10 things to see and do at the Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge

10 things to see and do at the Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge

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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.

Sign post at Willamette Fish Hatchery near Eugene

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.

Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge - museum

The museum at the hatchery is open from dawn to dusk (officially closed from 10 pm to 4 am). Parking is right up front, and a bathroom is just a few feet away.

Live fish exhibit at fish hatcheries near eugene - Willamette Fish Hatchery

A tank with live fish, and a poster detailing each species within, will have your kids jostling for the best position in front of the glass. It’s a good thing you’re taller than your kids, because you’ll want to see, too.

Willamette Fish hatchery near Eugene

One full wall of the museum is a very realistic diorama of local animals. Each one is labeled, and while not a technically great photo, I love that you can see how intrigued and engaged my kids are. They’re 8 and 13, so not always easy to impress!

Visit fish hatcheries near Eugene - Willamette Fish Hatchery

Part of the animal display. It’s much bigger than this, but this photo gives an idea of what it looks like.

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.

Machinery at Willamette Fish Hatchery

This machine is shown in use in the photo below.

Also displayed in the museum are local artworks related to fish, particularly salmon.

Fish hatchery in Oakridge

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.

Pond at Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge

Sit a spell, or chase your kids around the pond. Wanna guess what we did?

Fish hatchery near Eugene

The bridge is a quaint addition to the fish hatchery, and a lovely spot for reflection or photos.

Fish hatchery Oregon - Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge, near Eugene - visit with your kids

The trout are especially hungry, and will make the water seem to boil with their thrashing to get the food. I think my kids would have been perfectly happy to feed them all day. Fish food vending machines are available, bring quarters!

Willamette Fish Hatcery near eugene

The giant sturgeon stay at the bottom, but you can get a pretty good view; they’re interested in the food, too.

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.

Production ponds at Willamette Fish Hatchery - salmon and trout

There are a LOT of production ponds at Willamette Fish Hatchery. Some are for salmon, and some are for trout. A few of the ponds were empty on our visit, but most had fish, ranging from a few inches long and silvery in the sunlight, to nearly full-grown fish clamoring for food (there isn’t any…you’re not allowed to feed these fish, and they’re fed a special diet on a schedule by hatchery staff).

Visit fish hatcheries near Eugene - Willamette Fish Hatchery

Ponds with smaller fish are covered by nets to protect them from birds.

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.

Picnic at Willamette Fish Hatchery

We took a full lunch and chose a table under the trees. Parking is nearby, and the picnic shelter is a central hub for the hatchery: salmon to one side, trout to the other.

School field trip to Willamette Fish Hatchery

The shelter is great for drippy days, or for larger groups. Our school takes 4th graders to the hatchery on a field trip, and uses the shelter for lunch.

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.

Game birds at Willamette Fish Hatchery

A nicely designed display of upland game birds, a unique addition to the hatchery.

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”

Don Colp carving at Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge

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.

Nature Hike at fish hatchery near oakridge

The nature trail is the perfect chance for little ones to stretch their legs. It’s a short hike, approximately 1/2 mile.

Nature trail at fish hatchery near eugene

The trail is flat and easy. There are roots and narrow spots that made it less than ideal for our stroller, but we made it through with a little jostling.

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, it’s where the adult salmon return to the hatchery for spawning.  From June to September, the deck is open and you can watch the salmon from your perch about 15 feet above the water.

Adult salmon return to Oakridge Fish Hatchery.

Look for this sign during spawning season! It leads to a secluded deck overlooking the adult salmon run.

Adult salmon return to hatchery near Oakridge

Watch adult salmon undulate in the water below this deck. Every summer, June to September, salmon raised at the hatchery return from the ocean to this spot to spawn. But watch your kids and their cups…mine tossed his overboard. Yikes. A very kind (although perhaps somewhat disgruntled, not that I blame him) hatchery employee retrieved it for us. We honestly were more concerned about the fish than we were our water bottle, but it was nice to have it back, too.

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!

Willamette Fish Hatchery near Oakridge, Oregon - mini golf course

If we’d kept a tally according to this sign (starting with 35 fish), I’m pretty sure we’d have all had a big fat ZERO by the end! It’s no small thing for salmon to run the gauntlet of the ocean and return to their spawning ground.

Mini golf at Oakridge fish hatchery

Big kids and parents played by the rules while the little ones mostly ran back and forth. We all enjoyed playing here; the mini golf was a delightful surprise.

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.

Oakridge Fish Hatchery

The hatchery contains several little landscape features like this one, usually with a carved animal figure and some sort of water feature.

This Japanese-style water feature includes another species of fish: Koi. Our kids loved watching the brightly colored fish, and it was right at their level so they could easily see them.

History at Willamette Fish Hatchery

I just find these old, unused production ponds fascinating. The colors, and the round shape, and the grass growing inside. They arouse my curiosity.

Oak Ridge Fish Hatchery

A carved map of the Willamette watershed.

 

If you go…

The Willamette Fish Hatchery is open daily from dawn to dusk.

Directions:
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:
Willamette Hatchery
76389 Fish Hatchery Road
Oakridge, OR 97463
(541) 782-2933

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.

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I’m a middle-aged mom of 3-6 and sometimes more, depending on day. I’m out of shape and usually exhausted. Our favorite summertime activity (and often on dry winter days) is getting outdoors and finding adventure.

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