Seattle’s Ballard Locks, Explore a Local Gem

Locally known as the Ballard Locks, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle are a beautiful outdoor centre of exciting activity in one of Seattle’s most appealing places to enjoy a perfect day for families with children, nature lovers and historic locations.

This is a great, family friendly, free attraction in Seattle. It is a site maintained by the US Army Corp of Engineers and there is no admission charge. The historic buildings are beautiful and the park grounds are ideal for a picnic. A family can easily enjoy half a day strolling the locks, and viewing the historic sites, and Fish Ladder!

Construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks was completed in 1917 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Connecting the waters of Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay to the tidal waters of Puget Sound, the canal and locks allow recreational and commercial vessels to travel to the docks and warehouses of Seattle’s busy fresh water harbor.

The complex of locks sit in the middle of Salmon Bay and are part of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. They are known locally as the Ballard Locks after the neighborhood to their north. (Magnolia lies to the south.)

The locks and associated facilities serve three purposes:

  • To maintain the water level of the fresh water Lake Washington and Lake Union at 20 to 22 feet above sea level.
  • To prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the lakes (saltwater intrusion).
  • To move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa.

Fish Ladder

Salmon have always been vital to the Pacific Northwest’s ecosystem. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District Engineer Maj. Hiram M. Chittenden, for whom the locks are now named, understood this and planned on incorporating a fish ladder in the designs when he proposed building them in the early 1900s. All fish, including endangered salmon, must pass through the locks, spillway or the fish ladder to move between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. In 1976, Corps of Engineers officials renovated and improved the ladder to reflect changes in fish conservation. Today’s ladder has 21 steps, or weirs, which allow the fish to swim upstream on a gradual incline. For many years the locks has been the focus of studies detailing migrating juvenile and adult salmon behavior.

The best times for viewing salmon migrating upstream in the ladder are:

  • Chinook, or King Salmon, July through November (best viewing last two weeks of August)
  • Coho, or Silver Salmon, August through November (best viewing last two weeks of September)
  • Sockeye, or Red Salmon, June through October (best viewing July)
  • Steelhead, November through May, (best viewing last two weeks of February and March)
Watching for Salmon too! Herons and otters also visit the Fish Ladder.
Watching for Salmon too! Herons and otters also visit the Fish Ladder.

Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden

These lovely grounds are a masterpiece of horticultural splendor, combining the elegant lines and vistas of the romantic English landscape style with the original character of more than 570 species and 1,500 varieties from around the world. One of Seattle’s best kept secrets is yours to enjoy. The garden offers color, fragrance, and open spaces to awaken your senses all year long.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks Visitor Information

Parking is $2.00/hour for a maximum of three hours. Pay stations accept debit and credit cards, and coins. Payment is required for parking Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Chittenden Locks Lake Washington Ship Canal
3015 NW 54th St
Seattle, WA 98107

Fish Ladder Viewing Room Hours: 7 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Visitor Center Hours
May-September: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. open daily
October-April: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Enjoy!

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