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. 

Gorgeous grounds and a beautiful historic building to match! Count us in! Photo by Bruce Hallman/USFWS

Neosho National Fish Hatchery - Missouri

Neosho National Fish Hatchery was established in 1888 and is the oldest continuously operational federal fish hatchery raising fish today. Their top billing: raising rainbow trout that are released in Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Missouri. The hatchery also raises the federally endangered pallid sturgeon, Topeka shiner, and they even have Neosho muckets (a magical mussel) for the first time in their history! Speaking of mussels, we’re not trying to brag (yes, we are) but Neosho is rocking two awesome mussel experts and just had a boost in production this year, raising three different species of mussels! 

🚙 Trip Highlights

Fishing is only allowed on hatchery grounds during special fishing derbies that usually happen several times a year, but there are GREAT fish viewing spots in the display aquariums, ponds, and raceways (did we mention that they’re raising Lake sturgeon again?!). The aquarium even has a viewing bubble to give you a fisheye view!
Neosho has a TON of activities! If you only have 15 minutes: pop into the visitor center, walk the trail loop, grab some free food to feed the fish, or walk through the hatchery building. If you have one hour: make an appointment for a tour with a staff member and get all the Neosho deets. If you have a full day, follow those activities with a picnic at one of the hatchery’s four picnic shelters!
Bird buffs can see mallard ducks, bald eagles, great blue herons, and a variety of hawk species at the hatchery. For the mammal maniacs, year-round species include gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed deer, and red fox. And last, but not least, butterfly besties may catch a glimpse of monarchs, spicebush swallowtails, zebra swallowtails, or giant swallowtails.
Being the oldest federal hatchery, Neosho is a bucket list item for fish history nerds and there are quite a few history exhibits in their visitor center. Fun fact: it was founded at this location because of the nearby railroad that was used for shipping fish using railcars. 
Live out your best Monet fantasies with an art pad and set of acrylic paints, as you gaze out over the ponds, display aquariums, OR native plant flower beds. Beautiful scenery is abundant!

🚧 Detour

We love a weird pit stop and this one certainly fits the bill...a mere 20 minutes north of the hatchery, you’ll find the World’s Largest Small Electric Appliance Museum! A stop you never knew you needed (or wanted) to make, it will make for an amazing selfie spot in front of the museum’s collection of over 700 toasters! 

🎶 Featured Song

A perfect song for the location, be sure to blast Chuck Berry’s “Route 66” as you cruise through the area! 

🧭 Road Map

Before you take off on your most excellent journey to Neosho 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