Visiting the Durango Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum in Durango, Colorado.
Do you think fish are cool? Have you ever wondered where the fish that are in Colorado's various streams, rivers, and lakes get there when every year tens of thousands of people descend on them to fish for Rainbow Trout? They don't just magically appear, they are raised at fish hatcheries like the Durango Fish Hatchery where they can then be transported and released into Colorado waterways and grow up.
The Durango Fish Hatchery raises rainbow, brown, Snake River and native cutthroat trout, as well as Kokanee salmon. Durango stocks approximately 150,000 catchable rainbows and 1.3 million subcatchable fish each year in the southwest corner of Colorado. This is the oldest state-owned fish hatchery in Colorado (Leadville National Fish Hatchery is the oldest). Included on the property is the Durango Hatchery & Wildlife Museum. We went in June of 2021 to visit and the wildlife museum was closed due to Covid. The really interesting part of the facility however has always been the hatchery.
The tour of the hatchery is self-guided, you can walk it at your own pace and see as much or as little of the operation as you'd like. There are various spots along the raceways where you can buy fish pellets from quarter operated vending machines. Watching the fish swarm to eat the pellets is a sight to behold. It's like some sort of fishy mass moves and you can't really tell where water ends and fish begin.
As a kid living in Farmington we used to go to Durango all the time and I remember wanting to go see the Durango Fish Hatchery every time we'd visit Durango. It's a great place to let your kids get some exercise before heading further into the mountains or back towards Farmington. The hatchery didn't used to have safety nets when I was a kid, you could technically just jump into the fish runs, but I guess insurance has forced the hatchery to install nets over the ponds. In hindsight this was probably a smart idea.
The Durango Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum is located conveniently off highway 550 in town with an address of 151 East 16th Street, Durango, CO 81301 The hatchery and museum are free though donations are encouraged. The hatchery is open year round 8am-4pm but the museum is still closed due to Covid.
You can feed the fish.
One of the neatest part of the Durango fish hatchery is the fact that you can feed the fish. Normally petting zoos with Koi ponds have fish pellets you can buy from a converted gumball machine but this is something totally unique. Normally Trout are found in mountain lakes and streams. Trout are not often seen out in the open because they are a vital food source for various birds and animals that make the Rockies and San Juan ranges their home. The fact that you can get right up next to them and feed them makes for a very unique encounter with one of the world's most prized game fish.
Speaking of encounters with fish, expect to see hundreds of thousands of juvenile fish swimming in the ponds. With over a million fish released every year the hatchery has thousands of fish in various stages of getting ready to be released.
There's even a breeding stock of adults in a separate pond where you can see and even feed trophy sized trout and get very close to them. These fish are beautiful specimens and it's rare that someone gets a chance to get so close to large trout without actually catching them. It's also a wonderful chance for your kids to see these amazing fish up close.
It's a great spot to photograph the Durango and Silverton steam trains.
Ok, I realize there isn't a photo of a train here but I had other places to be the day we went and couldn't wait around for a steam locomotive to come by.
However the opportunities that you have here to photograph the trains from inside the town of Durango are awesome. There are several very nice angles to photograph the trains as they cross the Animas river from the Rotary Park that shares a paved walking trail and parking lot with the hatchery. There's a walking bridge that goes out across the Animas which gives you a nice profile view of the railroad bridge.
Overall the hatchery should be on your list of places to visit if you are going to be visiting Durango for any significant length of time, especially with children since the hands-on appeal of the hatchery combined with an interesting animal seen in a totally unique way makes this a wonderful place to bring your children.