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Ballard Locks

Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or Ballard Locks, is a complex of locks at the west end of Salmon Bay in Seattle, Washington's Lake Washington … See more



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Jan 8, 2023
We just missed fish journey but got to see the locks in action. Went by private tour rather than by boat or public tour. Full review by Pompadore69
Nov 26, 2022
Nice to spend some time here. It was interesting to watch the mechanism that raises or lowers boats. There is also a very cool salmon ladder, which is like a bridge to help the salmon cross. There ar… Full review by karimmaarouf
Nov 18, 2022
It was a nice outing at the locks. There is an information centre with presentations and guides about salmon in the water. Even got to see a seal pup! Full review by WellTreadShoes


Garden Stroll at the Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, have been moving boats and other vessels from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington and beyond since 1917. The Army Corps of Engineers built and maintains the locks, garden, grounds and buildings. To the east of the locks is Salmon Bay, a freshwater bay connecting to the rest of the freshwater bodies including Lake Union and Lake Washington. To the west is Shilshole Bay, a saltwater bay which connects to the Puget Sound. Before the construction of the locks however, the waterway from Lake Union was only a small creek and Lake Union and Lake Washington were not connected either. Two cuts were created, the Fremont cut and the Montlake cut to connect it all together. Lake Washington was then lowered to the same level as Lake Union, about 9 feet. This changed the landscape which was discussed in the previous post: Marsh Madness:: Marsh & Foster Islands and ‘the Fill’.There are two locks, a smaller and larger one used depending upon the current traffic need. The locks move ships, from kayaks to barges up and down 26 feet, the largest taking only 10-15 minutes. Every year over a million tons of cargo move through the locks. It was historically built to aid in the transportation of goods although today, there are by far more ‘pleasure’ boats than commercial vessels.The meeting of salt and fresh water makes the locks rather complicated and requires several preventative measures to keep the salt water out of the fresh water lakes. This also makes the locks a unique underwater ecosystem where many species which would not otherwise ever meet, mingle together. Aquatic life in the locks, including wolf eels, sea urchins, trout and lamprey all have been found there. The most well-known of the aquatic life however, is of course the migrating salmon.On the other side of the locks is a fish ladder and smolt flumes, or slides. The original fish ladder was constructed in 1916 but replaced in 1976 once knowledge of fish ladders had improved, to add more steps as well as a viewing gallery. This ladder is unique because it’s one of the few where fresh water meets salt water. The smolt flumes were added to aid in the difficulty the salmon were facing in passing through the locks and now they act like a waterfall away from the locks. Some of the young fish simply fall out with the water flow while others shoot out above the stream, wildly flapping in the air before plunging into the water below. This outmigration of smolt is the largest of it’s kind in the lower forty-eight with up to four million smolt. These modern changes have been successful and it’s been estimated that 80% of adult salmon use the fish ladder over the locks, while 90% of the smolt use the flumes.The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is the result of a gardener hired in 1931 to transform a graveled area of the grounds, to an English estate style garden. An expert horticulturist and botanist, Carl S. English Jr. traveled and corresponded with botanists around the world, and with the aid of the captains of ships passing through the locks, amassed a significant collection of plants. One of the most impressive acquisitions was the dawn redwood, which he was among the first to receive seeds in the United States. Currently eight are still growing throughout the garden. The seven acre garden boasts 573 species of plants, many exotic from locations including Thailand, China, Japan, South America and New Zealand and many grown from seeds. However, Carl also appreciated the plants native to the West Coast and included many native conifers in the garden. Among the plants found in the garden include Mexican pine from Mexico, Darwin barberry from Argentina and Chile, Indian horse chestnut from the Himalayas and the California wax myrtle from the west coast of the United States.The gardens are also full of many flowering beds which in turn are full of a variety of insects. During my visit I watched many bumble bees, mason bees, mimic flies and species of flies and bees among the variety of flowers. I found a couple different species of lady beetles among the border beds as well and one plant I saw had leaves full of galls. The gardens were also alive with bird songs and there are many bird houses throughout the garden. A small pond sat hidden among a group of trees and stumps were placed throughout the garden. The garden is a nice example of a traditional style English garden with added habitat value
A Fun Blend of City and Nature Touring
Boats up to 750 feet in length and as small as a kayak are allowed to pass through these impressive locks. In the early 1900s, when Seattle was a burgeoning industrial town centered on timber, coal, and fish, the people who lived here were quick to see the convenience they could gain with a passage to connect Lakes Washington and Union with Puget Sound. So, they built the ship canal and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a huge feat of engineering of the time. As Seattle’s second most popular tourist attraction, more than a million people visit the locks each year. Most of them, however, see them on foot, from above. Kayaking through the Ballard Locks instead will allow you to get the full experience of crossing the waterway. The purposes of the locks are to maintain the water level of Lake Washington at 20-22 feet above the seawater next to it and to keep the salt water and fresh water on either side from mixing, all while allowing boats to pass through. To paddle through them and out to Puget Sound, a good place to start is the 14th Avenue NW boat launch in Salmon Bay. Passing by all the houseboats that line the canal, you’ll feel as if you’ve discovered an entirely new, Waterworld-esque neighborhood. The locks are located just west of Salmon Bay, which is now half salt and half fresh water. When you get there, wait at the south side of the canal until lock operators instruct you to enter the small chamber. Once you’re inside, grab hold of the wall; you’re about to feel some strong hydraulics at play! First, the upper gates will close behind you. Then, the filling valve closes and the draining one opens, letting the water spill into Puget Sound. Once the water pressure is equal on both sides of the gate, the lower gates open. Unless there are long lines, which are more likely to form in the summer, the entire process takes about 10-15 minutes, after which you can continue out to Shilshole Bay and Puget Sound. There are many great kayaking routes in Puget Sound, but taking a trip through the Ballard Locks is hands down the most unique. It is a fun blend of city and nature touring, and is sure to give you a deeper appreciation for what makes Seattle distinct. Note that while recreational kayaks and canoes are allowed through the locks, standup paddleboards are not. Ballard Kayak offers group tours from Golden Gardens through the locks and back again. History buffs and engineering nerds. The Ballard Locks remain nearly as impressive today as they must have been when they were built over 100 years ago. The locks are open to vessel traffic 24 hours a day. If visiting by foot, the grounds are open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the fish ladder viewing room is open 7 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.

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Data from: Wikipedia · TripAdvisor · Frommers
Wikipedia text under CC-BY-SA license