Washington State is known for its breathtaking landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and iconic landmarks. Among these treasures lies the Chittenden Locks in Ballard, a vital part of Seattle’s maritime infrastructure and a popular tourist destination.

In this blog, I’ll talk about the history, the best time to visit the ballard locks, functionality, environmental impact, and recreational opportunities offered by the Ballard Locks in Washington. Included will be Ballard fish ladder photos and some awesome shots of the Botanical Gardens!

The Seattle Ballard Locks: A historic piece of Washington


The Ballard Locks, officially named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, were opened in 1917 and named after U.S. Army Major Hiram Martin Chittenden. The locks were constructed to facilitate the movement of boats between the saltwater of the Puget Sound and the freshwater of the Ship Canal, connecting Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay.


The locks looked awesome from this angle!
Busy but not too crowded for me!
Ballard Locks Seattle Washington

Functionality of the Ballard Locks


The primary function of the Ballard Locks is to raise and lower vessels, allowing them to navigate the varying water levels between the sound and the canal. The locks help to maintain water levels of the local freshwater lakes, Lake Washington and Lake Union. Typical levels will be between 20 and 22 feet above sea level.

This engineering marvel consists of two locks, a small chamber, and a large chamber, each using a system of gates and valves to control the water flow. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team of professionals ensures the smooth operation and maintenance of the Ballard Locks. From routine inspections to emergency repairs, these experts work tirelessly to keep the locks running efficiently and safely.


Impact on the Community and Environment


While the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard provide essential transportation infrastructure, they also play a crucial role in environmental conservation. By regulating the water levels, the locks help prevent saltwater intrusion into the freshwater habitats, protecting the native flora and fauna that rely on a specific aquatic environment. The Ballard Locks are not just a tourist attraction; they are a cherished part of the local community. Volunteers, donors, and advocates come together to support the preservation and enhancement of the locks, ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy this historic landmark.


How much does the Ballard Locks cost?


All vessels may use the locks for free! They allow passage through both the large and the small locks 24/7. The only time this is not the case is during the annual maintenance period or during repairs.

Note: The locks will always give priority to emergency or service vehicles.


Salmon Ladder Meaning – What is it?


One of the highlights of the Ballard Locks is the fish ladder, a unique structure located within the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington. It serves as a crucial passage for salmon migrating from the Puget Sound to their spawning grounds upstream in freshwater rivers and streams. Visitors can observe these magnificent fish through underwater viewing windows, providing a unique glimpse into the natural world.

The Ballard Locks salmon ladder ( or famously known as the Ballard Locks fish ladder ) consists of a series of interconnected pools or steps that mimic the natural conditions of a river. As salmon approach the locks, they encounter a large concrete structure with water flowing over it. To help the salmon navigate past this barrier, the ladder provides a series of resting pools and shallow steps, allowing them to swim and leap their way upstream.

This innovative design enables salmon to bypass the locks’ complex infrastructure, which would otherwise impede their journey. By utilizing the ladder, salmon can continue their migration without interruption, ensuring the preservation of their populations and the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

The Ballard Locks Salmon Ladder is not only a practical solution for assisting salmon migration but also serves as a symbol of environmental stewardship and the importance of preserving natural habitats for future generations.

Salmon Run Ballard Locks


 When is the best time to go to the Ballard Locks Salmon Ladder?


The salmon run at the Ballard Locks in Washington typically occurs from late spring to early summer, with peak activity typically happening from June to August. During this time, you can witness the incredible sight of salmon migrating through the locks as they make their way from the ocean to their spawning grounds upstream. However, exact timing can vary depending on factors such as weather conditions and salmon species. It’s always a good idea to check with local authorities or visit the Ballard Locks’ official website for the most up-to-date information on salmon migration timings.


The best time of day to visit the Ballard Locks in Washington is typically during the morning or early afternoon. This is when you’re more likely to see boat traffic passing through the locks, which can be quite fascinating to watch. Additionally, visiting earlier in the day allows you to avoid potential crowds that may gather later in the afternoon. However, the Ballard Locks is a beautiful and serene spot to visit at any time of day, so feel free to choose a time that best fits your schedule and preferences.


What happens at the Ballard Locks Salmon Ladder?


During the salmon run at the Ballard Locks, you’ll witness one of nature’s most incredible spectacles. Here’s what you can expect to experience:


  • Salmon Migration: As salmon make their annual journey from the ocean to their spawning grounds upstream, you’ll have the opportunity to see them jumping and swimming through the locks. This mesmerizing sight showcases the determination and strength of these remarkable fish as they navigate through the waterways. You can expect to see large amounts of Salmon during this time of year.
  • Crowds and Excitement: The Salmon culture in Washington is HUGE and this event is no different! The salmon run draws crowds of spectators eager to witness this natural phenomenon. You’ll join fellow nature enthusiasts and locals alike, all captivated by the spectacle unfolding before them. The excitement in the air is palpable as everyone eagerly awaits glimpses of the salmon making their way upstream.
  • Educational Opportunities: Bring the whole family! The Ballard Locks also offer educational programs and interpretive displays during the salmon run season. You can learn about the life cycle of salmon, their importance to the ecosystem, and conservation efforts aimed at protecting their populations.
  • Scenic Views: While observing the salmon, you’ll also have the chance to take in the scenic beauty of the Ballard Locks and its surroundings. From lush greenery to picturesque waterways, the area provides a serene backdrop for witnessing nature’s wonders. Afterwards, make your way just a block or two away to experience some of the awesome restaraunts and shops available.
  • Photography Opportunities: Make sure you bring your camera! Whether you’re a professional photographer or simply enjoy capturing moments with your smartphone, the salmon run offers countless opportunities for stunning photographs. You can capture images of the salmon leaping upstream, the picturesque locks, and the vibrant atmosphere surrounding the event.
Ballard Locks Seattle Washington



At the North entrance, we found metered parking, which suited us just fine. There were plenty of spots available initially, but they filled up fast, and soon enough, we noticed a line of cars waiting for spots to open up. Just be aware, there’s a railroad track dividing the parking lot and the entrance area.

Once parked, you have options. You can start with a leisurely stroll through the botanical gardens or simply take a relaxing walk around the beautifully maintained property. During our visit, we were treated to the sounds of a jazz band performing right in the middle of the property, adding a delightful touch to our experience.

If the parking lot happens to be full, there are other free spots scattered throughout the residential area nearby. However, those tend to fill up quickly too. My advice? Aim to arrive early, especially if you’re coming on a weekend.

Oh, and a quick note: We lucked out with free parking on the Sunday we visited, but I can’t say for sure if that’s a regular thing or just a happy coincidence.

The Ballard Locks Visitor Center


Ah, let’s chat about the visitor center at the Ballard Locks! If you’re on the hunt for some unique Pacific Northwest souvenirs or charming trinkets that capture the essence of the locks, make sure you explore it while you’re visiting.

You’ll find an array of goodies that celebrate the beauty and culture of the PNW, from locally crafted jewelry adorned with delicate shells to cozy scarves featuring intricate designs inspired by the region’s flora and fauna. There is no shortage of Salmon related gifts as you probably guessed! And if you’re keen on taking home a piece of the locks themselves, keep an eye out for items like handcrafted pottery adorned with motifs of boats navigating through the waterways or prints capturing the breathtaking views of the locks and surrounding gardens.

But here’s the real kicker—the gift shop isn’t just about shopping; it’s an experience in itself! Head upstairs, and you’ll stumble upon an interactive exhibit that delves deeper into the history and mechanics of the locks. Get hands-on with interactive displays, learn about the fascinating engineering behind these marvels, and maybe even catch a glimpse of some historical artifacts that tell the story of the locks’ rich past. It’s the perfect way to round out your visit and gain a deeper appreciation for this iconic PNW landmark.

Best time to visit Ballard Locks


The best time of day to visit the Ballard Locks really depends on what you’re after. If you’re keen on seeing boats passing through and want to soak up the lively atmosphere, mornings and early afternoons are prime time. That’s when things are bustling, and you can catch all the action of vessels navigating through the locks.

We showed up right around 11:45am which gave us enough time to park and make our way down to the waterway. By noon, the area was abuzz with people but I would not say it was crowded. We were able to catch several boats using the lock to pass through which was pretty cool!

On the flip side, if you prefer a more laid-back visit with fewer crowds, consider swinging by in the late afternoon or early evening. By then, things tend to quiet down a bit, offering a more tranquil experience. Plus, the soft evening light can make the whole scene look extra picturesque, perfect for snapping some photos or simply enjoying the peaceful ambiance. Ultimately, it boils down to what suits your style and vibe for exploring the Ballard Locks.

The best time of year to visit the Ballard Locks in Washington State is usually from April to September, during the spring and summer months. That’s when the weather tends to be nicer, making it more enjoyable to explore the outdoor attractions and take in the beautiful views around the locks. Plus, this is prime time for watching boats go through the locks, which adds to the excitement of the visit. But honestly, you can visit the locks any time of the year and still have a great time—they’re pretty cool no matter the season!

Ballard Locks Photos

The locks are easy to get to!
The best time to go was right before lunch!
The locks started to get a little busier after the lunch hour.
Boats pass through the Seattle Ballard Locks every day!
Ballard Hiram M Chittenden Locks
Ballard Hiram M Chittenden Locks
Ballard Hiram M Chittenden Locks
The views of the Seattle Ballard Locks are breathtaking!

The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens


Let’s take a stroll through The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens—what a treat for the senses! Each step feels like a journey through a lush paradise, with meticulously tended landscapes unfolding before you. As you wander from one exhibit to the next, you’ll find yourself immersed in a symphony of colors, scents, and textures, each more captivating than the last.

What truly sets this garden apart is the attention to detail in its design and maintenance. Every plant, flower, and tree seems to have been placed with care, creating a harmonious tapestry of beauty. And as you meander along the winding pathways, you’ll discover charming nooks and crannies that invite you to pause and drink in the serenity of the surroundings.

But perhaps the pièce de résistance is the opportunity to glimpse the historic home nestled within the gardens. It’s a rare treat to witness the intersection of nature and history in such a seamless way. So, lace up your walking shoes and prepare to be enchanted by the tranquil beauty of The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens—it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

The Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens

More things to do in Ballard


Visitors flock to the Ballard Locks not only to witness the impressive operation of the locks but also to partake in a variety of recreational activities. The surrounding neighborhood of Ballard is a vibrant hub of dining, shopping, and entertainment. Expect to explore the eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, and art galleries, immersing themselves in the unique charm of this historic district.


  • Ballard Farmers Market 

    • This is one of my favorite things to do if I find myself in Ballard on a Sunday! Vendors from all over the state will be setup with their local and homemade good and wares. The street will be alive with the sound of visitors and vendors alike while the aroma of fresh baked and grilled goods will fill your nostrils.

  • Boating and Kayaking

    • For those seeking adventure on the water, the Ballard Locks provide access to the picturesque Ship Canal and beyond. Boaters and kayakers can explore the scenic waterways, spotting wildlife and enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings.
  • Quriky Shops

    • There is no shortage of fun novelty shops available in Ballard. Whether you’re looking for Nordic trinkets from the early days of humans, potions meant for casting spells, or even taxidermy, Ballard has a little something for everyone! I have spent entire days just wondering the shops! I always find something cool to bring home.


    Nearby Dining Options and Sunsets


    After a day of sightseeing, visitors can unwind at one of the many restaurants near the Ballard Locks, offering a diverse culinary experience. From fresh seafood to international cuisine, there is something to satisfy every palate. As the day draws to a close, watching the sunset from the Ballard Locks is a breathtaking experience. The changing colors of the sky reflecting on the calm waters create a magical ambiance that captivates visitors of all ages.

    • Lockspot Cafe
    • Ray’s Boathouse
    • Ballard Kiss Cafe
    • Pestle Rock




    In conclusion, the Ballard Locks stand as a testament to human ingenuity, environmental stewardship, and community spirit. Whether you are a history buff, nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, the locks offer something for everyone. Visit the Ballard Locks in Washington and discover the beauty and wonder that await you.




    Can I watch boats going through the locks at the Ballard Locks?

    Yes, I like to observe the fascinating process of boats passing through the locks myself any time I am in the Ballard area!


    Are there guided tours available at the Ballard Locks?

    Guided tours of the locks and surrounding facilities are available for those interested in learning more about the history and operation of this iconic landmark.


    Is there an entrance fee to visit the Ballard Locks?

    No, admission to the Ballard Locks is free for all visitors, making it an affordable and enjoyable outing for individuals and families.


    Can I bring my pet to the Ballard Locks?

    Leashed pets are welcome at the Ballard Locks, allowing pet owners to enjoy the scenic surroundings while adhering to the site’s regulations.


    What is the best time of year to visit the Ballard Locks?

    The Ballard Locks can be visited year-round, with each season offering its own unique charm and opportunities for exploration.

    Check out more cool places in the United States HERE!


    Need a ferry to get there? You can see the Washington Department of Transportation schedule and daily routes HERE!