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 just north of Seattle's downtown in the charming historic neighborhood of Ballard. 

It was constructed on the south side of the Ballard Locks, to enable salmon safe passage to their spawning grounds upstream, from late spring to early fall.

The Ballard Locks was a major engineering project, constructed in 1917.  They allow boats to pass between Puget Sound and Lake Union, by holding them in a secure chamber on Salmon Bay while lowering or raising the water level 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, 15 minutes north of Seattle's downtown. 

Park on the north side of the Ballard Locks at 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107.  From here, walk through the main entrance of the Ballard Locks, and past the botanic gardens and visitor center, until you see the Ballard Locks on Salmon Bay.  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 Fish Ladder, however the parking lot is smaller here and fills up quickly.

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

4. The US Army Corp of Engineers recommends these viewing times for salmon:

  •  See Sockeye from June through October (best viewing July).
  •  See Chinook from July through November (best viewing last two weeks of August).
  •  See Coho from August through November (best viewing last two weeks of September).

5. Look through the windows at the Ballard Locks Fish Ladder to observe salmon swimming upstream to reach spawning grounds in creeks and rivers. 

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.

6. See the largest of the salmon species, 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.

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

It serves as a gateway for thousands of boats traveling between saltwater Puget Sound and Seattle's freshwater lakes upstream at Lake Union and Lake Washington.

8. The Ballard Locks has lovely botanic gardens, with musical performances in summer.

9. Stop by the Ballard Locks Visitor Center, with interesting exhibits and a free movie on the construction of the locks.

10. Find other fun 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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