From the Puget Sound Urban Nature Series


Quintessential Seattle

by Rebecca Bailey

This 100-year old plus park features a little bit of everything Seattle. Locally known as the Ballard Locks, it features two locks that link Puget Sound to Lake Union and Lake Washington. Approximately 45,000 boats float through these locks per year and in summer hordes of people gather along the railings that surround the locks to watch the “big boat elevator” process. Also, it’s a great local scene. On any given day you’ll find families, walkers, bikers, picnickers, sunbathers, readers, joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of this distinct park. Summer concerts and exhibits are ongoing during the summer.

You can get all of your questions answered from staff in the visitor center. Also, the center features an interesting short film that shows how the locks came to be and a gift shop for souvenirs.

Don’t miss the wide pathways that take you through the upper part of the park, Here you’ll find a large area of terraced lawn that overlooks the locks. It’s a picturesque place to spread out a blanket or sit on one of the many benches.

The large trees that border the grassy areas are part of a 7-acre botanical garden that was started in 1931 by Carl S. English Jr. He collected plant species from around the world creating a beautiful English style garden that you can enjoy today. You’ll see this plant and flower collection throughout the park. And next to the visitor center you’ll come upon a sweet little rose garden.

A cement walkway on the other side of the locks crosses the canal leading to a fish ladder with underground viewing. Interpretive displays help you learn and identify the different species of salmon that fight their way up the ladder into the lakes to spawn. Also, on this side of the locks you’ll find Commodore Park, which offers more terraced lawns, benches, and a short promenade that takes you along the ship canal.

In the spring, about halfway down the promenade watch overhead for a Great Blue heron rookery. The bird squawks and large splats of heron scat on the walkway are a dead give-away of where to look. Also, upper paths in the park will lead to a closer look where you can see heron chicks in their nests.

You can visit the Ballard Locks year-round. If you love crowds and want to feel like you are part of something exciting, go in the summer. If solitude is your thing, go during the off season—you’ll still be surrounded by plenty of beauty. No matter when you visit, you’ll leave with a great Seattle experience.