Lake Union: an Aquatic Playground in the Heart of Seattle

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Lake Union was the setting for Tom Hanks’ floating home in the 1993 box office hit “Sleepless in Seattle.” This floating home is a popular stop on boat tours around Seattle’s Lake Union. In fact, Seattle has one of the highest concentrations of floating homes in the world.

Surrounded by four vibrant urban neighborhoods, Lake Union sits in the heart of Seattle. The lake was formed about 15,000 years ago when glaciers retreated from the Pacific Northwest, leaving scenic lakes and hillsides that would become Seattle’s landscape.

Skyline of Seattle with Lake Union in foreground
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True to its name, Lake Union unites freshwater Lake Washington to the east with saltwater Puget Sound to the west via the Lake Washington Ship Canal, constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1911 and 1934. Pleasure boats share the canal and locks with industrial ships headed to international ports.

Lake Union was home to the first Boeing Company assembly plant and the Kenworth Motor Truck Company. Today, the mix of industry, medical center, museums, parks, and residential neighborhoods make Lake Union an exciting place to live and work.

Tourists and locals alike enjoy watching the parade of boats that pass through the Ship Canal and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, often called the Ballard Locks, including sailboats, motorboats, tugs, barges, and yachts.

Sailboats on Lake Union with Seattle skyline in the background
espiegle via canva

A fish ladder was built to allow spawning salmon to pass between freshwater and saltwater. Visitors can watch the salmon through glass panels, adjusting to different levels of salt as they ascend the ladder.

When clouds break over Lake Union, the view of Mount Rainier’s snowy peaks remind spectators that water is only part of the beauty found in the Pacific Northwest.

Mount Rainier National Park is an easy day trip from Lake Union and offers four seasons of outdoor adventure. Just west of Lake Union is Olympic National Park, a designated World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. The amazing mix of climates includes mountain wilderness, dense temperate rainforest, subalpine meadows, and sandy Pacific beaches.

Stunning Fontana Lake in spring
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