Motors Allowed?
23.00 mi (37.01 km)
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At the end of the Skagit River Valley, a multi-day paddling voyage on Diablo Lake and Ross Lake is one of the best ways to experience the incredible splendor of the North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

Together, Gorge Dam, Diablo Dam, and the 540-foot tall Ross Dam are the main components of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project that cut off the natural flow of the Skagit River starting in 1921 to produce electricity for Seattle. The dams created the opal-colored Diablo Lake and the massive Ross Lake, one of the largest reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest. This enormous reservoir measures 23 miles in length, averages 1.5 miles wide, and spans the U.S. and Canadian border.

Ross Dam Portage (Getting to Ross Lake)

Starting at Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake it's a 3.5-mile paddle to the portage dock just below the Ross Dam Powerhouse. Here, after arranging a portage pick-up from the Ross Lake Resort, you and your watercraft can be shuttled via a switchback gravel road to the other side of Ross Dam, where you'll be dropped off at another dock on the east shore just north of the dam. From here it is an additional quarter mile across the reservoir to the resort.

The truck-assisted portage over Ross Dam is offered seven days a week between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It's roughly $30 for the first watercraft and $20 for each boat thereafter. Call 206.386.4437 or the National Park Wilderness Information at 360.854.7245 in advance, or you can use a phone that is located at the Diablo Lake portage dock to call the resort.

Note: There is no vehicular access to Ross Lake Resort or the reservoir's southern end. If you are not departing from Diablo Lake via kayak or canoe, you can access Ross Lake two ways:

  • Hiking: Continue to drive northwest on WA Hwy 20 for an additional 3.9 miles past Colonial Creek Campground to a parking area at mile marker 134. From here, hike via the Pacific Northwest Trail 1 mile and turn right at the gravel road. It's an additional 0.5 miles to the boat taxi dock. Call 18-31974 from the last power pole for pick up.
  • Vehicle: Just prior to reaching Diablo Lake, turn left onto Diablo Dam Road, and after 1.0 miles turn right into the Ross Lake Resort Ferry parking lot. The ferry departs at 8:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. daily.

Kayaking + Boat Rental

The reservoir is a sea kayaker's paradise, but be prepared for open water paddling and choppy waters near the center of the reservoir. Besides picking up views of the adjacent North Cascades, highlights include stopping and/or swimming at Cougar Island, Roland Point Cove, Little Jerusalem Island, May Creek, Devil's Creek slot canyon, Skymo Creek Falls, and Lightning Creek canyon.

Canoes, sea kayaks and small motorboats can be rented from Ross Lake Resort.


Sprinkled along it's 23 miles north to south, a total of 19 boat-in campsites can accommodate overnight travel. Backcountry permits are required and should be reserved as early as possible. Each camp includes picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, and food storage lockers.

Below, backcountry camps along the reservoir are listed according to their distance from Ross Dam and according to the number campsites:

  • Green Point (0.8 miles), 5 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Cougar Island (2.3 miles), 2 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Roland Point (3.5 miles), 1 site.
  • McMillan (4 miles), 3 sites, w/ boat dock..
  • Spencer's (4.3 miles), 2 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Big Beaver (4.6 miles), 7 sites, w/ boat dock..
  • May Creek (5 miles), 1 site, w/ boat dock.
  • Rainbow Point (6 miles), 3 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Devil's Junction (9 miles), 1 site, w/ boat dock.
  • Ten Mile Island (10 miles), 3 sites.
  • Dry Creek (10.4 miles), 4 sites.
  • Ponderosa (11 miles) 2 sites.
  • Lodgepole (11.4 miles), 3 sites.
  • Lightning Creek Stock Camp (11.8 miles), 2 sites.
  • Lightning Creek Boat Camp (12 miles), 5 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Cat Island (13 miles), 4 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Little Beaver (15 miles), 5 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Boundary Bay (16.5 miles), 3 sites.
  • Silver Creek (20 miles), 3 sites, w/ boat dock.
  • Hozomeen Campground (22 miles), 75 car/tent sites.


Aside from boat access, a water taxi can be booked from Ross Lake Resort to any of the trailheads along the reservoir's length. Popular hikes along the reservoir include:

  • East Bank Trail: This trail stretches 15.2 miles along the eastern shore of Ross Lake, passing over Devil's Creek and Lightning Creek canyons.
  • Desolation Peak: A 13.6-mile there-and-back hike departing from Lightning Creek Camp on the lake's eastern shore, the hike up to Desolation Peak is by far the lake's most popular. Climb an arduous 4,498 feet to the top of this peak adorned with a lookout tower for some of the best views in Washington.
  • Devil's Ridge Trail to Devil's Ridge: Roughly 17 miles there-and-back. Departs from Devil's Junction Camp on the lake's eastern shore and rises 5,378 feet to the 6,982-foot Devil's Dome. From it's outcropping, panoramic views of Jack Mountain and the rest of the Cascades come into full view.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass


Scenic reservoir and mountains. Side hikes.


Campsite reservations need to be made far in advance.

Water Temperature

32.00 °F (0.00 °C)


Campgrounds + Campsites
Backcountry camping
Bird watching

Typically multi-day


Shuttle required


Site characteristics: Water


Portage required



Nearby Adventures

Ross Lake National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park
Ross Lake National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Ross Lake National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park
Ross Lake National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park


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