Skagit Recreation Update

City Light is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and how that will impact the Skagit Tours season. We will provide an update on this as the situation evolves. Learn more on our Powerlines Blog.

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Seattle City Light DEBRA SMITH, General Manager and CEO
Skagit River Hydroelectric Project
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Supporting Opportunities For Recreation & Environmental Education

The Skagit River Hydroelectric Project is unique in that it is almost entirely within a national recreation area, which is managed as part of the North Cascades National Park Complex. The Project is bordered by two National Forests and is just upstream of the Skagit Wild and Scenic River. The Project reservoirs, as well as the surrounding areas, provide numerous recreational opportunities and receive a great deal of visitation, particularly in the summer. As such, the Project License includes a number of measures to support recreational, educational, and interpretive facilities and services within the Project area and on the surrounding federal lands. City Light's responsibilities include:
  • Constructing and operating an environmental education facility;
  • Operating the Skagit Project Tours, Diablo Lake Ferry Service, and Skagit Information Center;
  • Providing funds to the National Park Service to construct and maintain recreation facilities in Ross Lake National Recreation Area;
  • Providing funds to the U.S. Forest Service to construct and maintain recreation facilities in the Skagit River Wild and Scenic River corridor and along the North Cascades Scenic Byway (State Route 20) between the border of Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Washington Pass.

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center:

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is located on the north shore of Diablo in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The Learning Center was designed by the Henry Klein Partnership, an architecture firm located in Mt. Vernon, and constructed by RAS Builders out of Bellingham. The Learning Center opened in 2005 and in 2009 received Silver certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

The design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the Learning Center are the result of a partnership between City Light, the National Park Service, and North Cascades Institute:
  • City Light purchased and demolished the buildings that comprised the old Diablo Lake Resort to provide a site for the Learning Center. City Light funded the majority of the Learning Center construction, paid for the LEED certification, and owns the buildings. The utility also provided an endowment for operating the Learning Center and currently supplies electricity and ongoing funding for vehicles, major building maintenance, and wildlife education.
  • The National Park Service dedicated the land for the Learning Center, participates in education programs, and provides support services such as water, sewer, and land/fire management.
  • North Cascades Institute operates the Learning Center and provides day-to-day maintenance. The Institute is a non-profit, founded in 1986, with the mission of conserving and restoring Northwest environments through education. The Institute offers environmental education programs for all ages at the Learning Center.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

The Learning Center has 16 buildings and includes the following:
  • Multimedia classrooms, a research library, and aquatic and terrestrial labs,
  • Overnight lodging for up to 92 guests and housing for graduate students and staff,
  • A lakeside dining hall with recycling/composting center,
  • An amphitheater, outdoor learning shelters, and trails leading into the surrounding wildlands,
  • A dock on Diablo Lake for paddling adventures,
  • ADA-accessible facilities and paths along the lakeshore and nearby Deer Creek.
Highlights of the facilities include passive solar design and increased insulation, which enhance heating systems and lighting, maximize natural ventilation instead of air conditioning, and reduce energy consumption. Landscaping is entirely with native plants.

The Learning Center's environmental education programs are designed to serve people of all ages and include a wide variety of day and overnight offerings:
  • Field-based natural and cultural history seminars for adults,
  • Family getaways,
  • Professional development experiences for teachers,
  • Mountain School and watershed education for children in local and Seattle school districts,
  • Youth summer leadership experiences,
  • Volunteer stewardship programs in wilderness, wildlife and watersheds,
  • Environmental education internships,
  • Graduate program: Master of Education in Natural Science/Science Education.
For more information on the Environmental Learning Center and North Cascades Institute here.

City Light Recreation Facilities and Services

City Light provides three key services to visitors to the Skagit River Project and Ross Lake National Recreation Area:

  • Skagit Information Center, Newhalem - This center was constructed in 2000 and is open during the summer months to provide information to visitors to Newhalem on the Skagit River Project, the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and other local attractions and activities. The Center is staffed by employees from City Light, the National Park Service, and North Cascades Institute.

Skagit Information Center, Newhalem

  • Skagit Tours - City Light has been offering tours of the Skagit Project since 1928. Initially, the intent of the tours was to promote the benefits of public power and hydroelectricity to the citizens of Seattle. Up until World War II the tours were popular 2-day excursions that involved travel by trains and boats, overnight lodging in bunkhouses, and meals. Today the tours focus on the history of the Skagit Project as well as the natural and cultural heritage of the North Cascades. Currently, the tours are a partnership between City Light, the National Park Service, and North Cascades Institute, and include three options:

    • Diablo Lake Boat Tours - 3 hours, includes a boat trip on Diablo Lake and lunch at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.
    • Skagit Power Tours - 6 hours, includes a picnic lunch and tours of the interiors of Gorge and Diablo powerhouses.
    • Newhalem Walking Tours - 1 hour, guided walking tour of Newhalem and Ladder Creek Falls Trail.
For more information on Tours click here.

Diablo Lake Tour, the Alice Ross III

  • Diablo Lake Ferry Service - Ross Lake, the largest of the Skagit Project reservoirs, is accessible from the U.S. side of the international border only by hiking or by taking a boat/shuttle service. City Light offers a ferry service on Diablo Lake to take visitors to Ross Lake. The ferry service ($20 round trip) runs twice daily (8:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.) from mid-June through October and can be reached by driving across Diablo Dam, turning right, and parking in the Ross Lake Resort parking lot. Upon arriving at the west end of Diablo Lake visitors can take the shuttle provided by Ross Lake Resort ($8 one way) or walk up the Ross Lake Haul Road.

Diablo Lake Ferry, the Cascadian

Funding Support for Federally-Owned Recreation Facilities and Services

The Skagit River Project dams and reservoirs are entirely on federally-owned lands. Consequently, the Project license includes funding to the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service to support construction and maintenance of recreational and interpretive facilities on their lands. Recreational facilities funded by City include trails, campgrounds, boat docks and launch sites, picnic areas, and interpretive signs.

Examples of completed projects on National Park lands include:
  • Gorge Overlook (loop trail and restroom);
  • Goodell Creek, Colonial Creek boat, and Gorge Lake boat ramps;
  • Colonial Creek accessible fishing dock;
  • Thunder Knob Trail.
Examples of completed projects on National Forest lands include:
  • Boat access sites at Marblemount and the lower Sauk River;
  • Boat ramp replacements at four sites along the Skagit River;
  • Trailhead developments and signage along State Route 20;
  • Old Sauk River Trail parking and ADA loop trail;

Links and Resources

North Cascades National Park

Skagit Valley Provincial Park

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Skagit Wild and Scenic River System

North Cascades Scenic Byway

Ross Lake Resort

North Cascades Institute

Image Gallery:

Related Content
View Map of Ross Lake National Recreational Area

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

Find out about the educational program offered at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

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