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The Ballard Locks Reopen: Take the Kids for a Look at the Boats

Popular Seattle spot reopens to foot traffic

Nancy Chaney

Published on: April 28, 2021

View of the Ballard Locks top Seattle tourist attraction see boats up close kids families reopening spring 2021
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, commonly called the Ballard Locks. Credit: Michael B./Flickr CC

People used to say that the Ballard Locks were the second-most-visited tourist attraction in Seattle, after Pike Place Market.

We don't know if that's true or not, but we do know that this fun, kid-friendly destination has been closed for over a year, and finally the Locks reopen to pedestrians on Wednesday, April 28.

Officially called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the complex is most commonly referred to as the Ballard Locks.

Features of the Ballard Locks

There are many elements that make up the Locks and grounds, and not all of them are open, so we'll outline it all here in case you want to pay a visit.

1. The Locks: There is one large and one small lock, and they raise and lower boats traveling between Puget Sound and Lake Union and Lake Washington. The level of the lakes is something like 20 feet higher than the level of Puget Sound. The body of water where the Locks are is called Salmon Bay. The Locks themselves have been open to boat traffic throughout the pandemic.

2. Pedestrian bridges across the Locks: These pathways are what's reopening on Wednesday, April 28. The bridges cross the doors of the Locks — in different places, depending on the size of the boats in each lock — and allow pedestrians to cross between the Ballard and Magnolia neighborhoods. The pathway continues across the spillway to the fish ladder.

From the bridges you can get a good look at the ships and boats in transit. Walk across to the Magnolia side and wander around petite Commodore Park. It has steps that lead down to the water. Bicyclists also use the bridges to pass through the Locks, though note that you have to walk your bike on the Locks grounds.

View of boats in the small lock at the Ballard Locks reopening to foot traffic post pandemic on April 28 2021
Boats pass through the small lock at the Ballard Locks in Seattle

3. The salmon ladder viewing windows: After being closed for a long maintenance project, the ladder viewing area is now open! Watch the salmon swim upstream in pursuit of the local spawning streams. Check out the touch-screen displays highlighting the differences between salmon species to aid with identification — look for sockeye salmon in late July and August, followed by Chinook (king) and coho salmon into the early fall. 

4. Visitor Center: The visitor center reopened to the public April 23. Hours of operation are 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, starting May 1.

5. Carl S. English Jr. Garden: Kids may not be too excited about a fancy garden, but this one has a house hidden right in the middle — who gets to live by the Locks? The gardens also have a nice pathway, interesting plants, and, facing the Locks, there's an incredible grassy hill that kids love to roll down. Just note that there is sometimes goose poop on the hillside (but kids won't care). Use the stairs to scamper back to the top. There are lots of good picnic spots around the gardens.

6. Restrooms: Restrooms reopen to the public on Monday, May 3.

7. Tours and events: The Locks used to offer free tours. We will update here if we learn that these are starting up again, or you can call the visitor center at 206-783-7059 for up-to-date info. The Locks also used to host free weekend concerts during the summer. Stay tuned for info on summer 2021 concerts.

If you go ...

Find it: The Ballard Locks are located at 3015 N.W. 54th St. in Seattle.

Open hours: Gates are open daily, 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

Parking: Pay the meters to park in the lot. Parking is free on Sundays.

Safety: Wearing masks is required on federal property.

Updates: Facebook is often a more current source of info than the Army Corps of Engineers website.

Fuel up: Head west for coffee and a muffin at Jibe Espresso, a to-die-for (and multi-napkin!) sandwich at Un Bien or yummy soft serve at Little Coney. For a delicious and unexpected surprise, head all the way to Golden Gardens and find Miri's at the bathhouse.

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