Ballard Locks, Seattle
Watch how engineering works in the old days! At the Ballard Locks, you see how the tag boats, yachts and other boats go in and out of the Puget Sound by passing through a canal that is regulated. It is amazing how the boats go up and down the canal to get into the Lake Union.
During the salmon season (April) , you will see thousands of adult salmon swim against the current to get into the fresh water to lay their eggs! There is a place to watch this! It is spectacular to see how hard it is for a single female salmon to swim against the current and sacrifice its life just to lay its eggs in the fresh water. On a clear day, you will see a lot of fish jumping at the canal.
Going to the Ballard Locks is beautiful because it is surrounded with beautiful fauna! There is a collection of fuschia at the botanical garden. The lamp posts on the path to the locks are decorated with hanging plants. The different kinds of trees add to the beauty of the botanical garden!
One of the pleasantest ways to spend a lazy Sunday summer afternoon is at the free concerts at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. You’ll see families, cyclists taking a break, friends picnicking, hikers, and tourists who come to gawk at the Locks.
The performances are on Sundays from 1400-1500, June to early September. The Locks and grounds themselves are open daily from 0700 – 2100. The performers represent diverse musical talents of Seattle, including jazz bands, woodwind quartets, big bands, Dixieland, swing, and Northern Indian. Typically Northwest bands include the Boeing Employees Concert Band, Microsoft Orchestra, and the West Seattle Big Band (pictured, photo #2).
Then, watch the fascinating lock activity – which is usually quite busy on a Sunday, with every size of boat imaginable being lifted up or descending the 26 feet between Puget Sound’s saltwater and the freshwater of the Ship Canal. This 90-year-old facility was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, whose Administration Building, designed in Renaissance Revival Style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building looks out over the large lock, as line handlers tether themselves to the dock for safety, while assisting vessels to tie up alongside (photo #3).
On the far side of the Locks are the underground viewing windows for the fish ladder, which allows the salmon to leap upstream toward spawning grounds. In summer, the salmon running are Sockeye (red), Chinook (king), and Coho (silver).
The Locks are surrounded by English estate-style gardens created by Carl S. English in the 1930s. These are a great spot for picknicking, relaxing, or walking. Hikers who want more challenge (photo #4), can cross to the Magnolia side where the wild Discovery Park offers hours of hiking with stunning Puget Sound views.
If you forgot to pack a picnic, you can pick up fish-and-chips at nearby Totem House, a Seattle icon since 1948 (photo #5). Or, stock up on goodies first at the Sunday Ballard Farmer’s Market, a 0.5-mile walk (see Tip).
Also known as the Ballard Locks, it was completed in 1916 and inaugurated in 1917. The locks were built to link the waters of Puget Sound, on one hand, and Lakes Washington and Union, on the other, so that products from the hinterlands such as coal and timber could be more efficiently transported to the port of Seattle. It is named after the principal U.S. Army Corps engineer who supervised the construction.
Today, it is the busiest lock system in the United States (and the third busiest tourist attraction in Seattle) and it's a great place to get the feel for the maritime life of Seattle. On a busy summer weekend, it's a veritable maritime parade of pleasure boats, fishing boats, barges, and cargo vessels.
It's more than just a one-dimensional attraction. From early summer to fall, you can watch salmonid fishes migrate through the fish ladder from a special viewing gallery. Adjacent to the locks is the beautiful Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden, which features flowering trees for all seasons. Free outdoor concerts are held on weekends during the warm seasons. A small visitor center has worthwhile displays explaining the history and the rationale for the locks, and its operation.
At the locks if you cross over you will find the fish ladder. This is how they get cross over. That was nice of the environmentalist to consider those fish don’t you think? From the picture you can see the activity was light during my visit. Not sure where they all were but I am sure and arasnosliw has witnessed it when the ladder is completely full and they are frantically bumping into each other. That would be much more fun to watch!
It was a very interesting place. We watched them lock boats up from the salt water Puget Sound into the freshwater lake Washington and vice versa. The fish ladder had viewing window to watch the salmon swim up to their spawning streams.(pictures taken did not develop. The saltwater area where the fresh water from the ladder spills into the sound was teeming with large salmon, getting used to the fresh water, it takes 4 or 5 days for the fish to acclimate themselves to the fresh water. There were also some art sculptures there. And the best part it is free.
On Saturday, since it was Maritime Day, I took a bus out to Ballard to look at the Hiram M Chittenden Locks that link the freshwater Lake Union and the salt-water Lake Washington across a height difference of 22 feet. The locks allow boats to cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal, relying solely on the force of gravity. I also saw the Carl S English, Jr Botanical Garden. This was FREE.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The grounds at the Locks are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday - Sunday, including all holidays. The fish ladder viewing gallery closes at 8:45 p.m. FREE guided tours are provided from March 1 through November 30.
The official website says:The complex includes two locks, a small (30 x 150 ft, 8.5 x 45.7 meter) and a large (80 x 825, 24.4 x 251.5 meter). The complex also includes a (235-foot, 71.6 meter) spillway with six (32 x 12-foot (3.7 m), 9.8 x 3.7 meter) gates to assist in water-level control. A fish ladder is integrated into the locks for migration of anadromous fish, notably salmon.
The grounds feature a visitors center, as well as the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens.
Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the locks were formally opened on July 4, 1917, although the first ship passed on August 3, 1916. They were named after U.S. Army Major Hiram Martin Chittenden, the Seattle District Engineer for the Corps of Engineers from April 1906 to September 1908. They were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks provide a link for boats between the saltwater of the Puget Sound and the fresh water of the Ship Canal connecting to Lake Union and Lake Washington.
On the day of my visit to the locks there was a lot of activity. I think there was some racing or something going on and or it was one of the first days of the spring / summer when all the boats where getting out on the water again. As you can see from the picture the locks were full. A lot of people just come to watch the boats go through. As you approach the locks as well there is a nice heavily wooded area with plenty of nice flowers and stuff.
All of the signs directing you here will say "Ballard Locks" and pretty much anyone you ask for directions will use the term "Ballard Locks", but the official name of this water transportation link between Lake Washington and Lake Union and Puget Sound is actually the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
As the name implies, the locks are located in the Ballard area of Seattle, which is north of downtown on the other side of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Constructing this canal created a short link between Puget Sound and Lake Union in 1916, although the official opening was in 1917.
There are two sections of the locks: one for small craft and one for larger vessels.
One unique feature of the locks are the walkways along the top of the lock gates. These allow visitors to the facility to walk between Magnolia and Ballard, and completely around the locks area. It is possible to see the walkways on top of the locks in photo 1 and photo 3. It is a popular place for people to come and simply watch the ships go through the locks. Thanks to the walkways and fences to keep people out of harm's way, it is possible to watch the locks work in a very close setting: ships are tied and locked only feet away from the visitors.
If you are using the bike path that uses this route as a connector between Magnolia and Ballard, be aware that you are supposed to walk your bike while in the locks area. It is very crowded with people and someone on a bike would not be a good mix with the traffic flow here.
There are parks on the north and south side of the locks: on the north side you will find the small but very attractive Carl S. English Jr., Botanical Gardens, while the south side features Commodore Park. Both parks feature grass terraces that allow visitors to view the ships and boats in the locks.
A fish ladder is located on the south side of the locks, and it is possible to go into an under-water viewing room to watch the fish pass through here. Winter months apparently see much less fish through the ladder, but I found the number of fish at pretty good levels in August.
There is an indoor visitor's center that is much less visited than watching the locks (why see static diplays about the locks when you can see the real thing?) but feature some good historical information about the locks that may be useful to keep in mind.
Ballard Locks Visitor's Center and some of its displays
My Carl English Botanical Gardens tip
My Commodore Park tip (this park is on the south side of the locks, and while maintained by the city of Seattle is basically part of the Locks complex, and provides viewing from the south side of ships entering the locks).
How to Get Here: From the Ballard area, head west on Market Street until it branches into two one way streets. The Ballard Locks parking area is one block west and one block south of this division in the road. Bus routes #17 (from downtown Seattle) and #44 (from the University District) are the two most frequent bus routes that serve the area. It is also a fairly easy walk to get here from the main Ballard business district, though much of the route is next to busy Market Street.
This is fun on a sunny day! The Ballard locks (officially Hiram M. Chittenden Locks ) allow passage of boats between Lakes Union and Washington without letting seawater from the Puget Sound into the freshwater lakes. There are two set of locks: a large one for commercial vessels and a smaller one for pleasure craft. A unique feature than will be a hit with the kids is the underwater fish ladder. When the locks were built, they blocked a natural salmon run so a series of steps were created to allow them a way around the barrier. From a window underground, you can watch adult salmon fight their way upstream to spawn and juveniles rush downstream to the ocean.
The locks area also includes lovely Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden - 1,500 type of plants spread over 7 lush acres with perfect spots for a picnic - and a Visitor Center. There's no food but The Lockspot Cafe and Totem Fish House are both just a short walk from the parking lot. There are also concerts on summer weekend afternoons. See the website for directions, hours, peak spawning seasons, event schedule and other good stuff. See this website also for more pictures:
The locks, fish ladder and gardens are free - parking is $1.50 for 3 hours.
The Locks Cruise was awesome! It started on the harbor and sailed along the coast line, giving us a great look at many of the beautiful homes and buildings decorating Seattle's skyline. We saw a few harbor seals on the beach and buyous, which was cool. It was also really interesting to go through the locks. The captain of our boat explained the whole process as we went through it and it was just a neat experience.
This is as fun a place as everyone says, though I wasn't as mesmerized by the locks as many seem to be. It was fun watching boats go through a few times and the locks crew was very friendly with our dog (quickest way to a dog person's heart). How strange it must feel for the transferring boaters to have all those people gawking at them.
I highly recommend the fish ladder - it is exciting seeing the wild salmon so close and the kids' reactions are fun. I also highly recommend Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, which has lovely county English style flower gardens. If you are in a picnic mood, the terraced grounds overlooking the locks are a great location for sitting.
If you are here in late summer the salmon are running, and in addition to watching the boats go up and down in the locks (connecting seawater to freshwater) you can watch the salmon jump around and you can see them through special viewing windows.
Visitors watch as boats make the transition from the fresh water of Lake Washington and Lake Union to the salt water of Puget Sound through Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, Seattle's Scandinavian neighborhood.
It interesting to see the locks, the fish ladder and the garden. Be mindful where you stand so that you are not in the way when they open the gates.
It is best not to do a city tour because they do not take you deep into the garden.