I was recently scrolling through the North Cascades NP website (one of my many exciting hobbies) and noticed that the suspension bridge across Diablo Lake had been repaired as of Dec 1, 2015. I’d always been mildly curious about the Diablo Lake trail, and I decided this was as good a reason as any to check it out.
Previous trip reports have indicated that the view of Ross Dam at the end of the trail is a little disappointing. And it’s true, this trail does not have a big pay-off at the end, even with the new bridge installation. But it’s still a nice little trail, snow-free, in good shape, with some pretty views of the North Cascades. It’s the journey, not the destination…
Also, thanks to the new suspension bridge you can now use this trail to connect to other routes that take you deeper into the park. For example, there’s now a fun option to make a loop using Sourdough Mountain and Diablo Lake trails, once the snow melts.
I was especially impressed with the condition of the trail considering it’s mid-February: Every stream crossing was mellow or had a sturdy bridge, and I kept my feet dry the whole time. There were no more than a handful of blowdowns (5 at most?), none of which caused any issues. In some places the trail was as clear as you might encounter mid-summer! Speaking of mid-summer, the weather was fantastic too. Blue skies, temps in the 50s, sunshine, the smell of warm pine needles. Heaven. Well, heaven in the moment, worriesome over the long-term.
The only hiccup I encountered along the Diablo Lake trail is that the first 1/2 mile of trail was closed – a group of firefighters were creating defensible space in prep for wildfire season. They were friendly guys and cheerfully told me how to get around the closure: walk the road towards the east end of the North Cascades Institute campus, pick up the Sourdough Creek trail for ~1/2 mile, then walk the road again until you meet back up with the signed Diablo Lake trail. It’s easier than it sounds.
After I finished the Diablo Lake trail, I drove a little further on Hwy 20 to check out Colonial Creek campground. The park website says the lakefront sites in the south loop are open, but according to a sign at the campground entrance, all campsites in Colonial Creek are currently closed, although the trails beyond the campground (Thunder Creek, e.g.) are open.
I also checked out access to Thunder Knob, and it seemed reasonable. The footbridges have been removed for the season but there is a plank across the creek that looked pretty sturdy.
Finally, I can confirm that per the park website, all trails and campgrounds in the Newhalem area are currently closed due to last season’s wildfire.
In summary: want to get into/near the mountains this weekend but don’t have 4WD and/or don’t want to deal with snow or blowdowns? Diablo Lake trail is a good bet.