There is something oddly fascinating about locks. No, not the locks on doors -- the locks that raise and lower boats. Locks don't provide panoramic views and aren't nearly as dramatic as waterfalls, but for some strange reason, a lot of people are intrigued by the concept of two side-by-side bodies of water on two different levels. Consequently, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, in the Ballard neighborhood, are among the most popular attractions in the city. These locks, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, consist of a small lock and a large lock. The latter accommodates barges, commercial fishing vessels, and the like, while the small lock stays busy shuttling small private boats (including sea kayaks) between the saltwater of Puget Sound and the freshwater of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which connects to both Lake Union and Lake Washington. It's a slow process locking boats back and forth, but the onlookers don't seem to mind, and people onshore and those on the boats often strike up conversations.
When the gates of the lock are closed, it's possible to continue to the far side of the ship canal to the fish ladders and fish-viewing windows that provide opportunities for salmon viewing during the summer months. The chance to see salmon in a fish ladder is as much of a draw as the locks themselves, and in the past the fish runs have also attracted hungry sea lions that at times become salmon-swallowing pests.
Also here at the locks, you can stroll the grounds of the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens, a park filled with rare and unusual shrubs and trees. March through November, there are free tours of the grounds Monday through Friday at 1 and 3pm, Saturday and Sunday at 11am and 1 and 3pm.
The locks are located a 10- to 15-minute drive north of downtown. Follow Elliott Avenue north along the waterfront from downtown Seattle; after crossing the Ballard Bridge, drive west on Northwest Market Street.
- © Frommer's 2013
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Ask Seattle Locals about Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks
- Highly Recommended 2009
- Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: 206/783-7059
- 3015 NW 54th St
- Between North 32nd Avenue & North 34th Avenue
- Seattle, WA 98107
Ballard, Magnolia & North Seattle
- Daily 7am-9pm (visitor center: May-Sept daily 10am-6pm; Oct-Apr Thurs-Mon 10am-4pm)