At the Ballard Locks you can hang out on a beautiful day and experience many of the very things that Seattle is known for. There's boat-watching as boats of all different sizes and shapes make their way throught the locks. There's the salmon jumping and swimming upstream and through the fish ladder. There's lots of open space for picnics, a rose garden, botanical garden, rhododendrons and more.
Just inside the front gate on 54th Street in Ballard is the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden, an English estate style garden designed by horticulturist Carl S. English. The garden includes over 500 species and 1,500 varieties of plants from around the world. The garden is open year round but the best time for the most blooms is late spring to early summer. You can see a list of what's in bloom at different times of the year on the Ballard Locks' website.
The fish ladder is located on the other side of the locks from the gardens. A fish ladder is a structure designed to help fish that travel between salt and fresh water, such as salmon, pass through or around manmade barriers such as dams. At the Ballard Locks, the fish ladder helps the salmon go from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington and vice versa. There is an underwater viewing area where you can observe the fish through large glass windows. The best time to see lots of salmon is July, August, and September.
Be sure to go into the visitor center. There are displays and information on the history of the locks, and how it all works. The gift shop is very nice as well - lots of books, photos, and posters. Great stuff for the classroom if you're an educator! The visitor center also offers guided tours of the gardens and locks from March to November.
There is no food sold here, but there are several eating places within walking distance in Ballard. Right outside the gate is The Lockspot Cafe and the Totem Fish House. If you plan ahead, you can bring a picnic with you. There are lots of open grassy areas that make perfect picnic spots. Right next to the locks are grassy slopes where you can watch the boats while you eat. This spot also makes for some good old fashioned rolling down the hill in the grass for kids!
The Hiram Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks, are a system of locks that allow more than 100,000 boats a year to pass from Lake Union to the Puget Sound and vice versa. They help maintain the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union and prevent the mixing of the salt water from the Puget Sound with the fresh water in the lakes. With all the waterways and boats in Seattle locks are essential. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers, they opened on July 4, 1917. They were named after U.S. Army Major Hiram M. Chittenden.
The Ballard Locks consists of two locks, one large and one small. There are walkways that allow you to stand at the railing on all sides. It's fascinating to stand and watch the water level and boats, both large and small, rise and drop before your eyes.
Argosy Cruises offers a two-and-a-half hour cruise that offers you the opportunity to view the locks from a boat's perspective. The tour takes you past the Seattle waterfront, then overland via Gray Line motor coach, then into Lake Union where you'll cruise past the "Sleepless in Seattle" houseboat community. From Lake Union it's on through the Lake Washington Ship Canal and to the locks where you will experience first hand the raising and lowering of the boat.
Every summer there are weekly free concerts on the lawns at the Chittenden Locks in Ballard. Concerts begin at 2pm unless otherwise noted.
For more information about the locks, the fish ladder,
programs, events, and tours at Seattle's Ballard Locks:
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
3015 NW 54th St., Ballard