Learn about the annual phenomenon of salmon spawning at Seattle’s Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks, where three types of Pacific salmon pass through the fish ladder during the summer months on the way upriver to their spawning grounds.
The Ballard Locks are one of the most-visited attractions in Seattle, and there are several opportunities to visit on a city tour or even a boat cruise. If you go on your own, free walking tours are available on-site and last about an hour.
During spawning season, sockeye, chinook, and coho salmon climb the Lake Washington Ship Canal Fish Ladder. You can watch this impressive feat either from underwater tanks or from above, where nets keep the fish from jumping too high and stranding themselves on the pavement.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Even during peak spawning season, there is no guarantee you’ll see salmon in the fish ladder due to low tides or low salmon numbers.
- Water can be purchased at the visitor center; food is not usually available but picnics are allowed if you’ve purchased food from one of the nearby eateries.
- Free parking can be found in the neighborhoods on the north and south sides of the locks, and metered parking is available at the north main entrance gate.
How to Get There
The locks are located about 15 minutes north of downtown Seattle, across the Ballard Bridge in the neighborhood of Ballard. Via public transport, take bus 29 or 44.
When to Get There
The best time to visit is during the salmon spawning season, from mid-June to September. The grounds are open every day; the visitor center is open daily from May to September and Thursday through Monday from October to April. For maintenance, the small locks are closed for two weeks in March, the large locks are closed for two weeks in November, and the fish ladder is closed for about two weeks in May.
Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden
Located outside the locks’ northern entrance, the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden hosts free concerts on summer weekends and features walking trails that wind through trees and flower gardens. A small museum and visitor center document the history of the locks.