One million — that’s how many fish are planted throughout Michigan’s streams, rivers and lakes each year by Oden State Fish Hatchery. For a free visit with these wiggly critters, head northeast out of Petoskey on U.S. 31 and, just before you hit Oden, turn left at the sign for Michigan Fisheries Visitor Center (231-348-0998 for group tour reservations). The visitor center, located at the site of the original 1920 hatchery, has kid-friendly informational videos, guided tour schedules and colorful brochures with fun facts.

Just outside the visitor center is the refurbished Wolverine railcar, which transported fish to planting sites in the early 1900’s. Check out the massive milk cans used to hold the fish on their journeys, which ranged from three hours to three days. Then mosey up the walking path to the stream-viewing chamber, a cool underground room that provides a gotta-see-it cross-section view of Oden Stream and all its aquatic inhabitants.

At the hatchery, tour guides explain the lifecycles of the rainbow and brown trout raised here. There are incubation trays packed with thousands of eggs, tanks holding up to 50,000 just-hatched fish called fry and cool outdoors raceways filled with young trout. After, head back down the path to see "retired" breeding trout in ponds — for a dime, get a handful of food pellets to throw in and watch the fish snap them up. Speaking of food, the irresistible breakfast-all-day options up the road at Alanson’s Dutch Oven Shops (U.S. 31 N, 231-548-2231) are not to be missed. Order up the French toast strata — thick slices of cinnamon bread stuffed with cream cheese, apples and pecan praline sauce, served with Michigan maple syrup.

Up-close, innovative displays and hands-on interaction make Oden State Fish Hatchery an exciting and educational outing for day-trippers of all ages. Don’t miss the stream-viewing chamber, where you’re sure to find adults and kids side-by-side with noses nearly pressed against the glass for a better view.

Emily Bingham is assistant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s

Note: This article was first published in April 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.