Ballard Locks is Seattle’s gateway to Pacific Northwest waterways


Boats of all sizes make their way through the canals at the Ballard Locks.

Boats of all sizes pass through the Ballard Locks in the Seattle area. The locks handle about 75,000 vessels moving from fresh water to sea water and back. Our youngest daughter and I visited the locks on a beautiful sunny, warm Seattle day.

Watching boats move through the Ballard Locks – officially known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks – was an interesting way to spend an hour or so. You might not think it would be that engaging to watch boats enter a canal, watch the water either rise or lower (depending on which way the boat was traveling). But, you’d be wrong. We had a fun time together talking about the boats and the process to move them through.

Walkways between the canals allow people to walk about the area, so you can get a close-up view of the boats in the locks.

We didn’t see any ships that day, but the boats varied in size, including a kayak coming in from Puget Sound. I can imagine our eldest daughter, Stephanie, wanting to kayak Puget Sound. Ships up to about 750 feet long can move through the canal.

Boats exiting the inland water – Lake Washington and Lake Union – to Puget Sound have to process from fresh water to salt water. The process seems complicated to me, but basically once a boat is in the canal, gates are closed. Then, the fresh water is drained while the boat’s crew members scrub the side of the boat for health and safety purposes. Salt water is piped in to the canal, bringing the boat to about a 26-foot water level, to match the Sound. Once it reaches this point, another gate opens and the boat heads out to Puget Sound, possibly traveling out to the Pacific Ocean. Boats entering the lakes follow a reverse process.

Visitors can get a close view of the boats coming through the locks.

Vessels aren’t the only things making their way through the Ballard Locks. We watched a sea lion swimming in a canal. We figure the fish that probably live in the spot make it an easy hunting location for sea animals. An employee told us that a seal hung out in the canals for a couple of weeks shortly before our visit.

Sea animals are often seen hanging out in the canals.

And, of course, where there are people and boats, you can count on gulls to be in the neighborhood.

There’s something about seeing gulls along the water.

The locks are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A small museum is located on the grounds. Exhibits explain the history behind the creation of the Ballard Locks. The locks opened in 1917 as a transportation link for loggers and fishing ships.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has a museum onsite detailing the history of the Ballard Locks.

Visitors can see more than just boats moving through the locks. A beautiful botanical garden welcomes people during warm months. I’m a sucker for a pretty flower and the opportunity to photograph it. The Carl English Jr. Botanical Garden is among the attractions that bring up to a million visitors to the area.

The Carl English botanical garden adds to the attraction.

The Ballard Locks offers visitors a chance to watch salmon fish on their annual run. Unfortunately, we were too early this year, but I recommend checking it out during the season. The fish ladder is a great place for watching runs during the summer and later winter/early spring.

A sculpture highlights the area and the role of the Ballard Locks.

A short walk from the Ballard Locks is the Lockspot Café. It used to be the bar where cast and crew members of the television series “Deadliest Catch” would meet before heading to Alaska to film the show. During our first visit to Seattle in 2010, Lisa, friends Mark, Ron and Tom and I visited the spot. There was a lot of memorabilia then. This time, as I talked to a server, she pointed to a poster. Well, it was a short walk down memory lane there.

A local bar recognizes the cast and crew of a show I used to watch religiously.

Mallory and I had a nice time visiting the Ballard Locks. We recommend visiting the location when in the Seattle area.

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