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. 

Who could resist stopping the car when they see this cute sign?

Erwin National Fish Hatchery - Tennessee

Erwin National Fish Hatchery was established in 1894 in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. This hatchery is one of the Service’s primary broodstock facilities and produces 16 MILLION trout eggs annually for federal, state, and tribal use and for universities and research centers!

🚙 Trip Highlights

Catching fish may be your favorite activity but feeding them is pretty fun too! Get up close and personal and see if you can ID the different species in the display pond. Bonus points if you can work in a story about that one time you caught a monster trout!
Check out the hatchery’s nature trail located behind the Unicoi County Heritage Museum! This nature trail has tree identification tags along the path and plenty of wildlife to view along the way. Pro tip: don't tell your friends or family about the tree ID tags and look like a genius when you know all of the species!
Erwin isn’t just for fish! Did you know they also have an apiary on site?! Head over to their pollinator gardens and BEE sure to see these little champs in action.
Did you know that in the 1800s fish were transported across the country by rail? While at Erwin, make sure you visit the Unicoi County Heritage and Clinchfield Railroad Museums that are on site and learn more about that fascinating past!
The birding opportunities are abundant at Erwin. What does this have to do with art? We’re glad you asked! Take this opportunity to bust out that telephoto lens and snag some amazing shots.  

🚧 Detour

Time to give a shout out to one of our sibling agencies - the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a little over an hour away from Erwin! The best part is, you'll be an expert at identifying local trees from the Erwin trails, so you'll look like a total pro on theirs!

🎶 Featured Song

One of the official state songs of Tennessee, it's only appropriate to blast the Osborn Brothers' version of the famous bluegrass hit "Rocky Top." Even better if you bring a banjo and sing along!

🧭 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!

A printable companion to the hatchery road trip guide. Full contents of the graphic are available at:

Story Tags

Connecting people with nature
Education outreach
Fish hatcheries
Freshwater fish
Sport fishing

Recreational Activities