Paddling on Ross Lake

Jenny F. on Ross Lake
Recently I have been experimenting with new outdoor activities.  Well, new to me.  Over spring break Ian and I spent four days hiking along the Olympic Coast, from Rialto Beach to Shi-Shi, and this weekend we spent two days canoeing on Diablo and Ross Lakes.  You see we are primarily mountain people.  We like the alpine, climbing, backpacking, huge vistas; I like the way the world looks when I’m above tree line.  We wanted to try something new, and along the way realized that this mode of travel has its own highlights.
Our plan to paddle up to Big Beaver was hatched over fried eggs, tea and toast on Saturday morning.  However it all hinged on one piece of equipment, portage canoe wheels.  To get from Diablo Lake to Ross Lake we would have to portage the canoe up a long, uphill, gravel road; about one mile and 800 vertical feet.  Carrying the canoe did not seem like an option.  Luckily, Jenny C. has canoe wheels!  And so we were off.
Ian portaging the canoe

Ian portaging the canoe from Diablo Lake to Ross Lake

The portage to Ross Lake proved to be uneventful and only took an hour.  Ian and I were both amazed at how easy the canoe was to pull up such a long hill; we had envisioned a somewhat more arduous hike.  As we descended the backside of the dam we were shocked to see how low the lake was.  It was about forty feet lower than the last time I’d seen it.  The banks were steep, rocky and kind of ugly with intermittent stumps.
Ross Dam

Looking at Ross Dam with Colonial and Pyramid Peaks in the background.

As we headed toward our destination, Big Beaver campground, we passed the Ross Lake Resort. The resort looked much different than usual, perhaps it was the absence of people and voices or the stark, brown banks behind it; it suddenly looked small on such a huge landscape.  Leaving the resort behind, we paddled north to the Big Beaver campground.  It was beautiful.  And quiet.  What a peaceful way to travel and experience this landscape.
Jack Mountain from Big Beaver campground

The view from camp, Jack Mountain.

We got to camp in the early evening, took our time surveying each site and choosing the best one.  Which was harder than it sounds, Big Beaver campground is fabulous.  Flat tent sites, fire rings, huge bear boxes, and great views of Jack, Crater, Pierce and Sourdough Mountains.
The next morning Ian and I had a leisurely morning in camp and played with the idea of heading farther north and then heeded the advice of Jenny C., who had reminded us to head home before the wind picked up.  We should have remembered that advice a little earlier in the morning; we paddled against the wind almost all the way to Ross Lake.  And the wind didn’t stop when we got to Diablo Lake.  It was pretty exhausting.
Crater Mountain from Ross Lake

Looking south on Ross Lake at Crater Mountain.

Even the constant, strong wind couldn’t distract from the beauty of the lake, the towering peaks that surround it, and the solitude you feel in such wild places.  Canoeing will not soon be in competition with backpacking and climbing as my favorite outdoor activity, however, it is now definitely on my list of top five favorite ways to spend an afternoon outside, playing.

Photos courtesy of Jenny Frederick


  1. vida morkunas

    what a superb trip! looks like you had good weather for your adventure, too! would love to see more photos if you have a link to them.

  2. Christian

    way to get out there early, ahead of the summer throngs. must’ve been very peaceful on Ross. and I’m jealous of the beach hike — Shi Shi is one of my favorite places in the world!

  3. Dan

    Thanks for sharing the details of your Ross lake trip. I’m a boy scout leader and we are looking to spend a few days in this area in late July. We’ve heard conflicting info on the where, what, when, and how’s of portaging Ross lake. We intend to spend a at least two days in canoes.
    What advice can you provide us?
    Thanks in advance,

  4. Jenny

    Ross Lake Resort will be able to help you with your portaging needs, check out their website ( There was a substantial rock slide in the gorge this spring, I’m not sure what that will mean for access to Ross Lake from Diablo Lake. But, you could rent canoes from Ross Lake Resort if portaging proves to not be possible. My advice, bring lots of sunscreen and paddle before noon, the winds on Ross Lake can be very strong in the afternoon! Have fun.

  5. Dana

    I’m looking to put in at the Colonial Creek Boat-Ramp, paddle across Diablo, portage, and then paddle on Ross to an overnight camp before heading back. Do you know if Ross Lake Resorts will rent a canoe from that side of Diablo Lake or are there other canoe rental places you could recommend?

  6. Jenny

    I believe Ross Lake Resort only rents canoes from Ross Lake, however there is a ferry that runs on Diablo Lake that could shuttle/portage you up to Ross. Follow this link for more info:

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