I was 5 or 6 the first time I visited the Ballard Locks, it is one of the first field trips I remember as a child. Standing there seeing all the stone, I thought it was a castle in a magical kingdom, I kept looking for the dragon….as an adult now, I still enjoy going to the Locks. Seeing the boats come and go, watching the salmon going up the fish ladder, and strolling around the beautiful gardens is a wonderful way to spend a sunny summer day with your family or friends. Anyone who grew up here, or has been here for more than a few years, has visited the Locks and the surrounding neighborhoods. There are plenty of restaurants, bars to keep you fed and lots of galleries and local artisans to help you find that perfect something!
The Wonder of Ballard Locks
The Ballard Locks are located strategically in the Lake Washington Ship Canal on the west side of Salmon Bay as a way to helping boats move seamlessly between the Puget Sound and Lake Union. This solution is both innovative and successful as the Ballard Locks are one of the most heavily trafficked in the United States. Watching the water levels rise and fall as the locks adjust as necessary to let vessels pass is a thrilling sight and a fun family-activity that pleases viewers of all ages. Beyond the intriguing process of watching the locks hard at work, this incredible design works to keep salt water from the Puget Sound separated from the freshwater lakes the boats are traveling through. While larger ships are exciting to view at the Ballard Locks, visitors will often see fishing boats, small vessels and even recreational water sport enthusiasts traveling this direction.
In the mid-1850’s Seattle was looking for a way to get logs milled lumber to and from the many mills that dotted the shores of Lake Washington into the Puget Sound for distribution, and the many fishing boats as well. Many years later, the US Navy endorsed a canal project and in 1891 the US Army Corps of Engineers began designing it. Between then and 1910, some work was started, but government projects being what they are (even back then) actual construction didn’t begin for real until 1911. Fun Fact: The Navy wanted to build the naval shipyards on Lake Washington as part of the original canal project, but due to all the delays they moved it to Bremerton where it still is today. Can you imagine? Looking out on Lake Washington and seeing naval ships?
In July of 1912 the first test of the Locks gates went perfectly, for the first time turning Salmon Bay from Saltwater to Freshwater! The very first vessel went through on August 3, 1916 and have been doing so ever since. Another interesting fact: there was a temporary dam at Montlake that was breached a few weeks later in order to drain Lake Washington. For the next three months, the lake continued to lose water, lowering it by more than 8 feet, drying up over 1000 acres of wetlands, and consequently drying up the Black River and cutting off the Cedar River salmon run as well. But there was a point to this, the Cedar River needed to be rerouted into Lake Washington to provide the necessary water flow for the operation of the Locks and Lake Washington was experiencing quite a bit of flooding – draining it, and keeping the water level consistent through the operation of the Locks, rectified this problem. Other rivers were rerouted as well, making way for lowland development. And the disrupted salmon received their very own ladder to get them back to their birth place to spawn. The Locks opened official on May 8, 1917. The Ballard and Fremont bridges were built that same year, to allow for better water traffic to and from the locks, as well as the University Bridge in 1919 and the Montlake Bridge in 1925.
Fish and Fun
A visit to the Ballard Locks is also an opportunity to view the fish ladder that was constructed to allow fish to continue to move between these bodies of water as well. A visitor center is open to the public at the locks for an insightful look at the history of this unique area. The Ballard Locks also host a botanical garden that makes for a scenic way to end an afternoon with a picnic and a stroll along the colorful grounds. Whether you come to witness the locks, learn about maritime history or make the most of the gardens, a trip to Ballard Locks is well-worth a visit when you’re in Seattle.
Savor the City
Make sure to book a downtown property with Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals when you’re looking to make the most of your Seattle stay. Our team is dedicated to providing guests with an exciting, comfortable and luxurious city experience unlike any other. Contact us today to start planning your next trip to the Emerald City!