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. 

Um, excuse me, but how amazing is this underwater fish viewing window at D.C. Booth?!

D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives - South Dakota

Established in 1896, D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives serves to protect and preserve our nation’s fishery records and artifacts while still raising and stocking trout in regional, Tribal, and military waters. The hatchery also houses the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives, has a museum and other historic buildings to tour, is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a cultural and educational resource. It is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the country dedicated to fish culture and resource management.

🚙 Trip Highlights

Fish af-fish-ianados (see what we did there?) will delight in coming face to face with giant trout at the hatchery’s underwater viewing windows. Or head above the surface of the pond and get a chance to feed them!
Lace up those hiking boots! Two hiking trails outline the boundaries of the hatchery, offering overlooks of the grounds and taking you past historic sites. Or plan your trip during one of the MANY awesome public events that the hatchery hosts, from Father's Day brunches, to Family Creek Fair, and even Hot Rods for the Hatchery!
Bird watchers are in for a treat at D.C. Booth. The hatchery grounds are in a small canyon on the edge of the Black Hills. Ponderosa pines, oak trees, and ponds create perfect habitat for both migrating and year-round birds. You might catch a glimpse of a belted kingfisher, wood duck, red-breasted nuthatch, or one of the many other species that call this area home.
If you couldn’t already tell from the word “Historic” in their name, this is THE primo spot for history buffs! Explore the Fisheries Museum, which has a sampling of items on display from the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives; see the inner workings of a vintage fish rail car; AND tour the historic 1905 superintendent’s home (bonus fact: the hatchery is named after the first superintendent....DeWitt Clinton Booth). The entire hatchery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so you can’t go wrong!
The hatchery grounds are a popular spot for various types of photography, from wildlife and scenery photos to family portraits. Be sure to check the friends group webpage for information on their annual photo contest!

🚧 Detour

If there’s one thing we know about South Dakota, it’s that there is an ABUNDANCE of amazingly weird stuff to see, making it difficult to narrow down to just one. We’ve solved this with a tie. First, head less than 30 minutes north of D.C. Booth to make a quick pit stop at the geographic center of the United States (do it for the ‘gram, y’all!). After that, head an hour and a half southeast to one of the most iconic roadside attractions in the country...Wall Drug! Drink your free cup of ice water (promised by the dozens of billboards leading up to it), check out the gigantic dinosaur, and revel in one of the weirdest and most celebrated attractions in America. 

🎶 Featured Song

Live out your best main character vibes with the chill beats of the Bee Gees' ballad, "South Dakota Morning." This song is best listened to while wearing an oversized floppy hat, staring pensively out the car window, and pondering the meaning of life. Bonus points if you’re also journaling while you listen. 

🧭 Road Map

Before you take off on your most excellent journey to Erwin 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
Sport fishing

Recreational Activities