Spada Lake is a tranquil spot for a leisurely picnic, paddle or hike

  • By Jessi Loerch Herald Writer
  • Friday, August 15, 2014 9:59am
  • Life

If you live in Snohomish County, odds are good you drink water from Spada Lake — nearly 80 percent of the people in the county do. Yet few people actually get up there to visit the reservoir, and that’s part of its charm.

In a typical year, the area near the lake gets around 5,000 visitors, said Karen Bedrossian, senior environmental coordinator at the Snohomish County Public Utilities District.

As part of its relicensing of the Culmback Dam, the PUD has recently updated recreation sites at the reservoir, including picnic tables, boat launches and signs. It’s quiet and beautiful and worth a visit.

Start your trip by pausing at Olney Pass, which will be on your right before you get to the lake. You’ll see a sign there with information about the area. Take a moment to register (no fee is required) before continuing on.


You’ll find several sites for picnicking along the shores of Spada Lake.

Culmback Dam requires a short walk down the hill. There are picnic tables, restrooms and a fascinating view of the dam.

Be sure to check out the Morning Glory Spillway, which prevents water from overtopping the dam. When water levels are normal, it just looks like a huge, round cement tube. But when the levels are extremely high, the spillway looks like a vortex to another world as the water flows in.

You can also walk across the dam, then climb a short way for a higher overlook point and more picnic tables and a toilet.

At South Fork, you’ll find covered picnic shelters, more toilets and a boat launch. It’s a peaceful, pretty place.

Farther along, at South Shore, there’s a good view of a natural wetland that formed at the edge of the reservoir. You can picnic or launch a boat there, too.


No combustion engines are allowed on Spada Lake. “Kayakers just eat it up,” said Neil Neroutsos of the PUD. “It’s so calm and quiet.”

Electric motors are OK. Paddleboards or other craft from which people are likely to fall in the water are not allowed.

There are two boat launches at Spada Lake, at South Fork and South Shore, and all boats should be launched from those points. South Fork has the longer boat launch, so it’s more likely to be accessible when the water is low.


To the east of the South Shore site, the old road is decommissioned. It offers several destinations for hikers — and berries. On a recent trip, four types of berries were ripe. The first, and easiest, option is a short jaunt to a beaver pond. You’ll reach it after about five minutes of hiking. Kids and adults will both be impressed by what beavers can do.

For more hiking, try Bear Creek, an overlook 1.2 miles from the parking area. There’s slight elevation gain overall, but the trail does drop and climb steeply for short sections at creek crossing. At Bear Creek, visit the upper overlook; it’s to the right of the boulder with a sign on it. You’ll find benches and a great view. A fence makes it a safe place to have a break even with young kids. If you want more hiking, continue on, now on a trail, toward Greider (8.6 miles roundtrip) or Boulder (13.8 miles roundtrip) lakes.


Fishing is allowed in the lake, but not the tributaries. Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website,, for fishing regulations.

Whitewater kayaking

Part of the relicensing included consideration for whitewater kayakers. A new trail, the Sultan River Canyon Trail, is under construction to provide kayakers with better access to the advanced runs. The trail was designed by the Forest Service and is well made, Bedrossian said. The previous trail was more of a path. Work on the new trail is on pause right now and will resume after the marbled murrelet nesting season. The route will probably be finished this year. Once the trail is completed, there will be scheduled whitewater flow releases.

If you go

To get there, head east on U.S. 2 through Sultan. Just past town, turn left on Sultan Basin Road. Follow Basin Road 13.5 miles to Olney Pass.

It’s important to note that, as Spada Lake is a source of drinking water, some activities are prohibited. Swimming and wading are not allowed in the reservoir or the creeks. Check the sign at Olney Pass or the PUD’s website,, for more information.

Jessi Loerch:;, @explorenw.

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