Ross Lake: Kayak Camping – Part I

What a whirlwind 3 night 4 day trip on Ross Lake!


We didn’t get started until 5AM Friday morning (after a four hour nap) because we worked all day Thursday then packed mostly that night (yes we’ve read everywhere not to pack the night before – but life gets busy). I’m sure I’ll blog about packing a kayak at some point, but today is all about adventure.

First stop was at the Wilderness Information Center at Marblemount for our backcountry permits, which are free but necessary for camping on the lake. We didn’t have cell service to send our official float plan to anyone but we had a general if-we-don’t-show-up-at-work-Tuesday-we-may-never-come-in and in hindsight should have told them to call the center who DID have our float plan.


To launch was a 20-30 min drive to Colonial Creek Campground at Diablo Lake, since the only other way to access Ross Lake is a drive to Canada (adding on several hours) or via a hike with switch-backs (really not recommended, see my other blog post before trying it).


We packed our kayak for the first time (again, not recommended) at our launch point and packed everything, including the kitchen sink. After trying to center the weight we did a test float and realized since our only hatch is in the back the front of the boat was slightly out of water. A few adjustments and another hard look at what we REALLY needed later we got Manitou II to float level. I’ll painfully mention that the packing, changing, eating a quick lunch, going to the bathroom, unpacking/repacking process took us several hours. By the time we got going I was so excited to paddle I didn’t even think about taking a break on the 5 mile paddle across Diablo Lake.

Here we are launching, paddling Diablo, and portaging to Ross.

We had perfect timing and didn’t even have to call for the truck to portage us over the road, since two Canoers had just loaded up. As an added bonus it was only $20 for the ride (instead of $30) as a shared trip, though we did add $5 as a tip since the driver helped bring the kayak up the ridiculous set of stairs.

The steep stairs were because a) they took out the small ramp that’s closer to the truck access and b) because the water level was low, and c) they provide foreshadowing of the rest of the trip.

Just as we started packing back up (you have to unload before getting on the truck) the thunder/lightening/rain started, welcoming us back to Ross Lake!

Here’s the storm and heading to Rainbow Point.

We arrived at our first reserved campsite, Rainbow Point, about 6 miles in,  and found the low lake levels made for a very steep incline.

Here’s checking out Rainbow Point with some furry visitors.

We decided because getting up/down would be both dangerous and difficult, the thunderstorms had turned into blue skies and placid waters, and it was pre-season so there were very few paddlers, we would paddle on.

(Here’s a map of the campgrounds with mileage if you’re interested)

In the perfect weather we went all the way to Ten Mile Island (which is, shocker, ten miles out plus the 5 miles from Diablo). There are three campsites there but we had the entire island to ourselves.

Ten Mile Island

Amenities: There’s a large bear box that can fit all your gear and there’s also a picnic table and vault toilet (whether there’s toilet paper or not).

We dried off all our gear and ourselves with a nice fire from the driftwood on the beach.

Ten Mile Island

After a restful night with the only sound being the waterfall across the water (except for the occasional snore) we got up and loaded up (only 3 hours this time for everything).

The Go Pro doesn’t charge itself so we also rigged up a charging station.


Though 2lbs from a hat isn’t a great plan so we put it on the back of the kayak instead.

Keep reading: Part II 


11 thoughts on “Ross Lake: Kayak Camping – Part I

  1. That’s pretty good that you guys got out on docks and ramps. I hate it, partially because I always ding my boats and partially because I’m so much more comfortable landing and launching from a beach. Looks like a nice place and a good trip. Was it only one night?


    1. We did three nights but I keep not getting around to editing any video for the other days/nights (even though there’s less of it, it’s just time consuming). Stay tuned and I’ll post about the rest of the trip in the near future.

      I agree about liking to launch from beaches more than docks!


  2. KayakKrystin, thanks for signing up to receive my occasional posts at ospreypaddler. I really enjoyed reading and watching your Ross Lake excursion. I deeply appreciate the honesty and humility in your approach, as well as a chance to see other places from the vantage point of a kayak.


  3. Thanks for the post, it was helpful! Was wondering, do you have to book a campsite at colonial creek to park there while you are up on ross? Is the hike from ross dam doable with 11 ft paddle boards?


    1. You don’t need to book a campsite to park, there’s a parking lot not too far from the campsites (so we unloaded at the launch then one of us drove to the parking lot).
      Are the paddle boards all you’re taking? And have you hiked steep long hills with that? I found hiking with the kayak (especially full of gear) was too much for my fingers to hold in a prolonged way (and that’s knowing how to push through that finger fatigue from indoor rock climbing…). I’m not exactly buff but my husband had a hard time as well and was in good shape! But again that was with a lot of gear.
      One option is just to make sure you have cash and stay within the hours, try it, then if you need to ditch your gear on the side to walk and request a ride you can (there’s no cell signal).
      I personally will always get the ride from now on, even as a penny pincher 😊


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