The West Coast Dad Collective Guide to The North Cascades Part 1: Diablo Lake, Ross Lake

Well... the trip planning that we put in ahead of time for our North Cascades adventure paid off. We had a heck of a time. We kayaked pristine waters, we dived off canyon cliffs, we caught giant rainbow trout, we saw billions of stars shine through near total darkness, we got our butts kicked by a gorgeous but grueling hike, and we had many conversations about life and fatherhood. For me, most importantly, I recharged my batteries and returned home with more energy and capacity to be a fully engaged and patient parent. And that is really why this was so important and why breaks like this are needed. When you find yourself "zoning out" too often as a parent, it's time for a recharge. 

From www.nps.gov

From www.nps.gov

Even though one of the best parts of our trip was the fact that nobody was out there and we pretty much had the huge lake to ourselves, I am going to share this guide that will let you in on the secret of this "hidden gem". I just might end up regretting the post but we'll risk that for now.

The first step is to locate Ross Lake. It is a large lake in the middle of the North Cascades National Park in western Washington state. It is just a quick 2.5 hour drive north from Seattle (with normal traffic of course). The lake is 23 miles long and actually stretches all the way north to the Canadian border. And most importantly, the lake is not accessible by car (except for at the Canadian border) which is the main reason that it is so amazingly quiet. So you will need to prepare to either hike in or boat in.

You MUST get your permits first at the ranger station in Marblemount, WA.

You MUST get your permits first at the ranger station in Marblemount, WA.

Before you hit the lake you will need to stop in at the Ranger Station in Marblemount, WA. The camping spots on Ross Lake are free but they are first come first served. You can only reserve the spots in person at the ranger stations and at most 24 hours in advance. We got to the station at 7:30 AM and there were already several people in there. Luckily they were getting their permits for other campsites very far from Ross Lake. Still, we came with several possible itineraries and campsites that we were open to. We ended up getting our first choice but we were prepared with back up plans.

First you make your way through Diablo Lake and get portage across the Ross Lake dam.

First you make your way through Diablo Lake and get portage across the Ross Lake dam.

This is the view from the dock with the phone to call Ross Lake Resort. Portage fees were 30 bucks for a kayak. Well worth it.

This is the view from the dock with the phone to call Ross Lake Resort. Portage fees were 30 bucks for a kayak. Well worth it.

We launched our kayak from the Colonial Creek campgrounds. You can leave your car there without the need for any parking fees or passes (how awesome is that?). This is actually where you enter Diablo Lake and you'll need to paddle 5 miles to reach a dock where you call the Ross Lake Resort and they will drive a truck down and portage your kayak or canoe up the hill and over to the other side of the Ross Lake dam.

Our kayak was loaded up pretty heavy so it took us a while to find our paddling groove. For much of the first day we were fighting a heavy lean to the right. What could have been a day of 10 efficient miles of paddling was probably closer to 12 miles of looping around but at least it was absolutely gorgeous. Diablo Lake has amazingly turquoise water caused by the amount of "glacial flour" in the lake. The glacier fed lake is also considerably colder than Ross Lake. This isn't a swimming lake at all, even on the hottest summer day.

After we reached the dock with the phone we called up the resort and they sent a truck that arrived within 10 minutes. The driver was really friendly and really helpful. We were increasingly thankful that we paid for portage as the truck drove up steeper and steeper hills. The quick ride ends at a new dock on the north side of the Ross dam. Look across the way and you will see the floating cabins of Ross Lake Resort. But mostly, take a moment to do a 360 degree spin and appreciate the splendor of the nature around you.

PART 2 IS COMING