Discover hiking, wildlife, and camping in our Diablo Lake Experience guide—nature's paradise!
Grab your gear and get ready for a lively rundown of our Diablo Lake experience, right from the heart of Washington’s North Cascades! We’re not just talking about a scenic drive; we ventured deep into the area’s natural playground.
From navigating the Diablo Lake Trail with pups in tow to witnessing the aerial acrobatics of bald eagles, we’ve chronicled it all.
Our guide isn’t about staying on the beaten path – it’s about the splash of paddles en route to Hidden Cove Campground and the thrill of spotting elusive wildlife.
You’ll get the lowdown on where to fish for the plumpest trout, how to capture that perfect shot of the lake’s glacially-fed, vibrant waters, and tips on coming face-to-face with the local furry residents (from a safe distance, of course).
Join us as we recount the highs, the lows, and the breathtaking moments of our journey around Diablo Lake. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a serene escape close to Seattle, our experiences here will guide you to where the wilderness whispers and adventure awaits!
Location and statistics
The lake is located along the Skagit River and formed by the Diablo dam. The lake has a surface area of 803.60 acres and a maximum depth of 320 feet. The shoreline is 26 miles long.
The lake is at an elevation of 1,201 feet. There are two public Boat Launches on the lake, one at Diablo Dam and one at Ross Dam.
The water stays freezing even during the summer due to glacial waters. Diablo Lake’s best season for hiking and water sports runs from May through September (late May to early September for camping).
Camping on Diablo Lake is possible with a permit. There are three boat-in camping sites on Diablo Lake.
Many of the surrounding areas around the lake have spots that serve as excellent viewpoints. These include Thunder Knob, Colonial Peak, Ruby Mountain, and Grandy Lake.
Boating and fishing are popular activities on the lake. Common fish species in Diablo Lake include cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, bull trout, and rainbow trout. Fishing regulations are governed by Washington State Fish & Wildlife Rules and Regulations.
Water levels in the reservoir have been a concern of environmentalists due to its effect on endangered species such as salmon in the Skagit River below the dam.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has imposed higher flow requirements for water releases from Diablo Dam as part of an effort to improve salmon habitat downstream from the reservoir.
Very close to Seattle
The gorgeous Diablo Lake is about two hours northeast of Seattle. The lake is also one of three, including Ross Lake and Gorge Lake, which provides electricity to the largest city in Washington State— Seattle. Here are some things we experienced during our exploration of Diablo Lake!
The first thing we noticed was the absolutely stunning color of the water. Due to glacial runoff, the lake has a very distinct turquoise hue that is simply breathtaking. We spent plenty of time just staring at the lake in awe before finally deciding to venture out onto it.
We rented a canoe from the nearby marina and paddled out onto the calm waters. As we paddled around, we took in the stunning scenery all around us; towering mountains, lush forests, and of course, that amazing blue water. We even saw a few eagles soaring overhead!
Diablo Lake Trail
The Diablo Lake Trail is a beautiful and easy trail that circles the lake. It is only 7.6 miles long and has very little elevation gain, making it an ideal hike for all skill levels.
The views of the lake and surrounding mountains are stunning, and there are plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos.
We also saw some amazing wildlife along the trail, including deer, birds, and even a few fish in the lake. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for a short and enjoyable hike in the North Cascades.
It rises and falls for 3.8 miles (6.1 kilometers) before crossing Diablo Lake on a high bridge.
Alternatively, time your hike so you can catch the Diablo Lake Ferry back (be at the dock below Ross Dam before 9am or 3:30pm).
Road access and ferry service may be limited depending on the season – contact the visitor center for more information.
Here are some points to note:
Distance and elevation
7.6 miles (12.2 km) roundtrip / 1,300 feet (120 m) elevation gain.
Follow signs along SR 20 to the road that crosses Diablo Dam. Cross the dam and follow the access road to the trailhead parking.
Dogs must be leashed.
Summer months can be very crowded on the trail and in the parking lot
We took 5 hours to complete the 7.6-mile hike with uncountable photography breaks!
Salmon and trout
Visitors to Diablo Lake in the North Cascades can enjoy thrilling fishing trips for salmon and trout. The lake is teeming with these fish, making it a perfect destination for anyone looking to reel in a big one.
Visitors can also enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains while they fish, making it a truly idyllic experience.
For those looking to take the experience to the next level, boats and fishing guides are available in nearby cities. Visitors can partake in lake fishing adventures, trolling trips, shoreline fishing excursions, or guided fly-fishing experiences.
Whether you’re an experienced angler or just looking to take a relaxing day out on the lake, Diablo Lake is sure to be an unforgettable experience!
Bald eagles hunt for salmon
Between late November and early April, bald eagles congregate along the Skagit River in pursuit of spawning salmon. Up to 800 birds have been counted during peak times.
This spectacle can be observed from a number of vantage points along the river, including the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which offers several easy-to-reach viewing sites.
In the springtime, as the snow melts and the cascades begin to flow, the water is filled with salmon fry making their way downriver to the sea.
The trout and kokanee in Diablo Lake must eat these same fish to survive. From May through September, there are good numbers of both species of fish available for eagle consumption in Diablo Lake.
Diablo Lake’s distinct color from suspended glacial flour
The water in Diablo Lake gets a distinctive color from suspended glacial flour. Glacial flour is very fine sediment that is created when glaciers grind against the rocks they are moving over.
When the glacier melts, the sediment is carried into the lake in the meltwater. The suspended glacial flour gives the lake its characteristic milky blue color.
The glacial flour particles are so fine that they remain suspended in the water, meaning that even when the lake is calm and still, it has a dreamy blue hue.
This is why Diablo Lake is often referred to as the “emerald of the North Cascades” or the “jewel of the NCNP” (North Cascades National Park).
A Rare black bear
We were about halfway on the Diablo Lake Trail when we came across a rare sight- a black bear!
We watched it for a while as it wandered around in the woods before it eventually disappeared into the trees. It was an amazing experience to see such a majestic creature up close in its natural habitat.
We stayed well back, keeping a safe distance to avoid stressing the bear or putting ourselves in any danger. It was a very exciting and special moment that we won’t soon forget.
A busy wolverine on our hike
We were up early to start our hike and were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the lake. As we made our way around the shoreline, we kept an eye out for any signs of wildlife.
Soon enough, we spotted a wolverine busy digging through the snow. We watched from a safe distance as it went about its business until it finally noticed us and ran off into the woods. It was a great way to start our adventure!
We thanked the wolverine for providing us with an up-close wildlife experience and said our goodbyes.
We camped the paddle to reach Hidden Cove Campground
We absolutely loved our time camping at the secluded and picturesque Hidden Cove Campground!
The campsites are well-spaced apart and nestled in among tall evergreen trees— it feels like you’re in your own little world here. Even though it’s a short paddle to reach the campground, it feels very remote and peaceful.
We enjoyed swimming in the lake, fishing off the dock, and relaxing in our hammocks each day. It was hard to leave this magical place!
This is an excellent spot for fishing, swimming, and enjoying nature. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning views!
We had an amazing time exploring Diablo Lake in the North Cascades! We experienced some beautiful scenery, met some friendly people, and got to relax in a comfortable cabin by the lake. We even saw a black bear, being wildlife enthusiasts – we loved it!
It was a great trip and we would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a unique adventure in the Pacific Northwest.