As the weather warms up around here and you prepare for some summer/late summer Pacific Northwest adventures, don't count out the Skagit River. The river snakes some 150 miles from Canada into Washington, through the North Cascades and empties into the Puget Sound. We catch up with it downriver from Lake Diablo and Ross Lake, around the towns of Marblemount and Rockport. These towns are located on highway 20, just before a popular entrance to the North Cascades National Park.
We've paddled it before (post here & the river mouth here) and this time we wanted to paddle a little more upriver from our usual launch site at Marblemount (map to usual launch site…the parking lot just over the bridge). After leaving one car at Rockport (free parking but pay a minimal launch fee when you land), we (4 of us this trip) loaded up all of our gear and drove up highway 20 looking for a safe place to park and a decent place to launch on the river. Luckily we were all paddling inflatable Innova kayaks or we and our gear wouldn't have fit into the one compact car! There were a lot of places to leave the car and we settled on a not too scary place to launch (7.4 miles past the bridge at Marblemount…After mile-marker 113).
Amber and I are not whitewater kayakers by any means and although it was late summer and the water looks refreshing in these pictures, it's cold…really cold and moving fast. We trusted ourselves and our experience, packed everything in our boats and set off. We hit some pretty good whitewater right at the beginning but we made it - staying dry!
And then it started pouring rain. Yikes. So much for dry. It quickly passed and we had great weather the rest of the paddle!
There are quite a few places to stop for a rest and bite to eat. The lighting was perfect for a wifey-hat photo-shoot.
The river was slightly more challenging than the last time, Amber and I almost tipped! It wasn't from splashy whitewater but from high-centering our boat on some shallow rocks and being pushed by the fast current. Instincts kicked in - she turned one way and I counteracted by shifting by bodyweight to the other… we ended up safe and dry!
We ended up paddling over 15 miles! It took around 5-6 hours with a lunch break and lots of picture time. Afterward we got both of the cars together and stopped midway at the Cascadian Home Farm for some flowers, ice cream, berries, and espresso. A gorgeous Northwest adventure!
Some tips if you go:
1. Dress warm, even in the summer. I always carry an emergency blanket just in case someone gets dunked and can't quite warm up.
2. Make sure whatever boat/kayak you are using is rated for this type of river.
3. A leash connecting you to your boat/paddle is a pretty good idea.
4. Wear your PFD at all times!
5. If you are paddling a narrow kayak like ours, a rudder or skeg helps greatly with tracking (steering).
6. Call and ask either the Ranger Station at Newhalem or possibly an outfitting company nearby about the condition of the river before you paddle. We paddled this time in early October. Some years it's fast, slow, shallow, crazy. Shallow wouldn't be fun.
7. Make sure you can fit all of your gear and folks in one car (or you'll have to take two cars to the drop off, drop off the gear, then take two cars downriver, leave one, and come back in the other…I've gone cross-eyed.
8. Don't leave your keys to the downriver car in the upriver one;)
9. As with all adventuring - better to take more snacks & water than you think you'll need.
10. Don't want to drive back to the city? Look for lodging in both Rockport or Marblemount.
11. Don't let this trip be your first time kayaking…it's a touch tricky for beginners!
~Paul, Amber, Mandy, Karl
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