Visiting Seattle? You’ve probably heard of the Space Needle and Pike’s Place Market. But what about the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks? One of Seattle’s lesser known but still quite popular tourist attractions, on a sunny summer day the locks can be very busy both with boats trying to pass through the locks and locals and tourists observing the activities of moving the boats from one elevation to another. Opened in 1917, the were constructed to regulate the elevation of Lake Washington and Lake Union upstream of the locks, and to allow passage of boats and ships between Puget Sound on the lower side of the locks and Salmon Bay on the upper side. No pumps are used in operation of the locks; everything happens through the gravitational flow of water.
Because the locks block the passage of fish, a series of fish ladders allows migrating salmon to move upstream. Various salmon species make the journey throughout the year through the locks throughout the year, so if you are there at the right time you can watch the fish through large viewing windows.
The day I was there, I arrived early and largely had the place to myself except for the operators assisting the boats transiting through the locks and a few locals out for morning walks. An hour or two later and the tourist started arriving to watch the activities.
Part of the grounds adjacent to the lock system is occupied by the Carl S. English botanical gardens, one of the few botanical gardens in the Seattle area. While it could be considered small by some standards, the gardens are still a pleasant space to stroll about.
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