjoy a meal at any of the lodging and restaurant options in Alliance.
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