Visiting Seattles' Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks, Seattle, Washington

TripSavvy / Noah Kreyenhagen

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, more popularly known as the "Ballard Locks," is worth visiting for a number of reasons. Located along a waterway near a number of great seafood restaurants like Red Mill Totem House and The Lockspot Cafe, Ballard Locks is the quintessential Seattle landmark. Children, in particular, will enjoy watching the Lake Washington Ship Canal locks operate to assist the boats that pass between Lake Union and the Puget Sound. Another highlight is the fish ladder used by salmon to travel upstream to the waters of Lake Washington and beyond.

The Ballard Locks

The Ballard Locks are located in Salmon Bay, just west of upper Lake Union, and are part of what is known as the Lake Washington Ship Canal. This canal connects Lake Washington, Lake Union, and the Puget Sound and the locks are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

First of all, what's a lock? A lock is a device constructed to allow boats and ships to pass between stretches of water that are at different levels. In the case of the Ballard Locks, it is a water passage that allows boats of all kinds to pass back and forth between Lake Union and the Puget Sound. These particular locks also function to keep the saltwater of Puget Sound out of the freshwater lakes of Seattle.

The Fish Ladder at the Ballard Locks

Boats and ships aren't the only things that pass between Puget Sound and inland waters. Fish, particularly salmon and steelhead, also make use of the man-made route via a fish ladder that is part of the facility. You can experience the large silvery fish making their journey by spending some time peering through one of the underwater-viewing windows.

According to the folks that operate the locks, the seasons for viewing the mature salmon making their way back to their spawning grounds are:

  • Chinook/King salmon: July through mid-October with peak time during the last two weeks in August.
  • Coho/Silver salmon: August through mid-October with peak time during the last two weeks of September.
  • Sockeye/Red salmon: June through mid-October with peak time during July.

The Visitor Center at the Ballard Locks

The visitor center provides the opportunity to learn more about the history and operation of the Ballard Locks. Located in a charming historic structure, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 1 to Sept. 30. It's open Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Oct. 1 to April 30. You can learn about the history of the locks, attend talks, shop at the gift shop, and sign up for a free, hour-long, walking tour of the locks.

The Garden at the Ballard Locks

The grounds around the Ballard Locks and the visitor center are home to the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden, which provides visitors with a lovely place to stroll and picnic. Special events, including live music and garden shows, take place on the grounds throughout the summer.

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