Thunder River Fish Hatchery Falls

Continuing along in Marinette county, my next stop was a waterfall that is clearly visible online but I had never heard of before. I started by driving to the Thunder River Fish Hatchery which is a DNR property that originally reared brown trout for Lake Michigan. It was closed in 2016 due to a change in conservation policy but is still accessible to walk around (see the DNR page here for details to be sure). I parked outside the gates and carefully walked around and down the hill on the paved road.

Once down at river level the area opens up a bit. To the left is a large field and access to the river. I’ve read reports there can be black bears here but I didn’t see any today. Make sense – it’s basically a ghost town with a river that has fish and no people, almost a bear’s paradise really.

Following the road leads you first to a large garage and towards a house. Based on the growth of weeds and grases it is clear nobody has used the area in several years. It’s peaceful but eerily silent as the trees and hills rise all around like you are down in a bowl.

A slightly closer look at the house further up the drive. There is a small parking area and some severely dilapidated outhouses which I am not sure are fit for use any longer. Don’t quote me on this but I believe the house was previously private property before transferring to the DNR so if you read other online sources claiming this area is private check their publication date.

Past the house and to the left are buildings dedicated to the fish rearing activities. None of them are open but you can look inside the windows and see how time stands still. Really isn’t anything of interest inside now. Over the years there have been millions of fish raised right here.

Here’s a close look at one of the rearing structures (or what is left of it). Seems like these troughs would be filled to hold the fish, and the overhead bars likely supported some kind of sun canopy or maybe a canvas shelter.

Back in the center of the paved circle drive is a sign showing a map of the area. I didn’t read this closely enough but I will explain that later on this post. When the hatchery was operating I believe they gave guided and self-guided tours which makes sense why it talks about not feeding the fish.

I mostly already knew where to go, but even if you showed up here and just looked around a bit you can easily find the falls. Walk towards the large group of buildings and follow the paved path until you see the sign that says “Waterfalls”.

Closer view of the sign. Read the sign. Follow the sign. Sign is life, sign is love.

Even if you don’t read the signs, just follow the paved path towards the place where you can clearly hear moving & falling water. It’s all paved and extremely easy to access.

The area leading up to the falls is looking quite nice today with all the fallen leaves covering the path. Just be careful, the pavement can be slippery from all the water misting into the air.

And here we have reached the falls. From the entrance gate to this point it is only about a 1/4 mile walk. You can also see how the South Fork Thunder River was dammed up at some point in the past. Most of the stones remain scattered around but the dam is functionly removed.

Here’s the least obstructed view I could get of the largest section of waterfall. I’d say it’s 10-15 feet in height depending on what you consider the bottom-most point. What surprised me the most is the volume of water moving here – it is EXTREMELY rapid and there is no question that the river being named the Thunder River is accurate.

Below the largest falls is a smaller 2 foot drop where it flows off remnants of the dam. It almost seems like this structure was used to “catch” fish in the boxed-in area. Maybe they captured fish who fell down the falls and then bred them in the rearing ponds? I have no idea how that stuff works but maybe I’ll read more about it now…

Downstream there are some other small 1-2 foot drops that are nice to look at but nothing too remarkable. A sign next to the largest falls says “KEEP OFF ROCKS” and walking downstream across them looks like a slippery and surefire way to get injured. Remember that sign I saw before? Had I looked closer, I might have seen the bridges across the river further downstream. I may return back here to get better photos next time I’m in this area.

Once finished I made the easy walk back up the hill and to the gates. Not very strenuous but a good glute workout to stretch your legs after all the driving. On to the next one!


Here’s a short video showing my short walk and the falls in action.

Hiking Data

I forgot to record my walking path on the app until I was already at the falls, but here is what a one-way trip looks like. Notice I walked from the falls up through the rearing building area to get a couple photos and then back to the entrance.

Stats confirm it’s a very short and easy walk. If you went in a straight line from the entrance gate to the falls it is less than 1/4 mile each way. I do think there is more than 30 feet in elevation change so maybe my logs aren’t fully accurate either (this happens sometimes in remote areas).

Lat = 45.2837181 , Long = -88.2835541 -- Show at Google Maps

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