Last week I learned that Arizona has 6 fish hatcheries in the state. I’ve never been to a fish hatchery. Turns out, this weekend we camped near the most popular one, at Tonto Creek. So we stopped by on the way home.
Located at about 6,500 feet elevation in the Tonto National Forest, the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is a great place to escape the desert summer heat, or to play in winter snow. The hatchery and surrounding wetland area are good places for picnics, hiking and watching wildlife. A Google Earth Map search marks center of the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery Main Entrance Pond at about 34o 22′ 54.06″ N 111o 05′ 51.26″ W.
The hatchery is completely free to visit. Parking is free, the tour is self-guided and the visitor’s center is unstaffed.
We parked in a lower parking lot and saw a sign that the hatchery was a 1/4 mile up the road. Some of our party piled into the minivan and some of us opted to walk the short, but steep walk. The Hatchery is open from 8 am — 4 pm daily, except holidays. We visited on a Saturday in June and there was a steady flow of people, but not enough to feel crowded.
The hatchery is a series of fish runs. The first run we saw was a large pond teeming with mature fish. You walk up the hill to shaded fish runs and then the walk culminates in the visitor’s center which has the smallest fish and some educational displays.
The 4 mile drive to the Hatchery from 260 is lined with hiking trails and campsites. There is a creek in view, lots of vibrant green and reportedly a good place to hike and bird watch. What would you pick? Do you like to hike or bird watch or splash in a creek?
Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery produces and stocks about 165,000 catchable rainbow trout and 400,000 brook and cutthroat trout each year, plus about 150,000 of Arizona’s state fish-the Apache trout. Our state fish was on the endangered species list, but thanks to places like this hatchery the Apache trout is bouncing back. You can read the story of how we almost lost our state fish again as a result of the 2011 Wallow Fire in the Sitgreaves Forest.
Mom Note: Bring quarters to buy fish food from the dispensers. We passed some inviting hiking trails in the parking lot, the trailheads for Horton Creek Trail 285 and Derrick Trail 33 are located in the campground. Both of these trails access the Highline National Recreation Trail (#31). Tonto Fish Hatchery is four miles north of Highway 260 on Forest Road 289. (Of the 6 fish hatcheries, 5 are open to the public. To learn more about AZ fish hatcheries, read their FAQ page.)