Bonneville Fish Hatchery is the kind of place you might overlook when you’re browsing around for things to do in the Columbia River Gorge. I mean, it’s up against waterfalls and spectacular scenery and water sports and a lot of other things that sound more exciting than a fish hatchery.
But let me tell ya – if you’ve got young kids with you, or if you just really like fish, then this fish hatchery is what you need. It’s peaceful. It’s interesting to explore. And it’s still got all the things that make the Gorge so awesome to visit – forests and green spaces and some scenery.
And, if your kids woke up really early and everything else is closed, the fish hatchery is open to the public starting at 7 a.m.!
How to Get There
The hatchery’s address is:
70543 NE Herman Loop
Cascade Locks, OR 97014
What to Do at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery
Visiting the Bonneville Fish Hatchery is entirely self guided. You can take as long or as short as you want to explore.
The hatchery is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s largest hatchery and is used for a number of things – adult collection, incubating eggs, raising Chinook salmon, collection and spawning of adult coho salmon, as well as raising summer and winter steelhead and coho salmon. You don’t have to understand what any of those things are to enjoy a visit. The hatchery is open all year round and what you’ll see in the ponds depends on what time of year you visit. Adults are in the ponds in September and October.
However, what we most enjoyed was simply wandering around. We visited in early spring and teeny tiny baby fish were hanging out in the ponds. And the best part for us wasn’t the baby fish, but instead the ponds in the back, farthest away from the parking lot, that are home to some large rainbow trout and gigantic sturgeon.
Bring a few quarters because you can buy trout food from a machine and feed the rainbow trout. It’s fun and relaxing and a hit with kids of any age. Just don’t reach down to touch the trout because they can bite!
Next to the trout ponds is the Sturgeon Viewing Center, where you can peer at gigantic sturgeon from above or go into the viewing center and see them from underwater. All of the sturgeon are big, but watch for Herman. You’ll know him when you see him because he’s 10 feet long, weighs 500 pounds, and is 45 years old!
The Bonneville Lock & Dam
In the same parking lot, you can also visit the Bonneville Dam, which opens at 9 a.m. The dam has two visitor centers: the Bradford Island Visitor Center and Washington Shore Visitor Center.
The Bradford Island Visitor Center is probably more fun for younger children as not only can you learn about the history of the area and dam, but you can also watch fish make their way through a fish ladder via underwater windows. There’s a rooftop deck where you can enjoy some stellar views of the Columbia River Gorge. This visitor center is what’s easily accessed from the fish hatchery parking lot and both are accessed from the Oregon side of the river.
The Washington Shore Visitor Center is accessed from (you might have guessed) from the Washington side of the river. There are no fish viewing windows here, but expect plenty of exhibits that delve into the form and function of the dam and hydroelectric dams in the region overall. Delve into the natural and cultural history of the area. This is a great stop if you want to get a look at the inner workings of the dam as there’s a view of the powerhouse.
The navigation locks have their own visitor center (the locks help shipping and boating traffic get through the dam) where you can take a look at the obligatory informational plaques, but the real treat is if there happens to be a boat going through the locks. Obviously, there’s no set schedule for when boats come through.
What Else Can You Do Nearby?
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery and Dam are close to lots of other things to do in the Columbia River Gorge. We combined a visit with a trip to Horsetail and Multnomah Falls (which are just a few minutes away from each other and Wahkeenah Falls is not too far off either if you have time for a little hike).
The Columbia River Gorge has lots of things to do, none of which are more than an hour or two away. From riding the sternwheeler out of Cascade Locks to hanging out by the water in Hood River to hiking, fishing, boating, or windsurfing, here’s our list of what you can do in the Gorge. We used Skamania Lodge as a base, which is just a short drive away from just about everything in the region.