Kayaking the Skagit Photo tour
I had so much fun taking pictures on our Autumn paddle of the Skagit River in the North Cascades that I had to share more of them with this quick, mostly photo post. Catch all of the info on this paddle and more in our previous post - we can't wait to paddle this river again!
~Paul, Amber, Karl, Mandy
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
Kayaking the Skagit River, Marblemount to Rockport Washington - North Cascades
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
Well, we had the kayaks packed and ready to paddle Rattlesnake lake but ended up just hiking up to the ledge. If you haven't hiked it before it is a nice trail, in North Bend which is pretty close to Seattle (click here for Google Map), dogs are allowed, you're up and back in 2 hours tops, great view, and nice lake at the bottom for folks to hang around if they don't want to make the trek. We played around at the bottom first -
Up we go.
(above) Mount Si across the valley.
Boom, done (or, rather, halfway done since we've got to hike back down!).
~Paul, Micah, Joe ETC
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