Still in my first year living in Washington, I didn’t know when the North Cascades area was accessible. Snow conditions in the mountains are still something I’m learning about and trying to understand. So when I saw a news announcement that highway 20, which crosses through the North Cascades, was entirely cleared of snow last week, I wanted to check out the area. In doing research about which hikes would be snow-free (or only have minimal snow), I landed on Diablo Lake Trail as a good first hike in the region, given that it was spring time still.

Probably my favorite point along the trail

Diablo Lake Trail Review

Hiked: early May
Best time to hike: April-September
Distance from Seattle: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Accessibility: Entirely paved highway and road, except for dirt parking area
Length: 7.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Crowds: Light, but that is almost certainly not the case in peak summer
Trail views: Mountains, boulder fields, Diablo Lake

I arrived at the trailhead parking area at around 10:15 am on a Saturday morning. There was ample space at that time, and no parking permits were needed. No bathrooms are available at the trailhead, however, so be sure to stop at one of the options prior to the trail.

This area is directly off the trailhead parking, and would be a nice place to picnic/hangout

I encountered very few hikers on my way up. The beginning part of the trail is a lovely forested trail that can be a bit narrow at times. It’s really peaceful. There are also a few wood bridges over small streams.

Typical section of the first part of the trail

The ascent isn’t too steep, so it was easy to appreciate the trees and mountain views when they showed themselves. As you rise through the forest, you’ll come across a few boulder fields and end up on more of a ridge trail.

Near the start of the boulders and ridges area

This is where you’ll have a lot of those sweeping mountain views that every hiker loves! It was definitely my favorite part of the trail.

You catch glimpses of the lake down at the bottom here. I particularly like seeing how the tree line has a bit of frost/snow towards the very top but is green below.

After the ridge portion, the trail descends towards the dam itself. After I arrived at the overlook point, I decided to call it and instead of going all the way to the bridge, to head back and hit a second trail instead, which I’ll write about in another post.

The view near the overlook was…a little underwhelming.

In my opinion, the views on the ridge line were far superior to the overlook and the rest of the trail. If I were to return, I’d probably just eat lunch along the ridge and turn around. There were some nice waterfalls along the last portion of the trail, so if that’s your jam, it might be a good idea to head to finish.

I’m a little torn about how I feel about this trail. It had some really nice features, but also some not-so-nice ones. I’ll give a quick summary.

Diablo Lake Trail Pros

  • It’s a really great early season trail. With no or minimal snow, it’s probably one of the first trails accessible in the North Cascades region.
  • The trailhead is right by the lake, so you could enjoy some lake time if the weather is nice/if that is something you’re into.
  • It’s dog friendly because it’s not technically in the National Park! I didn’t bring Gaby because I was waiting on her anti-tick medication to arrive (she had gotten a tick on a hike a few days before and I didn’t want to put her at risk again). But it’s a great hike for pups too.
  • It was not very crowded at the time I went (Saturday in early May) but there were enough people that it didn’t feel unsafe as a solo hiker. It’s also really well-signed and easy to follow.
  • The early forested part of the trail was really peaceful, and the ridge portion had some pretty great views of the mountains surrounding the area.
  • The distance and elevation gain make it a really solid moderate/moderately easy trail.
  • The drive is totally gorgeous, basically as soon as you get off highway 5 it just gets better and better.

Diablo Lake Trail Cons

  • There are some power lines and dam infrastructure that take away from the beauty of the area in a couple portions of the trail.
  • You can actually see & hear parts of the highway along parts of the hike.
  • The overlook is underwhelming, so for someone who really likes a nice view at the end of a hike, it wasn’t my favorite trail ending.
  • It’s a pretty far drive from Seattle for a day trip.

I’m excited to explore deeper into the North Cascades area as snow melt continues and more trails become accessible, because I’ve heard nothing but great things about the entire region. Stay tuned!

Posted by:Elizabeth

Wandering Californian living in Seattle. Nature-loving, thrill-seeking weekend adventurer. Storyteller.

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