The Great American Hatchery Road Trip

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View other hatcheries in the Central series!

Picture this: You're driving down the interstate, cruise control on, windows down, stereo blasting. It's a perfect 80 degrees, you don't have to work, and you've got the whole day ahead of you. You pull off the road and a beautiful vista lies in front of you. A pond sparkles in the sunshine, birds are chirping happily in the trees, and best of's peaceful. You pop the trunk and pull out a fishing pole, that set of watercolors you've been meaning to use, your best pair of broken-in hiking boots, and breathe in the fresh summer air. But wait, where the heck are you?  

Is it a national park? If we were going on overall vibes, the answer might be yes.  

Is it a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
? Getting warmer, but think more fins.  

Is it one of the nation's most underrated outdoor destinations...national fish hatcheries? Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

The National Fish Hatchery System has been improving recreational fishing and restoring aquatic species since 1872 (uhhhh, yeah that makes them 150 years old!) and yet, lots of folks might not even know that their grounds are often open to the public and entry is FREE! The wonderful thing about fish hatcheries is that they offer something for everyone in your more disgruntled sighs from the backseat! 

Each hatchery highlighted in our road trip series is over 100 years old and has four sections of information: 

🚙 Trip Highlights: This is where you'll find hatchery activity suggestions for different folks in your group. These aren't full lists, just some of the things we think are pretty cool. Before you hit the road, be sure to check each hatchery's web page for additional activities and we recommend calling ahead to check on their opening status and any possible closures. We've also got some good info on how and where to purchase a fishing license, if that's on your activity itinerary!

🚧 Detour: Is it really a road trip if you only go to one place? Well, yeah, but where's the fun in that? We've provided each hatchery with a nearby pit stop suggestion for the free spirits among us. (Full disclosure, besties: We haven't actually been to any of these spots and are in no way promoting them over other destinations, they just sound fun. Please do your research beforehand to check on fees, accessibility, travel restrictions, etc!)

🎶 Featured Song: One of the best parts of a road trip is the playlist. You probably have your own set of cool tunes, but we couldn't resist including some other suggestions for your listening pleasure!

🧭 Road Map: Ok, it's not actually a real map, but it's a fun, colorful graphic you can share online or print out for your trip! 

Buckle those seatbelts, we’re taking you on a ride through some of the nation’s oldest hatcheries that you’ll definitely want to add to your summer road trip itineraries and they are free to the public. 

Hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, Leadville National Fish Hatchery has something for every season!

Leadville National Fish Hatchery - Colorado

Taking the prize as the second oldest federally-operated fish hatchery, Leadville National Fish Hatchery was established in 1889 to distribute trout throughout the Rocky Mountain region.  Over 130 years later, they continue that mission and are now the only facility breeding greenback cutthroat trout and other unique species of Colorado cutthroat trout, in addition to supporting the recovery of four endangered fish in the Colorado River. If those cool critters weren’t enough, Leadville also has a ton of recreational opportunities to explore!  

🚙 Trip Highlights

Fishing is allowed above the Rock Creek dam, which is roughly a one-mile hike from the hatchery. If fishing isn’t in the cards, head over to the visitor center to learn more about hatchery operations and get a close-up view of the fish production process!
Ok, we know this is a summer road trip series, but if you love cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, then add Leadville to your winter list! If winter’s not your thing, don’t fret! Leadville acts as a main trailhead access into the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area, with access to the 14,429-foot peak, Mt. Massive. There are many hiking opportunities with the Rock Creek, Highline, and Kearney Park Trails all originating on hatchery grounds. These three trails intersect with the Colorado Trail in the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area, offering different routes to hike a loop starting and ending on the hatchery. Just be careful, as your starting elevations are just below 10,000 feet!
Don’t forget your binoculars, because Leadville offers opportunities for spectacular wildlife viewing! Be on the lookout for mountain blue birds, juncos, jays, hawks, eagles, waterfowl, elk, deer, pronghorn, porcupines, fox, coyote, and pine martins.
As the second oldest federal hatchery, Leadville is a pretty cool spot for anyone who loves old stuff! You can read about their past on their website or call ahead and see if one of the staff are available to answer questions or provide a quick tour!
If you’re visiting with an animal lover, now’s the time to bring along your telephoto lens and score some amazing wildlife photos! Pro tip: wait for the person with the binoculars to find them first, while you immerse yourself in the majesty of your surroundings.

🚧 Detour

Look no further than the town of Leadville for this hatchery’s detour! The city has a rich mining history, making it a great stop for guided mine tours and museums. Be sure to pop into the Silver Dollar Saloon, Colorado’s oldest-operating saloon!   

🎶 Featured Song

Call us basic if you must, but the only way to truly experience one of the United States’ highest elevation cities is by blasting John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.” 

🧭 Road Map

Before you take off on your most excellent journey to Leadville National Fish Hatchery, please call ahead for visitor hours and check out their website for even more to do during your visit. You can also download a high resolution PDF of the map!

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature
Education outreach
Fish hatcheries
Fisheries management