Trip Report    

Sea Kayak - Ross, Diablo & Gorge Lakes

Everything went so smoothly and so well the entire week. It didn’t have much choice with great weather and a very kind, considerate and experienced crew that worked very well together. It seemed like a dream within a dream and I already am looking forward to next year!! Photo credit: Terry Jaret

  • Road suitable for all vehicles



I had turned in my application for camping reservations in March 2021 on the nps.gov website.  In April I was given two campsites on the first three nights that I had not asked for with nothing on Diablo Lake at all.  They had also changed my dates.  I arrived at the Marblemount Wilderness Center (the only one open in 2021) to pick up my permit with the assigned dates but was able to change my itinerary to my original desired route and campsites. I then proceeded on to Newhalem to go to the bathroom and bookstore and met up with Terry outside.  We then proceeded without stopping to Colonial Creek, arriving around 1030. I had expected a lot more people but there were only a couple of cars on the boat launch. The Predmores were already there and I think Karen arrived about when I did. We were lucky to find some parking spaces and I double parked behind the Predmores’ car.  After a huddle we launched before noon, heading first into Thunder Creek for a short distance before the current became too strong.  Then it was a U-turn, under the Hwy 20 bridge and down Thunder Arm.  We had the wind gusting against us as we cleared the boom and headed for the quieter cove by Thunder Point where a few people were out on the dock.  We rafted up, had a snack and the decision was made to explore the main lake before going to our campsite.  The wind increased to about 10 knots against us as we hand railed along the pretty shoreline before getting into the lee of it beside Diablo Dam.  I had to give the dam a smooch with my boat’s bow as pictures were taken of its beautiful profile against the mountains with its graceful arches topped by the picturesque lightpoles.  The wind was then behind us and it was fun surfing the resulting waves on the turquoise green water past the Seattle City Light ferry boat dock (one came in just as we arrived) and attached buildings and the Environmental Learning Center and its beach and swimming area.  A few people were on it where I stopped for a brief chat before continuing on around the point to Buster Brown. The wind was almost completely blocked as soon as we rounded the point.  BB is back in a protected cove and the dock is behind the boom and barges which provides the winter storage for equipment and machinery for the Ross Lake Resort and the Northern Cascades Park Service.


In spite of the reported demand for campsites we were once again the only ones at the site when we arrived around 1400.  We had plenty of space to pull our boats up the padded edges of the nice docks with their smooth surfaces and recessed cleats.   (Almost all of the metal docks have been replaced in recent years on both lakes).  The Predmores were sharing an impressive tent which they pitched at the site closest to the dock.  I hung my hammock in my usual spot close by with Terry and Karen pitching their tents on the other side of the clean but limited stocked outdoor toilet station.  Campsites are determined not by the actual tent pads but rather the picnic table and food storage cache.  Food hanging is not necessary at any of the campsites on Diablo or Ross Lakes.


We had some pleasant conversations around our picnic table and after tying the printed permit in the plastic cover provided by the park service to my boat I got in my hammock to read a bit before turning out the light a little after 9:00.


WED 07/21/21 BUSTER BROWN TO 10 MILE ISLAND, ROSS LAKE, 11.5 SM           

Having your boats to load and launch off of a dock makes it a lot faster and easier to do so and we left in soon to be warm sunshine and quiet conditions at approx 0800 to immediately head up the quiet and lovely Diablo Canyon to the large Seattle City Light dock.  This is not a section to be rushed as the towering rock walls and trees become increasingly narrower around you.  There are a couple of spots where streams drop into the lake amid the rocks but the largest and tallest is on the right side just before you reach the dock.  We proceeded a short way beyond the dock to get a glimpse of the upper corner of Ross Dam and Karen and Terry opted to get out and go on the nearby footbridge for a quick and better view.  We then returned to the dock and I made the call to the Resort at the provided phone station to be told that a shuttle was on its way.  We had just enough time to stash the boats to the left of and perpendicular to the dock ramp with our bags in the staging area looking like an ad for IKEA at the top of the ramp.  The truck backs down to a well marked block and we were the only ones waiting to be quickly loaded up and on our way assisted by the friendly driver Drew.


It takes about 25 minutes to get around the 1.5 mile 600’ rise to Ross Dam.  Drew stopped for photo ops on the very scenic switchback route and identified the snow covered peaks along the way. We were carefully dropped off at the water edge of the dock opposite Ross Lake Resort on the other side.  The one way shuttle is $35 per boat if multiple, $40 solo and is well worth the money.  Drew enthusiastically appreciated both his cash and chocolate cookie tips!


It was about 1030 when we were packed back up again and launched.  The wind had come up, for once behind me in my loaded boat at less than 10 knots.  Since we had to go 10 miles to our campsite already we decided to skip Ruby Arm although it is well worth the time to explore it as far back as you can.   We headed towards the right side of the lake, arriving first at Cougar Island.  Nobody needed to stop for any adjustments.  We rounded the point to see a boat with a very large radar thing on top of it at the dock at McMillan and went to go check it out.  It was a man and woman who were working on a survey of some kind; there is always something like that being done on this lake.


We continued on up Rainbow.  We got out on the convenient stump side instead of the dock where we hauled out into the uneven grassy surface for lunch.  As we were eating a couple of canoeists came in, trying to maneuver through the mostly submerged stumps while struggling against the wind.  One boy finally got out and pushed the canoe along as they were joined by another team.  I noticed that both of the boys in the front of the canoes were badly sunburned on their thighs before they headed off around to the dock side.  


After about 45 minutes we packed up and proceeded on.  Once past Rainbow you can see the part of the East Bank Trail right above the lake. Soon after this you reach the “Magic Bridge” crossing over Devil’s Creek. We arrived around 1:00 with the sun almost directly overhead that provides the perfect lighting on a sunny day like we had.  Luckily a power boat was just leaving and we had the canyon to ourselves. This is the most beautiful of the canyons on Ross Lake with its green forest on top of high rock wall formations that reflect the patterns of sunshine on the water amid the dripping moss, ferns and flowers.  The temperature drops the farther back you go and every year the ending is different.  This year we were able to squeeze past the log jam to make it all the way to the ice cold creek cascading over the rocks into the water.  It doesn’t take long to warm up as it reaches the bridge on the outside.


Once out of the hard to leave canyon Ten Mile Island is about a mile away and we made a beeline for the east side.  This side of the island doesn’t have a dock but there is a nice tiny pocket beach between some rocks that had plenty of room for us to pull up and store our boats above. We were lucky that once again to find the two campsites on the east side empty when we arrived around 1400.  There were a couple of quiet guys on the campsite on the point on the other side with the privy in between.  I set up my hammock not far from the tent pad that Karen used with Terry, Laura and Brian in sites next door. The food cache that had been reported as faulty worked fine.  We spread out to read, take a bath or just sit and relax in the sunshine or shade.  We gathered at one table for dinner and I made beanies and weenies wrapped in tortillas for Terry and me.  The wind had been blowing steadily but gradually dropped as the sun did but was still blowing when I got into my hammock around 9:00.  It keeps the mosquitos to a minimum which is a real blessing!




We got on the water about 0900.  There was little or no breeze behind us and the water was quiet.  We paused to look at Dry Creek closely and to say hi to some of the campers; it looked busy.  Then on around the point and soon we were going under the bridge to the canyon for Lightning Creek.  This canyon isn’t as high or narrow as Devil and the creek is much more open and easier to approach.  I have gotten out and gathered water here.  We took some turns surfing the waves in front of the creek but I got pushed up against the right wall and flipped.  I had to bail out and Laura was available to immediately grab my boat as I gasped for some air; the water was icy cold.  I was able to swing in hanging on to the stern of mine and Brian’s boats but during the process my laminated map had come off my front deck. They sink like a stone and we could see it on the rocks about 8 feet below, held by the current.  Repeated attempts to reach it with paddles and longer sticks didn’t work and we finally had to give it up and leave.  Laura loaned me hers for the rest of the trip. 


We stopped at Cat Island for a break and a chat with a law enforcement officer that had his boat at the dock.  He’s park service too but a different branch and wears a gun.  He told us that while Hozemeen was available for camping the boat launch and potable water were shut down.  We then headed on across the lake to a point on the other side to then swing a right and handrail along the shore.  Soon we came to a waterfall where we paused before continuing on to the largest of the waterfalls, Little Beaver Falls. It wasn’t as large as last year but it was big enough.  I was able to get out of my boat and get up on the rocks to fill my water bag at the base of the falls.  Nobody else needed any water so I got back in and we continued on to the campsite.  Terry was ahead and I was terribly disappointed when I saw him turn and head for the dock after checking at our usual haul out.  My favorite spot was taken and we could see some hammocks hanging in the trees in the top spot that was also used last year.  The dock was crowded with both kayaks and mostly canoes.  Some tents were set up in the trough and even on the old primary space by the old bulkhead.  But the good news was that the people at the primo spot said they were leaving so we went back to the dock and moved our boats.  The guys were gone by the time we got our boats up the embankment.  This took awhile; they had to be unloaded first and then hauled up and stashed up along the sides.  It wasn’t even noon yet but our paddling was done for the day. There was a light breeze blowing so the bugs weren’t too bad as we set up our camp.  Brian and Laura’s tent was closest to the food cache with Terry and Karen on the pad overlooking the lake.  The picnic table was moved farther away from the cache and fairly level which showed the effort it took to get it like that so we left it where it was.  My hammock was in the usual place just up the hill from it.


We spent the rest of the day being lazy, sitting or lying in the sun and shade, reading and talking. I made chicken noodle soup for dinner and turned in around 9:00 or so.  There was a noisy bunch in the group site on top but my earplugs took care of that and Terry reported the next day that they had shut up before midnight.




We launched early at 0700 for this one as you never know how soon the wind will come up.  It’s also nice to see the rock formations when the water is still.  There was very little wind making few ripples in the water as we headed towards the opposite shore.  Brian, Terry and I went to check out Boundary Bay campsite on the other side.  It looked like there were  only a couple of people there and a park boat.  We said hi and eventually met Laura and Karen at the point.  We stayed pretty close to shore. We came across a brown headed merganser with what looked like an orphanage.  She was leading at least 20 almost grown chicks.  Eventually we passed the storage area for the park service just south of Hozemeen. I was puzzled by the differences from last year and it turns out that there are two docks with two different boat ramps at Hozemeen.  The one closest to the back has the swimming area and shorter boat ramp.  The camp was deserted and the bugs were hungry.  Brian got out at to use the bathroom and came back with a cloud around him which tried to move on to me and I paddled away fast.  We got going again and headed for the Canadian border which had several vehicles in the pretty campsite.  I could see where cyclists were just leaving.  A guy came forward and said that we were welcome to come in if vaccinated. We could see the border lines etched into the sides of the hills on either side of the lake; they looked a little more overgrown this year.  We opted to just head on across the lake, taking pictures and being careful to dodge the numerous tree stumps to the log boom on the other side.    We then headed to Silver Creek.  I was amazed to see a float plane approach and land, eventually heading to that same dock.  A man and three pre and early teen boys got out.  They were from Bellingham, it was his plane and they were staying at Silver Creek first and then heading to Ten Mile in the morning.  The boys disappeared for a couple of minutes then returned to the dock, scratching their exposed legs and asking if all the bugs were mosquitos.  Clouds had accompanied the others who had gotten out; I didn’t bother as I have enough bites already.  After a few minutes we continued on in the increasingly warmer sunshine back to Little Beaver, arriving just after noon.  There was little breeze although it picked up in the afternoon.  The hammock crowd had left so Karen moved her tent upstairs during the afternoon.  The rest of our day was spent much like the one before.  Terry cooked his couscous and chicken for our meal. We were looking forward to the full moon on the clear night ahead.  I turned in as it was getting dark.




Today was spent being lazy although Laura, Terry, Karen and I went swimming.  The wind wasn’t blowing much, the water is warmer than last year and it really felt good on an increasingly warm afternoon.  Some people went for a walk here and there; I did what I dream about all year: napping, swimming, reading, snacking and being lazy surrounded by beautiful scenery with nice people!




We got going at 0700 again to avoid the possible wind.  But our beautiful weather blessing held and what little breeze we had towards the end felt good.  This side of the lake has the most grottos with the waterfalls in them and we paused to visit them all besides poking along the shoreline to see what else we could see. We paused for a snack and bio break at the one shallow area about halfway down that is dry when the lake level drops a little. I was also able to see the huge waterfall up on the hill that feeds into (I think) May Creek. It was about noon when we turned the last corner of Pumpkin Mountain and saw a power boat with a rec boat of some kind on its deck leaving the dock.  I was frankly stunned to find that we were the only people here!  I don’t think I have ever seen it like this before, even when it was raining!


We grabbed a couple of sites next to the water and quickly set up our camps.  After lunch Laura, Karen, Terry and I walked up to the rapid that was roaring away.  Before we got there we heard airplane engine noises and looked out the trees to see three firefighting planes rising up and banking left before heading down Ruby Arm.  There have been wildfires all week in around Mazama and the Colville Reservation.


It was refreshing to squat in the very cold rushing water and to splash along in what had been warmed by the rocks in the hot sun. Afterwards I went straight back to camp while the others went up a little farther on the trail that goes up to the bridge that crosses over the creek. The chipmunks had given up on us soon after we arrived when they realized we weren’t going to feed them.  Meantime, some other campers showed up and they must have moved on to beg from them.  Eventually a man and woman ranger dropped by and we discussed the fire situation and also the registration for next year.

The breeze came up towards the end of the afternoon and that helped with the heat and the bugs. I turned in before dark on what would be my last night on Ross Lake for 2021.




I had woken up during the night to see the pattern of leaves on the tarp over my hammock. I lifted my head and could see the full moon’s bright reflection on the rippling water under a silvery sky before going to back to sleep.  We were up and on the water a little before 0800 in bright sunshine.  We paddled up to check out the rapid before doubling back to head down to Ross Dam.  The water was quiet and the sun already getting warm as it slowly rose higher over the mountains.  We didn’t need to make any stops along the way and I slid on to the bottom of the boat ramp to see Drew getting a shuttle ready.  He called that he had to take a load of resort guests first and then would be back for us, should take half an hour or so.   I knew better than that.  Eventually a couple of power boats came over from the other side and the mountain of people and their bags started piling onto the back of the truck.  Other paddlers began showing up with canoes, sit on tops, etc. Terry, Karen and I were sitting on the dock when the shuttle finally left and a Seattle City Light truck backed down with a power boat on a trailer.  It was already loaded with stuff.  Then the back of the little truck was opened, another boat showed up and stuff began getting transferred into that boat too until it was beginning to look like a grocery store.  For two guys who were supposed to be spending two weeks fishing from Hozemeen.  I don’t envy anybody in that buggy mess for two hours, let alone two weeks.


Drew finally showed up with the truck and a couple of passengers who got their stuff on and we started loading up as fast as we could.  The dock was busy on the Diablo side when we arrived and we unloaded, paid Drew with cash and the rest of the chocolate cookies, packed up and finally got back on the water at 1145.  I had noticed the wind rising while we waited on the dock so there was some going against us as we headed down the canyon.  No problems and it predictably dropped once we turned the corner and were approaching the boom.  Not too much activity when we landed on the Colonial Creek boat launch at 1245. We eventually moved the cars down to the boat launch to load up and then got changed and had our huddle afterwards in some shade in the parking lot by the bathroom.  No complaints and many thanks were exchanged. 

We then hopped in our cars to go to a couple of the lookout points up on Hwy 20 before most of us then went to walk along the top of Diablo Dam.  No water was being released so we had a clear view of the quiet and still bottom of the “Zipper” more than 300’ below.


We all opted to skip a meal together afterwards and headed out.  I went on to The Farmhouse Restaurant in Anacortes before driving on home to Tacoma.


Everything went so smoothly and so well the entire week.  It didn’t have much choice with great weather and a very kind, considerate and experienced crew that worked very well together.  It seemed like a dream within a dream and I already am looking forward to next year!!  All paddlers performed very well with exceptional group dyanamics.