Lake Union, Washington, USA
Also known as: Meman Hartshu, Small Lake, Tenass Chuck, Little Water
Surrounded by four vibrant urban neighborhoods, Lake Union sits in the heart of Seattle, Washington. From orcas playing in Puget Sound to sea kayakers paddling inland waterways, Seattle is closely tied to the sea and lakes with Lake Union uniting the two. Whether you choose to live on the lakefront, bicycle through neighborhood parks or paddle your way to a new urban adventure, Lake Union is central to it all.
Lake Union 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. Attracted to fertile land and excellent fisheries, the Lake Union and Puget Sound areas were originally inhabited by people of the Duwamish tribe who called the lake Meman Hartshu (“small lake”) or Tenass Chuck (“little water”) in Chinook. Set between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, the tribe’s prime location brought them into contact with fur traders and loggers of the 1800s. By the mid-1800s settlers were beginning to establish homes, and industry was reaching the shore of Lake Union. It was during this time that Thomas Mercer gave Lake Union its name, believing that one day the lake would unite neighboring Lake Washington and Puget Sound. By 1934 Mercer’s prediction came true.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal began in 1911, and upon completion in 1934 connected Lake Washington to Puget Sound. The construction of the Ship Canal and early industrial use of Lake Union significantly altered the lake from its original size and water flow. The current 580 acre lake is about one-third smaller than its original size. The natural inflow from Cedar and Sammamish Rivers was diverted, and opening of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks on the Ship Canal now introduces saltwater into Lake Union while it controls the lake’s water level. Moving from east to west, boat traffic can now move from Lake Washington through Union Bay and Montlake Cut into Portage Bay which is the new source of inflow into Lake Union. Outflow from Lake Union now passes through Fremont Cut, Salmon Bay and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks before entering Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound. With the completion of the Ship Canal, goods could be easily transported from Lake Union’s growing industries to international ports. Except for park land, the estimated four-mile Lake Union shoreline is completely developed with house boats, dry docks, marinas, and other commercial businesses. Among the major companies finding its origins on the shores of Lake Union were the Boeing Company and Kenworth Motor Truck Company. Today, the mix of industry, medical centers, museums, parks and neighborhoods make Lake Union an exciting place to live and work.
Home to the first Boeing Company assembly plant, the Eastlake neighborhood has changed its identity over the decades. Residents now come home to a diverse collection of boat launches, swimming beaches, parks, a dry dock, NOAA Pacific Marine Center, floating homes and small protected coves where you will find waterside retreats and wildlife habitats. Eastlake has been a residential neighborhood since the 1890s. With a delightful mix of vintage homes, new developments and house boats, Eastlake is attracting a growing number of residents and renters to Lake Union.
Residents of the South Lake Union neighborhood actively work to preserve Seattle’s maritime and cultural history. Home to the Center for Wooden Boats and new 12-acre South Lake Union Seaport Park, residents have access to recreational and educational activities including the Historic Ships Wharf and future collaborations with United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Northwest Native Canoe Center, and the Museum of History and Industry. South Lake Union is also a wonderful place to work and live. With the neighborhood becoming home to numerous medical and life science research facilities, new apartments, condominiums and real estate properties are in demand by fortunate residents of South Lake Union.
Westlake neighborhood lies on a narrow strip of land bordering Lake Union’s western shore. Home to Kenmore Air Harbor seaplane terminal and beautiful lakefront scenery, water is at the heart of Westlake. This neighborhood extends on to floating homes, one of which served as the setting for the film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Whether Westlake residents live in high-rise condominiums, apartments, or house boats, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, biking and hiking Lake Union are activities right at their front door.
Home to a large ship yard and scenic views of boats cruising the Ship Canal, Northlake neighborhood is a mix of contrasts. Originally the site of a 1906 gas plant, Gas Works Park sits on the northern shore of Lake Union. A popular destination for all Seattle residents, the city park offers residents “a picnic shelter with tables, fire grills and an open area. The former exhauster-compressor building, now a children’s play barn, features a maze of brightly painted machinery.” Fishing urban lakes is a popular pastime in Seattle, and Gas Works Park is the perfect place to cast your line. Found in the lake’s 50-foot depth and 34-foot average depth are smallmouth bass, salmon, trout, whitefish, sunfish, perch and an occasional flounder. Be sure to check fishing regulations and fish consumption advisories for Lake Union at the links provided. In Seattle’s tradition of reusing and repurposing land, 27 miles of abandoned railroad tracks now form the Burke-GilmanTrail. A portion of this trail crosses the University of Washington campus before heading west into Northlake. This wonderful mix of industry, residential neighborhoods and recreational facilities is called home to steelworkers and students alike.
When clouds break over Lake Union, the view of Mount Rainier’s snowy peaks remind residents that water is only part of the beauty found in the Pacific Northwest. A two-hour drive southeast of Seattle will take you into Mount Rainier National Park where hiking, camping, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling awaits. With an amazing mix of climates, Olympic National Park sits to the west of Puget Sound. A designated World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, the Olympic Peninsula includes a mountain wilderness, dense temperate rainforest, subalpine meadows and sandy Pacific beaches where you can explore nature at its best.
Soon to connect the businesses, parks, and four Lake Union neighborhoods is the 6.2-mile Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. This multi-use trail will encircle neighborhoods rich in diversity, progressive in their planning and forever tied to the water. Whether you prefer Eastlake, South Lake Union, Westlake or Northlake, choose from the exciting selection of vacation rentals and residential real estate properties and begin to call Lake Union home.
Things to do at Lake Union
- Vacation Rentals
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Park
- City Park
Fish species found at Lake Union
- Black Bass
- Chinook Salmon
- Smallmouth Bass
Lake Union Photo Gallery
Lake Union Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed
Water Level Control: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Surface Area: 580 acres
Shoreline Length: 4 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 16 feet
Average Depth: 34 feet
Maximum Depth: 50 feet
Water Volume: 20,000 acre-feet
Water Residence Time: 52 times per year
Lake Area-Population: 3,000
Drainage Area: 571 sq. miles
Trophic State: Mesotrophic
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