A Picnic at the Fish Hatchery
Pack: dress comfortably and for lots of direct sun, a spare set of clothes for the kids, sunscreen, picnic lunch and drinks, disposable cups (to hold the fish food), hand sanitizer.
Park: free open lot above the Hatchery on Brook Trout Drive
Cost: lunch from The Market – $5.99, the Hatchery – FREE!!!!
Hours: the path is open from dawn until dusk but the Hatchery closes at 3pm.
1. Grab lunch & enjoy the drive.
If you are organized and have food at home, pack it up and go! If you’ve been sick for the past week and the pantry is empty (like me), swing by the amazing deli at The Market! We got a turkey sandwich on Dutch Crunch bread and one sandwich was so big there was enough for me and both kids! It was delicious!! Also, stop by their bakery and ask for a free cookie for each of the kids and a bag. (Technically they are supposed to eat the cookie while you shop, but I let mine have a couple bites and then I packed them up for after lunch.) Now, I bought chips and waters too, but really the sandwich and cookies were plenty… lunch for all of us for $5.99!!!
Ok, so you’ve got the food, now take the nice little drive up to Friant. We always enjoy this drive into the foothills with the beautiful views of the Sierras, but right now it’s GORGEOUS! Go on a clear day this spring. The grasses are green, the sky is bluest of blue, the wildflowers are blooming, and the mountains are covered in snow. This short little jaunt clears my head and soothes my soul.
2. Have a picnic.
I’d recommend eating when you get there. The food will be fresh and hands will be as clean as they’ll be all day. There are lots of covered and uncovered picnic tables down near Small Fry Children’s Trail. It is a beautiful area and is usually very clean, though the tables sometimes need a wipe-down. They also have lots of trash cans throughout the park and we appreciate this lovely space, so we are careful to leave it cleaner than we found it!
3. Play in the park.
The Small Fry Children’s Trail (park) is wonderful and unique. Along the trail there are multiple play areas that follow the life of a fish. From digging up cement fish eggs in the gravel, to spinning on cat tails, climbing a giant fisherman’s net, or swinging on a bobber, there are so many fun things for the kids to play on and explore. And, it is all done beautifully amongst the natural landscape. As you walk from one play area to the next along the trail, the different native plants are labeled to educate visitors. The other great thing about this trail/park… I’ve never seen it crowded. In all of our visits we usually have the place to ourselves or maybe cross paths with one other family in our entire visit. It really is a hidden gem in the Central Valley!
4. Feed the fish.
Once the kids are done playing along the trail, head over to the San Joaquin Hatchery. There is an indoor area where the fish are hatched that can be visited, but I have actually not been in there. We go straight to the fenced area with the long rows of pools full of trout and salmon. Near the entrance of the hatchery there is a fish food dispenser. They have recently changed it so that very little food is released because people were dumping buckets of food into the water. It is free, so take what you’d like to use. Despite our giant nearly empty cups of food, the fish were more active today than I have ever seen them and were jumping out of the water even when we weren’t dropping the food in! The kids absolutely love it!
*A few recommendations: Discuss the rules of the hatchery with your kids before you get started to keep both the fish and your kids safe. There are signs all around warning not to touch the fish or the water. Also, be warned, there are dead fish here and there from birds catching them and leaving the remains. And, speaking of birds, there is also bird poop on the cement walls of the fish pools, and the kids often lean into it as they look over at the fish. It’s not really as bad as it sounds… It’s NATURE! (But, for all of these reasons I recommend bringing hand sanitizer and a change of clothes. There is a restroom on the property but it doesn’t have soap.)
5. Let the kids run off any remaining energy!
The paths between the fish pools are nice and long, and as you can see… no one is here! Let them run!!!
6.On your way to the parking lot, stop at the “stage” of the amphitheater and have your kids sing a song!
We discovered this for the first time today and it was really neat! If you stand on the path at the bottom of the amphitheater facing the seats and speak/sing/what-have-you, you can hear your voice amplified through the area. Kellan got up and sang a few Bubble Guppies tunes! The crowd went wild! 😉
7. Enjoy a quiet drive home, as the kids conk out from an awesome adventure.