3.18.2013

Field Trip: Ballard Locks


The Ballard Locks is located very near me, just over Salmon Bay an is officially named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.  We love exploring the city and since we moved here in August we've visited the Ballard Locks numerous times, but summer is the best when people are out on their boats and the locks really fills up.  My kids (ages 3 through 8) love this spectacle so much and i'm not going to lie I love watching it as well.  Prior to visiting the Ballard Locks I never realized just how dramatic watching locks in action can be.  

If you're new to the area or visiting I would highly recommend checking out the Ballard Locks.


The Ballard locks contains two locks, a large and a small.  The purpose of these locks are to prevent to fresh water from Lake Washington and Lake Union from mixing with the salt water of the Puget Sound.  From Wikipedia the locks work as such:


Vessels passing from the freshwater Lakes Washington and Union to Puget Sound enter the lock chamber through the open upper gates (A in the accompanying diagram). The lower gates (B) and the draining valve (D) are closed. The vessel is assisted by the lockwall attendants who assure it is tied down and ready for the chamber to be drained.[2]
Next, the upper gates (A) and the filling valve (C) are closed and the draining valve (D) is opened allowing water to drain via gravity out to Puget Sound.[2]
When the water pressure is equal on both sides of the gate, the lower gates (B) are opened, allowing the vessels to leave the lock chamber.[2]
The process is reversed for upstream locking.[2]
Image from Wikipedia
As I mentioned, during our beautiful PNW summers those locks really fill up with boats of all shapes and sizes.  The sailboats are the most beautiful, especially those with enormous masts.  My kids, as with most other kids there, are usually amazed by the sight.  When entering the locks from the Lake side the boats are on the higher end of the water and are pretty raised at viewing level so viewers get a great view of the boats and those on board.  When visiting the Locks we make sure to grab a good spot as boats are being tied up because it won't be long before the show starts.  In the diagram above you'll notice there are large gates creating various holding areas for the boats and creates the separation of water, these gates are also bridges so you're able to cross over and watch the Locks in action from either side of the chamber and to move from the larger and smaller locks.  Once the Locks are ready to rock and roll you'll here a bell ring, this is when everyone gets into position for the show.  Within minutes the water level starts to drop and right before your very eyes that chamber filled with water has now turned into a very big hole, with the water level matching that of the sound and the boats are so very low that you are literally looking over and down to catch a glimpse.  When all is set the gates open and one by one the boats file out and sail out into the sound.  It's quite amazing to see in person.  
Image from my Instagram xamberlinax

Image from 4dguides.com
Also on the grounds are the Carl English Botanical gardens.  If you're already onsite take a moment to walk around.  We love looking at all the beautiful flowers and when its a sunny day nobody minds roaming the grounds.  Another great attraction is the Fish Ladder.  You'll have to cross over the locks to get there but that's no big deal.  

Kids love the fish ladder, I think first and foremost is for the amazing silvery, wave like sculptures dotted around the grounds.  It never fails that as soon as my kids see the sculptures they start running amok, this is not unusual about 99% of the other kids are doing the exact same thing.  Running around and through them, hiding behind them and all the while the parents, me included, are trying to snap a picture of the kiddo with one or more of these amazing dr. seuss like curls.

The fish ladder is underground, dark and with seating and standing area.  If you've got a stroller with you it is stroller friendly.  There are glass panels in the wall that allows you to view the fishes swimming upstream.  If you're there during prime spawning season you'll see hundreds upon hundreds of fish swimming upstream. 
Image from Panoramio.com




The Ballard Locks is located about 15 minutes from Seattle Center.  There is ample metered parking with 4-hr meters and street parking in the surrounding area.  If you want to go a little crazy you can enter the Ballard Locks from the Magnolia side of the bay from Commodore Park.  From the park you are able to follow the path to enter the Fish Ladder and from there just walk on over to the Locks.  Like I said, I think this is a great attraction for you and your little ones and definitely if you have guests of your own.  I took my parents there and they thought it was a great.  The best part is, outside of parking, visiting the Locks, Fish Ladder and Botanical Garden is absolutely FREE!

It would also be great to note that free 1-hour guided tours are offered between March 1 through November 30.  Just pop into the Visitor Center for details.

Address:
3015 NW 54th St
Seattle, WA  98107
Hours: 

Grounds: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fish Ladder Viewing Room Hours: 7 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Visitor Center Hours: May-September: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. open daily
October-April: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

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