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. 

Squeeeeeeee! No visit to Saratoga National Fish Hatchery is complete without a stop at the Wyoming toad building to check out these grumpy cuties!

Saratoga National Fish Hatchery - Wyoming

Saratoga National Fish Hatchery, established in 1911, is a unique facility that maintains a large lake trout population for breeding.  The hatchery has served as an egg-producing station during most of its years of operation including various strains of brook, rainbow, brown, golden, and cutthroat trout, and Dolly Varden eggs. Saratoga also raises the endangered Wyoming toad and produces tadpoles and adult toads for reintroduction into the wild. 

🚙 Trip Highlights

There’s no fishing on hatchery property but there are plenty of recreational fishing opportunities nearby AND the hatchery participates in local fishing festivities every June. You can also get a close-up view of the fish rearing process with tours and chances to view the large brood fish and the endangered Wyoming toad! Pro tip: Be sure to stop by from late September to early November to watch the spawning activities!
Saratoga is no small fry (see what we did there?)...the hatchery sits on 120 acres! Shake off that car fatigue by wandering around the grounds and be sure to stop at the overlook to get a view of the hatchery’s wetlands! There are plenty of other recreational opportunities available nearby, including kayaking and mountain biking!
Just follow the sounds of the OMGs, AHHHHHs, and squeals of delight that will lead you to the hatchery’s Wyoming toad building. A special viewing area gives you a glimpse of this amazingly adorable and endangered critter. 
In addition to be being pretty old, Saratoga also holds the distinct honor of being the first in the National Fish Hatchery system to raise endangered amphibians with the Wyoming toad. Learn more about their history in the Visitor Center or by chatting with staff!
A fun activity whether you’re 8 or 88: cut a silhouette of a Wyoming toad out of a piece of cardstock. As you wander the hatchery grounds, be on the lookout for interesting textures or patterns and photograph the toad silhouette in front of them. The details will show through the silhouette and create a fun perspective!

🚧 Detour

We don’t know about you, but after a long day of hiking and the emotional roller coaster of seeing the world’s cutest toads, nothing beats a relaxing soak. And Saratoga has you covered. Drive a mere 10 minutes south of the hatchery and check out the amazing mineral hot springs, which range from 106°F to 119°F and are open 24/7! 

🎶 Featured Song

After a day of stretching and soaking, you’ll be anxious to head home or onto your next destination. The perfect song to get you back on track is Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” 

🧭 Road Map

Before you take off on your most excellent journey to Saratoga 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
Fisheries management
Freshwater fish