Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery

The Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, in conjunction with the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery, supplies fish for restoration efforts in the upper river while supporting existing fishery programs downstream. The hatchery releases approximately 7.5 million spring Chinook, fall Chinook and coho salmon each year. Tacoma Power owns the facility and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife operates it with our funding and support.

The hatchery opened in 1968 when Mossyrock Dam was completed. At the time, it was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. In 2010, we rebuilt the salmon hatchery with two goals in mind:

  • To provide a healthy environment for the early life stages of hatchery fish.
  • To help increase the number of adult fish that return to spawn.

Special design features of the hatchery include:

  • A system that allows young fish to swim into the river when they are ready to migrate downstream.
  • Raceways, or pools, that help reduce the risk of disease for young fish.
  • Sorting facilities for separating fish by species.
  • A re-circulating water treatment system that ensures the water temperature at the facility closely matches the river’s temperature.

How the Hatchery Works

To help juvenile and adult fish get safely around Mossyrock Dam and Mayfield Dam, our employees use trucks to transport fish upstream where we release them at sites on the Tilton, Cowlitz and Cispus rivers to continue their spawning journey. This is called a trap-and-haul process.

As juvenile fish begin their downstream journey from the upper watershed, they are collected by our Cowlitz Falls North Shore Collector, which runs through Lewis County Public Utility District’s Cowlitz Falls Dam, the uppermost dam on the Cowlitz River. From here we transport the fish to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery where they are placed in large stress relief ponds where they can rest. After acclimating, the fish are released into the river to continue their trip to the ocean.

Barrier Dam

Barrier Dam sits next to the salmon hatchery. Its purpose is to divert all adult fish migrating upriver to a fish ladder that leads to a separating station where we sort them by species. We then transport some of the fish to spawning areas in the Tilton, Cispus and upper Cowlitz Rivers. The rest are kept at the hatchery to produce the next generation of salmon (i.e., broodstock).

The Barrier Dam boat launch is located near the hatchery and includes a parking lot, restrooms and an ADA-accessible fishing ramp that allows anglers with disabilities to fish at various river elevations. There is no fee to use the boat launch.


Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center

Please note: The Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center reopened on April 1, 2022.  

Our hatchery includes an award-winning public education center where you can learn about the life cycle of salmon and our hatchery restoration efforts through interactive displays. You can also take an outdoor, self-guided tour of the hatchery areas open to the public.

Some of the games and exhibits at the visitor center include:

  • Lose Your Marbles – In which you dump a pail of “salmon eggs” into a simulated stream, then guide them around the room on their journey from the hatchery to the ocean and back.
  • Heft-a-Salmon – Lift fiberglass salmon weighing between 1.7 ounces and 17 pounds to get a sense of their size.
  • Sort the Fish – When a fish appears on the screen, decide if it is a hatchery or natural-born salmon or steelhead — much like our staff does.

Visitor Center Hours

  • Monday – Friday: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Directions to the Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center and Barrier Dam Boat Launch

From Interstate 5, take Highway 12 East about 12 miles. Turn right on Fuller Road. Continue until the T intersection and turn left on Spencer Road. Stay right at the Y in the road. Take the second left into the visitor center parking lot, or drive straight to get to the Barrier Dam boat launch and fishing area.

Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center
199 Salmon Lane
Salkum, WA 98582

Barrier Dam Boat Launch
279 Barrier Dam Lane
Salkum, WA 98582