When the gates are closed, you can walk across the canal, and if you pay attention to the water cascading over the spillway, you're certain to see the occasional fish getting a thrill ride between the fresh water and the salt water. On the other side is the 'fish ladder', a series of underwater steps that salmon can use to make their own transit between ocean and lake.
But let's face it, the real attraction is the locks themselves. Virtually any time of day, you'll have to wait no more than a few minutes to witness the next batch of boats pass through – from tiny sailboats to enormous yachts to cruise vessels, all jockeying into place in the canals. There's something very fascinating about watching the boats enter, watching the water level gradually rise or lower, and watching the boats leave again. Occasionally the skippers get into tiffs about whose vessel should go where, which adds to the entertainment value.
The Chittenden Locks are often called the Ballard Locks, after the Scandinavian neighborhood where they are located. It's pleasant to stroll through Ballard and perhaps have lunch before or after seeing the locks.
IF YOU GO: There is a walking tour in a PDF format of the adjacent gardens that can be downloaded from the web site. Free guided tours, on a seasonal basis. There is a fish ladder viewing room open during the day. Parking is $1.50 More photos and information here.
WHEN TO VISIT: The park is open year-round, but it's especially fun to see adult salmon between June and November. Steelhead can be seen January to April and the baby salmon (smolts) are visible in May and June as they head to the ocean to mature.
ADDRESS: 3015 NW 54th St. Seattle, WA 98107
JURISDICTION: Army Corps of Engineers
INFORMATION VERIFIED AS OF: 09/20/10
Boats in the locks with the lock opening to the lake
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com / © Jo Ann Snover