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Ladders and Locks- Exploring One of Ballard's Most Popular Free Outdoor Activities
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Exploring One of Ballard's Most Popular Outdoor Activities

Oct 29th, 2014

Located just south of AMLI Mark24 and Ballard’s lively neighborhood center, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are one of the Emerald City’s finest gems. A place where ships pass from the Puget Sound’s saltwater to the elevated freshwater of the Ship Canal, the functional facility and popular attraction is referred to locally as the Ballard Locks.

But ships and their cargo are not all that pass through. Here’s what else you can see during a visit of an hour or two to the Ballard Locks.

Salmon Migrating through the Fish Ladder

The fish ladder is one of the most exciting and popular features. Every year during spawning season, millions of salmon fight currents in an effort to reach the Sammamish River for its ideal breeding grounds. In a sense, they defy laws of nature to act in accordance with their own nature. While the journey to the Sammamish is filled with resistance that prevents most other fish from attempting a similar exodus, the fish ladder is one of the most difficult obstacles to tackle. Amazingly, nearly all fish that attempt it make it. After conquering the fish ladder, salmon spend some time in the aptly named Salmon Bay on their way to Lake Union. While you’d need a powerful pair of binoculars to spot salmon leaping from the waters as they work their way east, you can enjoy some might fine views of Salmon Bay from AMLI Mark24’s beautiful rooftop terrace. For your best shot at seeing some Sockeye, Chinook, or Coho salmon up close and personal, visit the Ballard Locks between June and September.

Boats Rising from Sound to Canal

Feats of nature and engineering can be admired in tandem at the Ballard Locks, which were built between 1911 and 1917. On the engineering side, boats looking to pass from the Puget Sound to the freshwater system that includes Lake Union and Lake Washington can pass from one body of water to another 20 feet above it with ease. After navigating into a lock, a ship coming from the Sound hangs out for 10 or 15 minutes while the water level rises to that of Ship Canal. Once given the go-ahead, the captain can resume his or her journey. Coming the other way, the process is similar but the water level is lowered. Watercraft ranging in size from kayaks to ships measuring 760 feet in length can pass through the Ballard Locks. Watching ships rise and lower in elevation is fascinating for people of all ages.

Impressive Foliage at the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden

Featuring Western hemlocks and other native trees as well as species from all over the world, the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden offers one of the most idyllic park settings and city escapes that can be found in Seattle. Fan palms, Alaskan weeping pines, and Mexican pines flourish in the garden. If you visit at the right time, you can see beautiful roses and even rhododendrons in bloom. Free tours of the garden are offered at 1 and 3PM between March and November.

Exhibits and Gifts in the Visitor’s Center

A brief stop at the visitors center on your way home provides you with some worthwhile opportunities. You can better understand the history of the locks and how they work by exploring the interpretive exhibits on display. You can also pick up memorabilia or gifts through which you can share the beauty of Ballard’s magnificent Hiram M. Chittenden Locks with others.

Special Events

Depending on the time of year and day on which you visit the Ballard Locks, you may have the opportunity to experience something else spectacular. The Friends of Ballard Locks hold a number of special events each year, the most celebrated of which is the Concerts at the Locks summer concert series.

When was the last time you visited the Ballard Locks? While the lushness of the plants in the botanical garden wanes once fall is over, a visit on a sunny winter day can still make for a superb and fairly comfortable experience.

If you’ve been to the Ballard Locks, what is your favorite attraction? Share with us in the comments.

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