Nebraska : Safety by City
- Grand Island
- La Vista
- Nebraska City
- North Platte
- South Sioux City
Grand Island, Nebraska, isn’t an island, so let’s just get that out of the way.
A tour of the historic museums here will explain why.
This central Nebraska town is a transportation hub in Nebraska, with many railways and a major interstate running through it.
It’s also a rich agricultural region and a tourist destination for the annual pilgrimage of 400,000 Sandhill Cranes.
Of all the central Nebraska towns, Grand Island has more of a metropolitan feel on this side of Lincoln.
That’s not to say it’s like Denver or Omaha, but it’s definitely not a sleepy small town.
In fact, it is home to more than 53,000 people.
Whether you want fine dining with the freshest steak around or an agricultural experience, it’s all available in Grand Island, with a casino as a cherry on top.
The beautiful Platte River provides outdoor experiences, while museums here break the mold of boring four walls and encourage interactive, immersive experiences, including an old pioneer town.
You can also add Hastings and Kearney as nearby cities to explore during your visit.
Warnings & Dangers in Grand Island
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk, but it's not as safe as it might seem a central Nebraska town would be. We'll talk through the crime concerns, but the tourist attractions are safe for everyone.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There's a small public transportation system available on demand, but mostly used by residents. Look up Crane Transit for more information. Rental cars are the best option, but taxis and rideshares are available too. All risks are low.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
On average, over the past five years, Grand Island had two purse snatchings per year. The risk is low, but the theft rates among shoplifting and car break-ins are enough to alert you that thieves are in the area. Just don't create a crime of opportunity, and the risk will stay low.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is a medium risk, and one visit to "Tornado Hill" (more to come on that) will tell you why. Winters can get blizzards and snow up to your knees. Spring brings tornado season, which runs through late fall, but storms can develop any time of year. Winds can make driving difficult. Ice storms can cripple transportation in all directions.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
I was surprised at the 14 robberies that happened against individuals, but those are mostly connected to drug crimes among people who know each other. You should have a low risk if you're always aware of your surroundings and mind your business while you're here.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
This is another low risk, but you can always check the Terrorism Advisory Bulletin from Homeland Security to get a bird's eye view of terrorism concerns at any given time.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Use the search functions on social media sites to see what latest scams have been reported to Grand Island Police. The crime prevention section of the department's website also lists some of the more common ones. Most scams here target residents, but the 488 fraud reports from 2022 bear further investigation by visitors. The risk is low if you're informed.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
This is another low-risk, but I will say one thing—I stopped in GI for a dog park visit on a road trip to Wyoming. It was late morning, and I had no safety fears. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was surprised to see four cars with people inside them, seemingly living there. It just made me a bit uncomfortable, and it's always smart to trust your gut. We left and found another park around more people who weren't camping in a car.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. If there is a risk due to issues like flooding, burst pipes, or water main breaks, it will be posted on the city's special media sites.
Safest Places to Visit in Grand Island
Visit Grand Island is the tourism website for the region.
Download the Grand Island Vibe app to have all the attractions and amenities in the palm of your hand.
Two things to look for on the website—the “Nebraska Flyway” brochure that details the Sandhill Crane migration and Vibe, the tourism guide/magazine for things to do here.
Grand Island and Kearney are 42 miles apart but share many of the same tourist attractions in their respective travel guides.
Hastings is also featured in the tourism guide, but it’s 35 miles south.
Please know that in Nebraska, these cities are seen as sister cities, even though there’s a 45 minutes drive between all of them.
Before booking any attraction, double-check the address for drive time.
For those here to see the Sandhill Cranes, you can visit the Nebraska Flyway (not flyaway, as I first wrote incorrectly).
It’s important to know that viewing locations aren’t just in Grand Island.
Hastings, Kearney, and North Platte have places to visit as well.
Downtown Grand Island is called Railside, and this historic district is also an entertainment district right along the railroad tracks.
To learn more and check for events, visit Arriverailside.com.
Several museums are worth visiting here too:
- Raising Nebraska: A farm-to-table experience showing Nebraska’s role in feeding the nation.
- Stuhr Museum: A living history museum with a pioneer town to explore.
- Cairo Roots Museum: Perfect for history buffs.
- Edgerton Explorit Center: The science center of this region with interactive exhibits.
Fonner Park is an entertainment district and conference center hosting horse racing, the county fair, and the Nebraska State Fair.
The Grand Island Casino Resort is also there, with Las Vegas action tucked right into central Nebraska.
To help you avoid clicking through a dozen tourism links, I’m going to send you right to the Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway website or downloadable app to learn about the impressive scenic drives through all that “flat land” that is really a fascinating ecosystem.
Nebraska is split into several ecoregions, including the Cornbelt, Great Plains, Nebraska Sandhills, and the High Plains.
Grand Island is along the Platte River Valley but is surrounded by several other ecoregions.
Places to Avoid in Grand Island
People here jokingly (or not) say, “It is neither Grand nor an Island.”
There’s also an internal Nebraska battle about which towns are better/worse between Grand Island, Hastings, and Kearney.
Grand Island doesn’t have neighborhoods too dangerous to visit, but it will be visually clear when you’re in a less-than-desirable part of town.
Stick to main roads and interstates.
Nebraska has so many trains it drove me nuts for the first year I lived here.
Now I hardly hear them.
One thing to note is that many rural train crossings don’t have crossing arms.
I did an investigative report on railroad crossing safety requirements for “quiet zones,” so if you ever want to ask me, “Why not?” I could go on for hours.
You should always treat a railroad crossing as a stop sign to check both directions before you cross.
Never try to beat a train.
Never take weather risks here lightly.
There’s an attraction I don’t want you to avoid (in fact, treat it as mandatory), but I want it to teach you how to avoid being weather ignorant in this region.
Seven tornadoes tore through this area in June 1980.
Five people died, and 200 were hurt, and Tornado Hill is now an earthen mound of debris from that fateful night.
If you want to learn more, read the book or watch the movie “Night of the Twisters,” which was inspired by this event.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Grand Island
- Grand Island has its own police department. You can find them on Facebook @GIPoliceDepartment. The department posts a daily list of felony reports to help you get a better idea of crime trends closer to your visit.
- The police department’s website also has an interactive Community Crime Map. This is wonderful to help you determine issues like the number of car break-ins within a mile over the past six months or whatever customization you’d like to review.
- You can report any suspicious activity or non-urgent crime information to Crime Stoppers by calling (308)381-8822 or filling out the online form. You can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward. If there’s an active crime happening, call 911.
- Grand Island Police have an office dedicated to crime prevention. If you have questions, call (308)385-5400 Ext. 2207. There’s also a crime prevention website section with great advice.
- You should also follow Grand Island-Hall County Emergency Management on Facebook @gihallema911 or Twitter @GIHallEMA. Look at the Local Warning System section of the EMA’s website to see all the ways you can get emergency alerts.
- You can review the National Weather Service website to learn about the different weather concerns and escalations. For example, a tornado watch means conditions are likely for the formation of tornadoes in the next couple of hours. A tornado warning means you need to seek shelter immediately.
- A Red Flag warning is a fire risk that is issued when low humidity, high winds, and dry conditions are present. It doesn’t mean a first is burning, but it does mean a fire that starts could quickly become out of control. Fires close and far away can also send smoke into the air, impacting air quality. I like the Air Now app to get air quality information.
- Juvenile crime is on the rise in Grand Island, a nationwide trend that is hitting this area hard. The police chief said it’s not just the number of crimes but the gun and drug-related crimes being committed by juveniles. It’s a good reminder that even if it appears a kid is trying to rob you, it’s still a dangerous situation.
- If you’re visiting in winter, it’s important to know that snowstorms can shut down I-80, most often heading west. Even if the closure is 50 miles to the east, you’ll still be stuck. Don’t try to “beat the storm.” Grand Island is the last mid-sized city along I-80 heading west until you get to Denver. Other stop options would be Kearney and North Platte.
- You’ll see signs with this message a lot—”When thunder roars, go indoors.” If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to get hit by lightning. The flat Plains can also be deceiving when it looks like a storm is far away, but it’s actually about to go on top of you.
So... How Safe Is Grand Island Really?
Grand Island is a safe community, especially for tourists.
Just 12% of violent crimes in 2021 were against strangers.
That’s on top of a crime rate that is 25% lower than the national average.
Violent crime is also down 45% since 2017.
Theft has also taken a steady drop since 2014, with numbers cut in half during that time frame.
Shoplifting is the biggest risk, with car break-ins accounting for 30% of the thefts.
This is not a place where you should leave a car unlocked or valuables in plain sight.
In 2022, the city had 434 drug crime reports.
That drug problem is fueling other crime areas, which is notable since the crime rates are going down while the drug crimes are increasing.
Grand Island also has dealt with sex trafficking cases, which might be surprising in such a rural place.
The risk is two-pronged. First, there’s a major interstate that runs from Chicago to San Francisco nearby.
Second, there are a lot of meatpacking and slaughterhouses here that rely on immigrant workers.
While it’s not a risk to a tourist, it helps to know the problem is there.
You can learn how to spot a sex trafficking victim through the Nebraska Sex Trafficking Task Force.
Despite any report that says Grand Island is one of the most dangerous cities in the state, the crime rate is relatively low in Nebraska compared to the national average.
Common sense, personal safety tactics, and situational awareness go a long way here.
How Does Grand Island Compare?
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- Visas - All international travelers should review the 2023 updated visa requirements and processes. After pandemic delays and backlogs, there's a new system to expedite the process. You'll need either a visa or visa waiver paired with your passport to get into the country.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency that can be used in the entire country. You should exchange currency before arriving in Grand Island, as there aren't a lot of options. You'll also get better value and lower fees at your home bank.
- Weather - The weather here is so volatile that it can be in the 70s one day and below freezing the next. Layers of clothing are helpful, and winter isn't always snowy. Of course, winter can also bring snow by the feet instead of inches. Check the 10-day forecast before you come, and then pack a few more options because you can't trust how much that might change. Bug spray and sunscreen are needed from spring through fall.
- Airports - Grand Island's commercial airport is called Grand Island Central Regional Airport with airport code GRI. You can drive to the much larger Eppley Field Airport (OMA) in Omaha if you'd like.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance just makes sense in a place where severe or winter weather can cause delays, cancelations, and road closures.
Grand Island Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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