Crane Tours

Sandhill cranes roost on a sandbar of the Wisconsin River.

Crane Congregations

Leopold would marvel today at the spectacle of the sandhill cranes. Their pre-migration gathering each fall on the Wisconsin River’s sandbars and islands just behind his beloved Shack is captivating. During his lifetime, Leopold noted their diminishing population and feared they would succumb to extinction. However, since their resurgence, the Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm has become the region’s premier vantage point to experience the incredible sights and sounds as the cranes congregate by the thousands before commencing their annual southerly journey.

Take a sneak peek of Crane Congregations and hear what folks are saying!

Join us each fall for an unforgettable experience and learn first hand why Aldo Leopold felt these birds were so majestic. Your participation in programs like Crane Congregations helps the foundation foster care for people, land, and communities through Leopold’s legacy.

For more on the ritual and history of cranes in the area, read Dr. Stan Temple’s blog article What in the World Did We Do To Deserve All These Cranes?

2018 Program Dates & Registration

November 15, 16, *27, *28, 30
December 1, 2, *4, *5, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15

*Starred dates do not include reception or lecture.

Registration for the 2018 season will open in August. Last year’s tour events sold out, so we encourage you to sign up for notifications and register early!


Viewing Opportunities

Crane tours are offered each fall and draw nature lovers, bird enthusiasts, and photographers from near and far. Several tour options will be available for the 2018 season.

Public Tours ($75/person)

Thousands of sandhill cranes gather at sunset.

Photo: Sunil Gopalan

Small groups of no more than 25 will meet at the Leopold Center for a wine and cheese reception and warm welcome. An introduction from Dr. Stan Temple, Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation and Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison will orient individuals to the history and behaviors of the cranes. Dr. Temple is a world-renowned bird expert and has published several works on crane migration.

Participants will travel in their vehicles about a mile to a meeting place in the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area, just west of the Leopold Shack and Farm. An open-air, rustic ride through the floodplain will bring guests within a short walk of the large viewing blind situated on the bank of the Wisconsin River. The blind affords ample space for modest-sized groups to observe the incredible phenomenon without disturbing the wildlife.

Once the cranes have settled for the evening, participants will return to their vehicles for departure just after sunset.

Included with your tour purchase is a complimentary membership to the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Optional: Join us for a complimentary tour of the Leopold Shack and Farm before Crane Congregations for the full experience! These tours, outside of our normal visitation season, will be offered 1.5 hours prior to the start of each public crane tour.

Weeknight Tours ($35/person)

We welcome our local community to come spend an evening with our education and land stewardship fellows to view and learn about the cranes in an informal, family-friendly setting. This slightly condensed tour lasts about one and a half hours. Participants are welcome to bring their own snacks and water bottle.

Photography Blinds ($150/person)

Cranes prepare for landing.

Photo: Greg Dixon

Also new, an opportunity for amateur or professional photographers will be offered. Individual, portable blinds may be reserved for those wishing to capture images and video. The Aldo Leopold staff will monitor the cranes and place the blinds in locations for optimal viewing.


COMING FALL 2018! Private Tours ($250/person)

Cranes in flight at sunset.

Photo: Dave Freriks

We are excited to announce that next year we will offer private, overnight tours for a truly immersive experience! These tours will be offered for individuals or couples (groups of six or less) interested in a more intimate experience. Featuring two crane viewing opportunities, guests will receive on-site overnight accommodations in the newly constructed Future Leaders Center and two meals. Following check-in, Dr. Stan Temple will provide an orientation of crane biology and history before the group heads to a viewing location on the eastern side of the Wisconsin River. Dinner will be served back at the foundation with Executive Director Buddy Huffaker, an opportunity to reflect on the experience before retiring for the evening. A second viewing experience near Leopold’s Shack is available in the early morning hours before the cranes fly out for the day. The experience closes with a tour and breakfast at the Shack, a National Historic Landmark.

Frequently Asked Questions

Considering joining us, but have some questions? Consult our handy FAQs. If you still have questions, please contact Maria Kopecky.


Feature photo, top, by Greg Dixon © 2017