Trip Report: Ballard Locks and Discovery Park

This report covers one of the walks featured in the book “Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City” by David B. Williams. I committed to walking all of the walks in the book as part of a fundraiser for Mountaineers youth programs (this link will remain active during the summer 2017 fundraiser).

This walk begins at the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard. The locks are part of a waterway navigation project completed in 1917 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Previously, a bay just to the east (Salmon Bay) was tidal and the two lakes further to the east (Lake Union and Lake Washington) were at two different levels (Lake Washington was 29 feet above sea level and Lake Union nine feet below that). This project also included land removal between the two lakes to create a navigable water connection between them. Interestingly, it took a full two or three months (depending on the source you read) for Lake Washington to drain to the level of Lake Union once this was completed.

Photo of the locks looking back toward the Ballard side

The walk takes you past a rookerie where several types of large shorebirds nest. Watch out for bird droppings! Here you can sight cormorants and great blue heron before heading out of the locks property and toward a large old train draw bridge.

The old train draw bridge

After the bridge is a nesting box. I had walked by here numerous times without noticing this. One of the things I like most about this book I am using is that it points stuff like this out that would otherwise blend into the background.

Nesting box built for osprey. 

After making your way a bit west and before heading up the steepest part of the hill toward the park, the book suggests a possible detour taking a right on 40th to find a lookout at the end of the road. If you are walking this and following along, I recommend skipping that part. The “lookout” is rather underwhelming and the area there feels very much like a private drive. Instead, turn left and head uphill toward the entrance to Discovery Park.


I like to think of this park as a “choose your adventure” type place. There are well-marked trails that can take you to many different environments. There’s the heavily shaded Wolf Creek Nature Trail found to the right just at the end of the parking lot. It’s worth walking this loop, with an abundance of native plants and pleasant short walk (maybe a half mile or so).  The Daybreak Star Center is a Native American cultural center with an interesting history: after the government declared the land surplus, native activists staged an occupation of the land where the center now stands. Further down the trails, one way takes you to a beach with a lighthouse, another takes you through a wooded area to the Environmental Learning Center, another to a wide open area that includes a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound. The choices abound.

View from the bluff overlooking Puget Sound

The book has us skipping over the parts of the park toward the water and instead takes us to the Environmental Learning Center by way of a path crossing through groves of old big leaf maples.

Large big leaf maple tree found just off the trail

If you need a pit stop, the learning center is open until 5pm Tuesday through Sunday.

After exiting the park, a few blocks of walking along city streets brings you to an old pedestrian bridge built in 1914 that contains most of its original wood (!). After crossing this bridge it is only a short walk back to the locks.  On the way, be sure to check out the ravine that you will pass (on your left). This was a massive ecological restoration project. It’s gratifying to see it now and know that I helped create this in a small way (I volunteered labor to remove invasive species at various work parties several years ago).

Looking down into the ravine.


The pedestrian bridge over the train tracks.

After crossing the locks again, you can head back to Ballard where there are many opportunities for after-hike refreshments.

Keep calm and walk on.