One of my favorite things to show visitors are the Ballard Locks (officially: the Hiram M. Chittenten Locks). While not exactly a hidden gem – it’s quite the popular attraction – its distance from downtown may initially put you off from making the trip northwest to the neighborhood of Ballard. What awaits you, though, is one of the most unique and fun attractions in Seattle for adults and children alike.
The Locks connect fresh water Lake Washington with the salty – and less elevated – Puget Sound while preventing salt water from infiltrating the lakes and maintaining their higher water level. The entrance takes you through the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens, a lovely spot for a short stroll (with free concerts during the summer). You can watch the ships enter the locks and be elevated or sunk to a different level in a few minutes before they exit. Sometimes a seal will be momentarily trapped in one of the basins, hoping to catch a salmon making its way upstream through the adjacent fish ladder. On Sundays, I love to walk from my house to the locks and continue a little mile further northeast to the Ballard Farmer’s Market (see my article), or to one of the great coffee shops in Ballard.
The locks opened in 1917 and were in 1956 named after district engineer Hiram M. Chittenden. Over a million tons of cargo passes though the locks each year, though most of the 60,000 vessels making the passage are pleasure craft and kayaks.