The Ballard Locks is a picturesque park with a ship canal, 15 minutes from downtown Seattle.
An astounding 40,000 ships pass through the locks each year, making it the busiest locks in America.
The locks were constructed between 1911 to 1917, to connect Puget Sound to Seattle's upstream lakes via a ship canal. They were built and operated by the US Army Corp of Engineers, led by engineer Hiram Chittenden.
Over 1.5 million people visit the Ballard Locks each year. They are hugely important to the Seattle economy, supporting the $1.2 billion local industry in commercial fishing, marine services, passenger services, and recreational boat sales.
The Ballard Locks are free to visit, located at 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107.
10 best things to do at Ballard Locks
1. Watch boats entering the massive holding chamber at the Ballard Locks.
It's fascinating to watch the process of boats passing through the Ballard Locks holding chamber. The water level is raised or lowered 20 feet inside the chamber, as boats pass between South Lake Union and Puget Sound.
The holding chamber is huge, and can hold boats up to 100 feet long!
2. Book an Argosy Cruise to experience passing through the locks.
What better way to experience the Ballard Locks, then by taking a 2-hour boat cruise that passes right through it.
The Argosy Cruise boat in the below photo is passing through the Ballard Locks, on its way to the open waters of Puget Sound. Argosy Cruises leave from Pier 54 & 55 at the Seattle Waterfront.
3. Look up at the Lockmaster Control Tower to see how boaters communicate.
Boaters communicate with the tower while passing through the locks, and there's no charge for boats to pass through the Ballard Locks.
4. See historic landmarks, like the old Salmon Bay railway bridge.
Once boats have passed through the Ballard Locks, they travel under the Salmon Bay railway bridge, on their way out to Puget Sound. This bridge span can jackknife open, to allow taller vessels to pass through.
This old bridge was constructed in 1914 by the Great Northern railway, It's now the main line for BSNF Railway, and dozens of trains pass over this bridge every day. Plans are currently underway for a $200 million replacement of this old bridge.
5. Sit on the surrounding grassy slopes and observe boats passing through the locks.
6. Visit the Fish Ladder at the southern end of the Ballard Locks.
The Ballard Locks Fish Ladder is located at the southern end of the Ballard Locks.
It has a free, underground viewing area to watch salmon migrating to their original spawning grounds 40 miles upstream. See Sockeye Salmon from mid-June to mid-July, Chinook in August, and Coho in September.
7. Stop by the Visitor Center at the northern end of the locks.
The Visitor Center sells bottled water, but no food vendors are available at the Ballard Locks.
8. Learn about the fascinating history of the Ballard Locks, by watching a 16-minute movie at the Visitor Center.
9. Explore the gorgeous botanical garden at the north end of the Ballard Locks.
The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is idyllic in spring and summer, and has more than 570 species of plants. Carl S. English was employed as a horticulturalist by the Army Corp of Engineers, and retired in 1974.
10. Attend a free summer concert in the Botanical Gardens at the Ballard Locks.
The are free concerts in the gardens over summer, on Saturdays and Sundays.
Know before you go
- Admission: Free.
- Tours: Free Tours are available May thru November.
- Visitor Center hours: Check here.
- Address: Paid parking lot at 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107.
- Fish Ladder salmon viewing: Late June to September.
Other things to do near the Ballard Locks.
Enjoy a waterfront meal at the nearby Fishermans Terminal. Drive a short distance across the Ballard Bridge to the lovely beach at Golden Gardens with stunning views of the Olympic Mountains. Ballard is nearby, and has a trendy selection of restaurants, cafes and boutiques.