In Diablo Lake, there is an island where monkeys once roamed.
J.D. Ross, the second superintendent of Seattle City Light and an enthusiastic proponent of the three dams on the Skagit River, put them there to entertain visitors he hoped would support the power project.
The monkeys are long gone, but gimmicks were never necessary to impress visitors to the North Cascades. Towering peaks, unbelievable turquoise waters and a fascinating cultural and natural history are more than enough incentive to visit. Here are three tours that will give you a good introduction to the region.
Newhalem was a company town started by Seattle City Light in 1919. A must-see is the light show on Ladder Creek Falls. Ladder Creek pours powerfully through a narrow channel that it’s carved out over time. From dusk to midnight, lights focused on the falls rotate through an array of colors: shocking, dramatic red shifts to purple and then a calm, rich blue. The show is on a 15-minute cycle, and it’s mesmerizing.
Also in Newhalem is the North Cascades Visitor Center. Stop there to ask questions or plan the rest of your trip.
Skagit Power Tours
Take a guided shuttle tour and check out the scenery of the North Cascades while seeing how electricity is created. You can go inside the Gorge Powerhouse, where you will be dwarfed by the turbines. Then you’ll visit the city of Diablo below the Diablo Dam. See the Diablo Powerhouse and the incline lift. The lift, no longer operational but still fascinating, once took rail cars one by one sideways up Sourdough Mountain. The tour includes lunch in Diablo. It’s $40, and visitors must be 13 or older. Tours run on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 14. Call 360-854-2589 to make reservations.
Diablo Lake Boat Tours
On this tour, you’ll get to see Monkey Island for yourself. Even better, you get to see the turquoise waters up close. You’ll start at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, where you’ll eat lunch. Then you’ll take a boat tour up Diablo Lake, getting a one-of-a-kind view of the shore. The tour ends at Ross Dam, which has a bizarre appearance, kind of like a waffle. It was built that way so it could later be made taller, but the plan to increase its height was scrapped, so it remains in its original form. Tours are from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays through Sept. 15. Tickets are $18-$38. Call 360-854-2589 to make reservations.