Near the Canadian border In the northernmost region of Washington state exists a portion of the nation’s most well-preserved countryside: North Cascades National Park. The park was designated in 1966 and is the site for three mesmerizing reservoirs. Among the park’s aquatic treasures is Diablo Lake.
Diablo Lake is most well-known for its majestically turquoise waters. Here we will discuss everything you need to know about this lake and the surrounding area. Plan your adventure to Diablo Lake and North Cascades National Park with this tell-all travel guide.
About Diablo Lake at North Cascades National Park
Diablo Lake was formed from the Diablo Dam that controls the flow of the Skagit River. Don’t let the name of this man-made reservoir scare you away. Diablo (“devil” in Spanish) Lake is as heavenly a retreat as any resort destination in the world. The North Cascades are known among travelers as the “North American Alps” for a solid reason.
Diablo Lake is a short two to three-hour journey from both Seattle and Vancouver, making it a popular weekend trip for visitors journeying out from these locations. Visitors from Spokane can reach the park in under five hours. The park offers surrealistically beautiful landscapes, wildlife diversity, and exciting activities to suit all nature loving travelers.
Without further ado, let’s plan your Diablo Lake adventure.
Planning Your Adventure
Now it is time to dive into everything Diablo Lake has to offer. From sleeping accommodations, points of interest, and activities, we’ve got you covered.
National Park Fees
Unlike the standard for national parks, there aren’t any entrance fees to enter the North Cascades National Park.
Other Fees and Permits
Even though entry into the park is free, there are others fees that may apply to your stay. Car camping fees generally cost around $16. Permits for backcountry camping are required but free of charge. Check with individual providers of activities and lodging for more pricing information as the prices are subject to change.
The first thing to consider when planning your trip is how you’d like to lodge. Whether you want a first-class resort lodging or an authentic natural adventure, lodging options around Diablo Lake are available.
North Cascades resort options are aplenty, but be sure to book in advance. Resorts in the area book fast. Private cabins are some most sought-after rentals for travelers. Some of the most popular Diablo Lake resorts are:
- Cascade Mountain Lodge
- Glacier Peak Resort & Winery
- Grace Haven
- Manning Park Resort
- North Cascades Lodge At Stehekin
- Ross Lake Resort
When seeking a more rugged and authentic vacation experience, check out some of the many camping options located around Diablo Lake. Most of the campgrounds function on a reservation system that can be accessed at recreation.gov. Other campgrounds function on an unpredictable first-come-first-served basis.
Campsites offer flexibility in accommodation. Near the lake, you can choose to from car campsites, bicycles campsites, or boat-in campsites. Camping offers the easiest access to extraordinary Diablo Lake views. Some top campsites to check into are these:
- Buster Brown Campground
- Colonial Creek Campground
- Hidden Cove Campground
- Thunder Point Campground
Whether you decide to stay at a resort or a campground, it’s important to know about the food options available in the area. Check out the neighboring towns for a great selection of food and dining options.
The organic ice creamery Cascadian Home Farm, Asian cuisine at Mondo Restaurant, the Marblemount Diner, and Buffalo Run Steakhouse are all top rated dining options in the area.
For local groceries, check out Albert’s Red Apple Market. It’s a small grocer carrying all the essentials. If you want to stock up on specific groceries, consider making a stop in Lynnwood, Washington, on your way to the lake. Lynnwood has both a Trader Joes and a Whole Foods Market. Other towns along the way like Bellingham, Anacortes, and Burlington offer a variety of grocery options.
What to Look For
Most of the extremely large Douglas-firs and red cedars are gone from most of the Pacific Northwest, but old-growth forests still exist in North Cascades National Park. These ancient forests are identified not by the size of the trees but through the multi-layered canopy. Routes to take to find old-growth forests near Diablo Lake are Big Beaver Trail, Happy Creek Forest Walk, and Thunder Creek.
Is there anything quite as relaxing and meditative as the sensation of a waterfall? When visiting Diablo, fill your senses and find your inner zen at one or all of these waterfalls:
- Colonial Creek
- John Pierce Waterfall
- Ladder Creek Falls
Ecosystem and Wildlife
The best part of leaving the hustle and bustle of city life is reconnecting with nature. The North Cascades region of Washington homes one of the most diverse and preserved natural ecosystems on the planet.
Visiting the lake and its surrounding landscapes are sure to put you in contact with plants, insects, and animals native to the region. Hold on to your hat: animal lovers can watch for over 200 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 21 reptile and amphibian species, around 30 species of fish, and 500 insect species. Some most thrilling animal encounters are these:
- Bald eagles
- Gray wolves
- Grizzly bears
- Harlequin Ducks
There are many incredible activities to partake in near Diablo Lake and in the North Cascades National Park.
Lake By Boat
Experiencing the lake by boat is a not-to-miss experience for adventure seeking travelers. Boat trips are an unforgettable way to explore the lake and surrounding countryside. If you bring your own boat, canoe, or kayak you are good to go for sailing around the lake. Boat rentals are offered by some resorts and campgrounds, but primarily in the Ross Lake region. Personal watercraft like jet skis aren’t permitted on the lake.
Diablo Lake is open for fishing every day of the year. The lake is filled with naturally reproducing cutthroat trout and rainbow trout. Bull trout or Dolly Varden aren’t permitted for fishing.
For hikers, sightseers, and old-growth tree fans, the Diablo Lake Trail is a top choice. The four and a half-mile trail takes hikers around 700 feet above the lake, offering superior views of the glistening blue-green pool. The trail weaves through old-growth forests toward a view of Ross Dam and a suspension bridge over the lake. Ferry service in the summer provides the possibility for one-way hikes.
In addition to the Diablo Lake Trail, the North Cascades National Park offers a trove of amazing hiking trails. Check out these trails in the surrounding area:
- Big Beaver-Little Beaver Loop
- Copper Ridge
- Desolation Peak
- Easy Pass
- Hozomeen Lake
- Sourdough Mountain Lookout
- Trappers Peak
Climbing the Cascades on your visit to Lake Diablo is a favorite activity for both professional and beginning climbers. Climbers can ascend the glaciated alpine slopes near the lake alone or in guided groups. There are many scalable peaks in the region. Some of the best peaks to climb in the Cascades are these:
- Mt. Baker
- The Hitchhiker
- West Ridge
- South Arete
Diablo Dam was once the tallest dam in the United States standing at 389 feet. It was opened in 1930 and spans the corridor of Diablo Canyon. Visiting Diablo Dam gives stunning panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Viewing the dam’s construction and function in action is another incredible sight to behold. When the spillway opens, glittery water crashes through at natural forces to be reckoned with.
When to Go
Warm Weather Water Activities
Diablo Lake in the North Cascades National Park is open every day of the year. Visitors can most enjoy the lake itself during the warmer summer months. For warm weather, maximum sunshine, and water activities plan your trip to Diablo Lake any time from the middle of June to the middle of September.
Average temperatures in the mountainous region of the lake are relatively mild compared to the rest of the country. July and August have the highest average temperatures with highs in the mid to upper 70s and lows dropping to around 50 degrees at night.
Keep in mind that storms crop up in summer around Diablo Lake. Expect to experience the most precipitation around the park in the months of May and June. Fallen snow from the towering North Cascades Mountains above the lake can sometimes be found on trails well into the traditional summer months.
Come prepared for the lake by bringing versatile clothing layers and waterproof jackets.
When the temperature dips and water activities become less appealing, the Diablo Lake Trail is open year-round. Hiking this trail is especially nice during the summer and fall months when there is less traffic.
Fishing is another year-round activity on the lake. Make sure to obtain a fishing license and read up on Washington’s fishing laws before heading to the lake.
With breathtaking scenery, luscious foliage, diverse animal and plant species and that mind-mind blowing blue-green crystal water visiting Diablo Lake is a mandatory experience for any true nature enthusiast.