On what seemed to be the last sunny day of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, ETC took to the mountains and paddled a gorgeous stretch of the Skagit River - from Marblemount to Rockport. This stretch of river is well known in the area for it's high concentration of wintering bald eagles and plentiful salmon & trout. Beautiful Fall colors, mountain vistas, clear greenish/blue water, and abundant wildlife makes for quite an adventure - it all starts by taking two cars up SR 20 (the North Cascades highway) toward the Ross Lake National Recreation Area.
Leaving the smaller car downstream in the free parking area at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport WA (map above) lets you pack your people & gear in the larger one and travel upstream to the put-in at Marblemount (link to Marblemount map/info). There's a few historical landmarks at Steelhead Park to check out (pic below), along with a quaint riverside RV park and some small rentable cabins.
Taking the other car to the put-in at Marblemount is a breeze. The road follows the river and you're there in minutes. The launch site is just off SR 20 in Marblemount - veer onto Cascade River Road to cross the river. Look for the boat launch sign pictured below. Don't worry about parking, there is lots of it and even some national forest-type bathrooms for any pre-departure needs.
We were able to pack all of our people & gear into the second car because of these little babies. We paddled Innova inflatable kayaks - a Helios II & the new Swing I & Swing II. The covered decks of the Swings worked great for this trip - this part of the Skagit is class 1+/ 2 ish - a.k.a. an occasional splash of icy-cold water comes into the boat. The whitewater that came into my Helios got me wet and I had to pump out occasionally to avoid an icy cold seat all day. The Swings? Well, the water just runs right off of the covered decks. Overall, all of the boats performed great and even though it was shallow a lot of the way, I still advise using a optional skeg or rudder to help with tracking if you've got one. The Helios II had the leg up here because the optional Helios rudder is on a hinge and comes up out of the water when the going gets shallow & rocky.
Paddling the river in kayaks this time of year (early October), requires a little strategy. The river, like many across the country, seemed lower than usual. A dry summer (our summers are usually fairly dry, but we really had a dry one this year) means there are quite a few shallow spots you'll have to navigate. Also, the occasional whitewater makes this trip splashy enough to be fun and keep you on your toes, but not crazy enough to cause my wife and I to yell at each other around every bend:) We are still pretty new to river paddling and are more used to slow moving, tidal-wind-& wave influenced saltwater trips in the nearby Puget Sound. After the first whitewater early on this paddle (that sound of loud rushing water in the distance!) we wondered if it was gonna be the smallest on the trip or the biggest…gulp…it turns out it was the biggest, so the rest of the day was pretty much smooth paddling with still fun, but smaller whitewater portions.
As you cruise down the river from Marblemount you'll start to notice the beautiful mountain views behind you - you are on the aquatic version of the North Cascades Highway after all!
I couldn't help but go a little Ansel Adams on the whole situation.
Another nice thing about this paddle is you put in at one bridge and you take out at the next one...or just yards past the next one anyway. You may see some tour rafts just under the bridge at Rockport like we did - but just keep paddling about 100 yards more for the official launch/take-out site. We completed the trip, with a decent lunch break, in about 3 hours and 15 minutes. As I've tried to show with my photos - it's a gorgeous paddle with lots to see. Check the links below for more info, especially if you plan to go during the winter eagle season - there are a few restrictions. Want a little longer of a paddle? Try putting in a little more up river across from Copper Creek. Don't have two cars? Contact one of the raft tours to give you a lift! Be safe & have fun!
~Paul, Amber, Mandy, Karl ETC
Nature Conservancy Skagit River visitors guide
Allaboutrivers info page on the route with numbers for current river conditions
Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport
Marblemount boat launch info
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