Growing up in Seattle, one of our family’s favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon was visit the Ballard Locks. Watching boats pass through the locks process, exploring the botanical gardens and looking for fish on the fish ladder was fun and free entertainment that still draws local families and tourists alike.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (locally known as the Ballard Locks) is a waterway system that connects the saltwater of the Puget Sound to the fresh water of the Ship Canal, the conduit to Lake Union and Lake Washington, which sits about 20 feet above sea level. The system is comprised of 2 sizes of locks to accommodate smaller boats or larger ships. It’s awe-inspiring to watch as boats enter the locks, the huge doors close off the waterway, and the water levels either rise or fall to the level of the destination waterway. Once the water level inside the locks is the same as the destination waterway, the warning alarm sounds, the giant doors open and the boat or boats continue through. Visitors can stand along the railing and watch the action. It’s quite a process; you might see anything from a one-man sea kyak, to a large ship, or even a group of boats rafted together during busier times.
Next to the locks is a walkway that runs along the the spillway, adjoining the lock system to the fish ladder, which was built to accommodate the salmon run. This ladder allows the salmon to migrate to the sea after being born in the fresh water, then return to the fresh water to spawn. At times this has also been a favorite place for sea lion to congregate to take full advantage of the salmon snack opportunity. The fish ladder can be viewed from above, or you can walk down to an underwater viewing area and education center.
Surrounding the Ballard Locks are 7 acres of botanical gardens and walkways to stroll through and enjoy. All areas are wheelchair accessible.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks / Ballard Locks
3015 NW 54th St
Seattle, WA 98107