Travel Tips

The Fish Ladder in Seattle

Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder

Ballard Locks Fish Ladder

Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder

No doubt you've heard of the famous fish mongers at Pike Place Market who'll send salmon flying through the air with the greatest of ease. But if you want to see them up close and personal before they end up on ice, I recommend heading off to the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks.

The Ballard Locks connect the waters of the Puget Sound with the Lake Washington Ship Canal (and ultimately Lake Union and Lake Washington). The 21-step fish ladder was created to allow a variety of salmon to swim upstream to spawn.

A subterranean room is lined on one side with large windows looking into a section of the fish ladder. When the salmon are running, it's like looking into a big (if a bit murky) aquarium with fish swimming against fast moving water. At other times of year the fish ladder is empty except for the occasional smolts (baby salmon) getting buffeted about by the current.

A push-button oration will give you a lesson in salmonology (OK, so that's not really a word), and you can check out a display following the growth process from salmon egg to smolt.

Here's what you'll find in the fish ladder, and when you'll find it:

Sockeye: June/July
Chinook & Coho: September/October
Steelhead: Late fall & winter

If you just can't get enough of the Pacific Northwest's favorite fish, here are some other places where you can more salmon in action (though these are all above water viewing). And if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in early October, you can head over to Issaquah (about 20 miles east) for the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival.

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