The Ballard Locks are a fun place to visit while in Seattle. Officially known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, they opened in 1917 and are completely free to all vessels. It’s one of the busiest lock systems in the entire country, allowing passage between Puget Sound and Lake Union and Lake Washington via Salmon Bay and the Fremont Cut.
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens
The locks are accessed through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, open daily from 7am to 9pm at no charge. Landscape architect Carl English spent 43 years developing the gardens.
On the grounds just past the entrance to the gardens is a small visitor center and gift shop which was closed during my visit. Continuing along the path will take you to the locks administration building, and past it are the locks.
First, we came to the larger set of locks, crossed one of the gates, and watched the water spill in to raise a barge.
Once the water level was high enough, the gates opened and the barge left the locks with the aid of a tugboat.
Next, we continued exploring the locks by walking across the smaller set of locks and then a pedestrian bridge over the spillway. We were able to look down and see the water rushing down.
From a point on the other side of the bridge, we could get a better look at the spillway. In the distance, we could spot a railroad bridge that we would pass over on our Amtrak ride back to Chicago.
Finally, we visited the fish ladder to see salmon making their way back from Puget Sound into Salmon Bay. There’s a viewing room with windows into the ladder where you can see different species of salmon. On top of the viewing room is some public art in the shape of waves.