Top 20 Seattle attractions

Ballard Locks Fish Ladder

free admission

Visit the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder in Seattle, to see salmon swimming upstream.

The Ballard Locks Fish Ladder is FREE to visit, located 20 minutes north of Seattle's downtown in the historic neighborhood of Ballard.  

The Fish Ladder was constructed on the south side of the Ballard Locks, to enable salmon safe passage to their spawning grounds upstream. The best viewing time for salmon is from mid June to the end of September

The Ballard Locks was constructed in 1917, and considered a major engineering feat.  The locks allow boats to pass between saltwater Puget Sound and Seattle's freshwater lakes upstream at Lake Union and Lake Washington. The boats are held in a secure chamber at the locks, while the water is lowered or raised between the two bodies of water. 

10 things to know about Ballard Locks Fish Ladder.

1. It's free to visit the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder!

2. The fish ladder is at the southern end of the Ballard Locks.

You can park on either the north or south side of the Ballard Locks, to reach the fish ladder.

The largest parking area is on the north side of the Ballard Locks (3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107).  You then walk across the 100-foot pedestrian bridge that runs along the top of the Ballard Locks, to reach the Fish Ladder on its southern side.  

You can also park on the south side of the Ballard Locks along Commodore Way. This is a much shorter walk to the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder, however the parking lot is smaller here and fills up quickly.

3. There are three species of salmon at the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder; Sockeye, Chinook, and Coho.  

4. The peak viewing times for salmon are from mid June to September.

  • Sockeye: mid June to mid July.
  • Chinook: August.
  • Coho: September.

5. The largest species is the King Chinook salmon.

The King Chinook Salmon has black spotting on it's back and fins, and is bluish-grey in appearance. Chinook Salmon were once the giants of the ocean and rivers, weighing in as much of 80 to 100 pounds.  Overfishing and the damming of rivers has resulted in their demise.  They are prized amongst sport fisherman, and as a culinary delight.

6. Salmon swim upstream through the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder.

After returning from the rich feeding grounds of Alaska, Salmon are able to pick up the scent of the river they were originally spawned in, and swim upstream for the winter to creeks and rivers.

7. The Ballard Locks was constructed by the US Army Corp of Engineers and opened in 1917.

8. The botanic gardens at the Ballard Locks has musical performances in summer.

9. The Ballard Locks Visitor Center has interesting exhibits and a free movie on the construction of the locks.

10. Combine a trip to the Ballard Locks with other attractions in historic Ballard.

Drive to the stunning sandy beach and park at nearby Golden Gardens, or visit Ballard for great restaurants and shopping.  The Nordic Museum is a few blocks from Ballard Old Town, and is housed in a striking, modern building, with fascinating exhibits on the Nordic people.  Ballard had a massive influx of Nordic immigrants in the mid-19th century.

Know before you go

  • Parking:  paid parking lot at the Ballard Locks at 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107.
  • Admission:  free.
  • Fish viewing: late spring through early fall.

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