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Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks

Photo by Joe Mabel

Chittenden Locks, often called Ballard Locks, lie at the western end of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. Operated by the Army Corp of Engineers, the locks are one of Seattle’s most popular visitor attractions and offer a visitor center, fish ladder for salmon, steelhead and other fish and a botanical garden. The Locks offer a unique blend of the bucolic and the grittily industrial, a lesson in the persistence of early Seattle boosters, and dozens of other small discoveries for interested children and their parents.

As you walk in the iron entry gates, you’ll see the Carl S. It’s worth visiting if you want to be able to explain to the kids how the Locks work, or how salmon change over the course of their life cycle. Children are absolutely fascinated by the change in water levels between Lake Union and Salmon Bay, and especially by the boat traffic. Hold on to your toddlers, though – there’s a lot of water here, and there seems to be space under some of the fences for an enterprising child to squeeze through.

Cross the retractable bridges spanning the Locks, walk across the bridge next to the roaring water of the smolt slide, and follow the path down to the salmon viewing area. Terraced hills on both sides of the locks offer great views of boat traffic, wildlife, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay. Coffee and ice cream are available a short drive away.
It’s not quite the Panama Canal, but the Ballard Locks is still an interesting place to visit. Watch water vessels ranging from Alaskan fishing boats to tiny sea kayaks move up and down the varying water levels between the freshwater Lake Washington and saltwater Puget Sound. Chittenden Locks located in Ballard 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. Chittenden Locks, often called the Ballard Locks, link salty Puget Sound with the fresh waters of Salmon Bay, Lake Union, Portage Bay and Lake Washington.

These locks — operated by the Army Corps of Engineers — are one of Seattle’s top tourist attractions. The locks allow boats to pass between Puget Sound and the Lake Washington ship canal, offering a live demonstration of Seattle’s maritime lifestyle. After you’ve watched a couple barges pass by, head to the south side of the locks where fish ladders help salmon migrate during the summer months; The Chittenden Locks are also home to the Carl English Botanical Gardens, which feature a variety of unique plants and beautiful views.

The locks are located in northwest Seattle’s Ballard district. It may be just a big device to raise and lower boats as they go from Puget Sound’s saltwater to the freshwater Lake Washington Ship Canal, but it still fascinates everyone, especially grandchildren. Exhibits in the visitor center explain how the locks work, but many are content to stand and watch as boats rise on one side and drop on the other in a manner of minutes.

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