The Great American Hatchery Road Trip

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View other hatcheries in the southeast 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. 

As you can see from the aerial image above, Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery is HUGE! The reservoir alone is 100 acres!

Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery - South Carolina

Orangeburg produces 7 million fish, frogs, and mussels a year!  Their species include a variety of fish like redbreast, bluegills, lake sturgeon, American shad, striped bass, and channel catfish and other critters like gopher frogs and the Carolina heelsplitter mussel. Orangeburg is a 250-acre, warm-water facility established in 1911.  

🚙 Trip Highlights

Part of the Orangeburg hatchery property includes a 100-acre reservoir for non-motorized boating and fishing! Common catches are largemouth bass, bowfin, bluegill sunfish, and channel catfish. 

Get your steps in with a walk on the trail that wraps around the fish production pond to the main reservoir. There’s even an observation deck at the back of the reservoir!

Animal lovers should team up with explorers and take advantage of the hatchery trail, specifically the observation deck. Lots of critters love to hang out around the fish production ponds, so you might spy Canada geese, great blue herons, snowy egret, wood storks, and ALLIGATORS!
Orangeburg was originally established in 1911 to produce warm-water fish for stocking in lakes and ponds. Nowadays they have a much broader mission that includes protecting and restoring declining populations of a variety of aquatic critters!
Orangeburg has an awesome public aquarium, making it a great spot for seeing fish up close! Folks with kids: have them pick out their favorite fish in the aquarium, paying close attention to colors, patterns, and shapes. When you get home, see if they can recreate the fish out of modeling clay and some washable paint.

🚧 Detour

If you like be-dazzled stuff, you might love The Button Museum! A whole hanger full of objects that have been be-buttoned.  The Button Museum located in Bishopville, South Carolina, is the product of one man’s insomnia and a whole lot of button gluing! Maybe you’ll find some inspiration and return home to produce your very own button fish! 

🎶 Featured Song

Listen to Thomas Rhett’s advice and spend “More Time Fishin’” as you pull up to Orangeburg’s 100-acre reservoir! 

🧭 Road Map

Before you take off on your most excellent journey to Warm Springs 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
Freshwater fish