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Free mini golf, a nature trail, a museum, and salmon. What do these have in common? They’re all part of the marvelous Willamette Fish Hatchery near Oakridge, Oregon.
The Willamette Fish Hatchery promises a fun afternoon for your kids, and I bet you’ll be fascinated, too. Willamette Fish Hatchery is one of two fish hatcheries near Eugene, and while we visit the Leaburg Fish Hatchery often, we hadn’t been to Willamette Fish Hatchery yet, and we were keen for something new to do. We found way more than we expected.
The fish hatchery is completely free to visit, but pack some quarters to feed the fish. And save a few hours, because once you’re there, you won’t want to leave until you’ve done every single thing. Here’s a list of 10 things to see and do while you’re at the Willamette Fish Hatchery.
1. Visit the Museum
Open dawn to dusk, Monday through Sunday, the museum honors the hatchery’s history and displays the region’s fisheries and wildlife. It’s not staffed by a docent, but there are plenty of signs to tell you what’s what. Your kids will love watching large salmon and trout swim in the tanks and the wildlife diorama that fills half the room is a great chance to see animals up-close that you’re extremely unlikely to ever see in the wild.
Also included in the museum are historical artifacts – equipment and photos – that show the early days at the fish hatchery. I found these fascinating, as I love local history. Originally, this was two fish hatcheries: the Willamette Salmon Hatchery, constructed in 1911, and the Oakridge Trout Hatchery built right next door in 1922. They were combined in 1983 to form the Willamette Fish Hatchery.
Also displayed in the museum are local artworks related to fish, particularly salmon.
2. Feed rainbow trout and sturgeon
When you’re done in the museum, walk across the driveway to this lovely little pond. Enjoy a serene moment, and walk across the bridge. And then visit the sturgeon & trout feeding pond right next door. Bring plenty of quarters, these guys are hungry and will put on a show for you, thrashing in the water, and almost lifting themselves out of the water to get the food first. The sturgeon aren’t so greedy, but will quietly slide by underneath, eating whatever makes it to the bottom of the pond. The sturgeon are over 6 feet long, and are pretty impressive to see.
3. Visit the salmon & trout ponds
The star of any fish hatchery is the production ponds. Walk the aisles of the Willamette Fish Hatchery and see salmon and trout in almost every stage of development. The fish are fed a special krill-based diet, and if you happen to be there at feeding time, it’s a sight to see as the fish thrash and jump, their scales glistening in the sunlight.
Our tip: prep your kids for this trip by reading books about the life cycle of fish.
4. Have a picnic
Willamette Fish Hatchery has a wonderful picnicking area, with a picnic shelter and tables scattered among large Douglas fir trees. Since you can easily spend 3-4 hours here, pack a picnic and enjoy lunch! We felt like royalty, because every time a hatchery employee drove past, they waved at us. I felt like they genuinely welcome visitors, and no one blinked at our 6 kids.
5. View game birds
Near the picnic area is a large interpretive sign and a row of zoo-like enclosures containing a variety of Oregon game birds. Most of the enclosures were empty on our visit, but we did see pheasants and quail.
6. Marvel at a Totem Pole
Just past the game bird display is this story pole. The sign at the base reads:
“This Totem Pole is a representation of what they might have looked like. Totem Poles were mainly carved by the Native Americans located along the Northern Coast. Totem Poles can tell the history and genealogy of the individuals, families, and communities of the tribe and often depicts notable events and deeds of the people involved. They may also be spiritual or tell a story. – Carved and donated by Don Colp of Our Hearts Desire”
7. Nature Trail
After trying to guess the height of the Totem Pole, turn toward the nature trail. An interpretive sign at the start of the trail shows a short loop through the forest around the hatchery. We took a stroller on the trail, and survived, but there were areas we had to lift the stroller over roots or steps. The trail is not wheelchair accessible. As you traverse the trail, there are interpretive signs teaching about the flora and fauna of the forest, as well as hatchery history.
8. See the adult salmon
The nature trail ends at the back of the salmon portion of the hatchery. As we wandered down the road, we discovered a secluded deck with this sign saying “Open”. Turns out, below the deck you can see adult salmon! From June to September, the deck is open, and you can watch the salmon from your perch about 15 feet above the water. Fun fact sent in by a reader, the adult salmon are collected from the Dexter Ponds Hatchery just below Dexter Dam.
9. Mini Golf
For real! I don’t know who thought up the crazy idea to have a miniature golf course at a fish hatchery, but it’s brilliant. In a lovely building near the center of the fish hatchery is a 9-hole mini golf course. Balls and clubs are provided, along with scoring sheets and pencils. Each hole represents a part of the life cycle of salmon, and if you take the time to read the signs, you’ll learn all about every stage from egg to fry to adults spawning. We saved this for last, and all of our kids thoroughly enjoyed it. Plus, it’s free, so it really can’t get any better!
10. Enjoy the scenery and side exhibits
The Willamette Fish Hatchery is located just east of Oakridge, Oregon, and is nestled against the forested hills. There’s a view of the mountains from almost anywhere in the fish hatchery. In addition, the hatchery itself contains several delightful side exhibits that we didn’t expect.
If you go…
The Willamette Fish Hatchery is open daily from dawn to dusk.
From Oakridge: Take Hwy. 58 to Salmon Creek Road. Travel one mile on Salmon Creek Road to the hatchery. Salmon Creek Road is 1.7 miles east of the stop light in Oakridge.
From the east: Take Hwy. 58 to Salmon Creek Road, just west of the Hills Creek Reservoir turn-off.
Address and Phone:
76389 Fish Hatchery Road
Oakridge, OR 97463
Flush bathrooms are available near the museum and a portable bathroom is located near the picnic area.
Parking is available near the museum and near the picnic shelter.
Gas and restaurants are nearby in Oakridge, less than a mile from the hatchery.