The Ballard Locks (otherwise referred to as the Chittenden Locks) attracts visitors for its unique fish ladder—a special site where wild salmon navigate over 21 rungs; you can watch them fight the current from glass panels in the underwater viewing area. Salmon migrate to sea before returning to rivers in order to spawn.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks were opened in 1917 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to prevent Puget Sound waters and fresh waters to mix (too much saltwater would harm the freshwater ecosystems that come from Lake Union and Lake Washington, which can be around 20 feet, or six meters, higher than sea level). The spillway also keeps higher water levels in the summertime in case of a drought.
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The Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden at the north entrance has over 570 species and honors the horticulturist who brought back specimens and seeds from all over the world, and some of these are still growing in the garden today. The visitor center is also nearby.
The best part: it’s free, even the one-hour guided tours!
For those who may not know, locks also aid the navigation of boats and often function to maintain the desired water level. June, July, August and September are prime spawning months, although the viewing rooms are open all year. The Fish Ladder is about 15 minutes away from Seattle’s downtown area.