Activities & Resources
Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks252in Seattle, WA 98107
about Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks:
As you walk in the iron entry gates, you'll see the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens on your right. These formal gardens are home to 500 species and 1500 varieties of trees from all over the world, including lots of Japanese flowering cherries and other flowering trees and shrubs. Visit the Locks' website for a list of what's in bloom when you visit.
Look for the Visitor Center down the path and on the left. It's worth visiting if you want to be able to explain to the kids how the Locks work, or how salmon change over the course of their life cycle. It also houses a small gift shop with some good natural history books for kids. Guided tours are available from Mar 1-Nov 30; call for tour times and information.
Straight ahead, past the administrative offices (Italian marble floors and fascinating pictures of the Locks' construction) are the Locks themselves. Children are absolutely fascinated by the change in water levels between Lake Union and Salmon Bay, and especially by the boat traffic. Everything from small pleasure craft to gravel barges to huge fishing trawlers pass through the narrow channels. Hold on to your toddlers, though - there's a lot of water here, and there seems to be space under some of the fences for an enterprising child to squeeze through.
Cross the retractable bridges spanning the Locks, walk across the bridge next to the roaring water of the smolt slide, and follow the path down to the salmon viewing area. The sockeye salmon run is the largest, and peaks in July, but July through September are the most reliable times to see fish.
If your family owns a pair of binoculars, bring them. You can sometimes spot sea lions and harbor seals feasting on salmon when the fish are running, as well as dozens of species of songbirds, ducks, and gulls, great blue herons and belted kingfishers. Terraced hills on both sides of the locks offer great views of boat traffic, wildlife, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay. Children love climbing up the hills and running, or rolling, back down.
This is a truly pleasant spot to have lunch or dinner, if you have the foresight to bring a picnic. No food is sold on the premises, although two restaurants, The Lockspot Cafe and Totem Fish House, operate within walking distance; coffee and ice cream are available a short drive away.
Note: bikes, rollerblades, rollerskates, and skateboards are not allowed. Fishing, climbing trees, and picking flowers are taboo, too.