Ross Lake National Recreation Area

State Route 20 is the only east-west driving route across the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Thirty miles of highway access Ross Lake National Recreation Area, offering much of the region's camping, hiking and boating opportunities. Three reservoirs— Ross, Diablo and Gorge— provide power for Seattle City Light and recreational activities for visitors.

Ross Lake is the largest of three reservoirs created by the impounded waters of the upper Skagit River. Ross Lake winds and twists almost 25 miles from the dam north to the Canadian border at Hozomeen. Access to the dam and lake from the south is limited to trail and water routes. Diablo Lake, Ross Dam, and East Bank trails provide access for hikers from trailheads off State Route 20. Ross Lake Resort, (206) 386-4437, has small rental boats and provides portage over the dam and water-taxi service for trailheads and campgrounds.

Fluctuating water levels and seasonal snowpack dictate accessibility. The only road and boat ramp are at the north end of Ross Lake. Vehicle access and boat launching are possible by traveling the 40 mile gravel Silver-Skagit Road south of Hope, British Columbia. Hozomeen Campground is primitive and it is necessary to pack out all litter and refuse. Ross Lake's limited access helps protect the pristine quality of the lake and its environment.

The uniquely-colored waters of Diablo Lake are due to the high concentration of glaciers upstream. Ten percent of the glaciers in the lower forty-eight states grind rock into a fine powder that stays suspended in the lake. Light reflecting off those rock particles causes the intense turquoise lake color. Thunder Creek is the major stream contributing glacial sediment to the lake.

Diablo Lake's name is adopted from a Chinook word influenced by early Spanish explorers meaning"devil." Diablo Lake is open year round to fishing and boating. Camping is available at Colonial Creek Campground, or by permit at three boat-in sites.

The North Cascades Visitor Center, near Newhalem, interprets the North Cascades wilderness through exhibits & theater programs. Models, photographs and videos demonstrate the variety of plants and animals of the various life zones in the mountains. Wall maps and the relief model at the center of the lobby provide information about the region's geology and vegetation.

Explore both the natural and human history of the area on trails near the visitor center. New trails are being developed that highlight the Skagit River and Native American life. Check with rangers about local hikes and programs. Exploring the trails beyond the visitor center can give you a taste of the wilderness of the North Cascades.

Newhalem Creek Campground , located on the south side of State Route 20 in Newhalem, has one universally accessible campsite in each of the campground's three loops. Colonial Creek Campground, located at milepost 130 on State Route 20, has two universally accessible campsites, one each in the north and south units.

Ross Lake Trails

Thornton Lakes Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 117
Distance (Round-trip): 10.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2300 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Remarks: Long day hike; permit
needed for overnight.

Sterling Munro Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 120
Distance (Round-trip): 660 feet
Elevation Gain: Level
Difficulty: Very easy
Remarks: Boardwalk; view into the
Picket Range; universally accessible.

River Loop Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 120
Distance (Round-trip): 1.8 miles
Elevation Gain: Level
Difficulty: Easy
Remarks: Forested walk to river;
universally accessible.

Pyramid Lake Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 127
Distance (Round-trip): 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Remarks: Steep forest;
stream; small lake.

Diablo Lake Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 128
Distance (Round-trip): 7.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Remarks: Trailhead across
Diablo Dam.

Thunder Creek Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 130
Distance (Round-trip): 1.6 - 38 miles
Elevation Gain: 6300 feet
Difficulty: Easy-difficult
Remarks: Easy 1.6 miles round-trip
to suspension bridge.

Fourth of July Pass/ Panther Creek
State Route 20 Milepost: 130 & 138
Distance (Round-trip): 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 2900 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Remarks: Access trail by hiking 1.8
miles up Thunder Creek Trail;
steep to pass.

Ross Dam Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 134
Distance (Round-trip): 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: - 500 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Remarks: Short but steep trail
from State Route 20 to dam.

Happy Creek Forest Walk
State Route 20 Milepost: 134.5
Distance (Round-trip): 3 miles
Elevation Gain: Level
Difficulty: Very easy
Remarks: Universally accessible.

East Bank Trail
State Route 20 Milepost: 138
Distance (Round-trip): 0.5 - 34 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Remarks: Trail east (Canyon Creek)
or west (Ross Lake).

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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