FAQ: The Sandhill Crane Migration in the SLV


The San Luis Valley crane migration is an exciting time of year. We are just over a week away from Monte Vista's iconic Crane festival. As they celebrate 40 years, it is sure to be a fun filled weekend! Travelers come from far and wide to view the birds but many are unfamiliar to the area. There are so many questions for a first time crane watcher to ask and Visit Alamosa is here to help you answer them! 


When do the cranes begin to migrate into the valley?

Typically, the spring migration beggins the last week of February. By the first week of March most of the birds will have landed and by the second week 20,000 or more birds will have settled on the Valley floor. The Birds make one more grand appearance in the first weeks of September.


When do the cranes migrate out of the valley?  

Most of the crane will move out by the end of the first week in April for the spring migration. Some linger a little while longer, but by the second week in April, all of the cranes have migrated out of the Valley. The fall migration says farewell to the birds by the beggining of November.


Where are the best viewing areas? 

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is the hub for crane viewing. The festival is centered in Monte Vista and many of the tours offered go to this location. Local photographers capture many of their best shots at this location. With over 14,000 acres of land, you are sure to see a plentiful number of cranes.

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge is a well known location for good bird viewing. With just over 12,000 acres, there are plenty of wetlands to spot the birds on.

Baca National Wildlife Refuge is the largest refuge in the area with a whopping 93,000 acres. The wetlands draw the cranes in and travelers will have endless opportunity to view. 

San Luis Lakes Wildlife Area is a gorgeous viewing area for the migration. With over 3,000 acres to explore, bird watchers are sure to spot the cranes and have great photo opportunities through the month of March.


What time of the day is best for viewing?

Local photographers say the best time for viewing is in the early hours of the morning around 6:00 am or 6:30 am or in the evening just before sunset, about 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm. The cranes can be seen throughout the day in various locations however and travelers can explore the San Luis Valley to find them. Viewing these birds can be an incredible experience. Unlike many species of birds, cranes mate for life. They express their affections through dance, and it is quite the sight to see! The National Park Service states that “


What should I bring?

Definitely bring your camera! There will be endless opportunities to photograph the birds. Both beginner and professional photographers catch breathtaking images of the birds every year. The sun rise and sun set can be hard on the eyes as you watch, be sure to bring along your sunglasses. If you are viewing in the morning, don't skip out on a warm jacket. Gloves and a hat would be a good idea as well. Be sure to wear good shoes that will keep your feet warm and a nice hot drink is always a good idea. Temperatures can be as low as 20 degrees in the early morning.

What should I expect from the migration?

You should expect to see more than 20,000 cranes enter the valley. They will scatter the wildlife refuges, crop fields, road sides, and around most shallow bodies of water. Monte Vista will be lively and filled with travelers from all over coming to bird watch so be sure to book your hotels soon! You can find different lodging locations in Alamosa here.


When is the crane festival?

March 10-March 12 in Monte Vista CO. There will be a craft and nature fair hosted at the complex for the duration of the festival. You can expect live talks over the course of the festival as well as daily crane watching tours. Fly the Coop 5K run/walk will take place Saturday the 11th. You can find a full festival itinerary and prices here.


Where is the crane festival?

Ski Hi complex, Monte Vista CO

2389-2499 Sherman Ave, Monte Vista, CO 81144

There is an abundance of public parking. 

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