Each year, between 15,000 and 20,000 Sandhill cranes make their journey south for the winter. During their migration, these graceful birds stop at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, just north of Chattanooga, before continuing on to their destination. If you haven’t had a chance to see this amazing site, find out why you don’t want to miss it this winter!

Why the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge?

Sandhill Cranes 2The first question that comes to mind is, “why here?” During the summer months, Sandhill cranes can be found in northern parts of the U.S., Canada, and even in parts of Siberia. When the cold starts creeping in, they make their way south towards Texas, Mexico, and Florida. In the early 1990’s, these cranes began stopping at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on their way to warmer grounds in Georgia and Florida. The grain fields and wet grasslands that can be found here provide the perfect climate for feeding, roosting, and of course, staying warm.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has been managing the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge for over 60 years. During that time, they’ve learned that the Eastern population of Sandhill cranes that makes their migration through Tennessee is the second largest population of the bird in the world! Whether you consider yourself a bird watcher or not, the huge number of Sandhill cranes that can be seen here is truly fascinating.

Other Wildlife That Migrate Here

Sandhill MigrationWhile the Sandhill crane is one of the most abundant species to migrate here, there is a variety of wildlife that call Hiwassee home during the winter. When you visit, keep your eyes open for bald eagles, great blue heron, large groups of double-crested cormorants, and plenty of waterfowl species. There have also been occasional sightings of snow geese and white pelicans on the 6,000-acre property.

Where to See the Sandhill Cranes

Now that you’ve learned all about the Sandhill crane migration, you’re ready to see the spectacle for yourself. This winter, the River Gorge Explorer will be taking two-hour excursions to see the Sandhill cranes. Enjoy the views from the upper deck or stay warm in the fully enclosed cabin below. Both provide excellent views of the Sandhill cranes and the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. After the Sandhill Crane Cruises end, the River Gorge Explorer will no longer be operating, so this is an event you won’t want to miss! If you can’t make the cruise, you can visit the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge during daylight hours to see the cranes and other wildlife from the observation tower.

To reserve a seat for the River Gorge Explorer Sandhill Crane Cruise, click here. For more ways to get on the Tennessee River this winter, check out the Southern Belle Riverboat and Chattanooga Cycleboats.