Ross Lake, Washington USA & British Columbia Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - British Columbia - USA - West - Washington - North Central Washington -

Also known as:  Ross Reservoir

Spectacular Ross Lake is one of the seldom seen gems in north-central Washington. This fantastic 22-mile long reservoir covers 11,680 acres along the flooded Skagit River Valley. Nestled between high sloping banks and against a backdrop of what are often called the Washington Alps, those who visit here are in for a wilderness experience like few others. And the best part is, Ross Lake is only three hours from Seattle. The northern end of the lake extends into British Columbia, Canada.

There are no city amusements or signs of civilization on the banks of Ross Lake except for one resort property that has existed there for 60 years. Nearly 20 camping areas lie along the shoreline and on islands in the lake. Only two of them can be reached by car. Camp sites are either reached on foot or by boat, with the majority of them having a boat dock. Accessing the shoreline from the USA side is across rough gravel roads, so the resort camp wisely rents canoes, single and double kayaks, and 14-foot fishing boats with motors. Visitors cannot reach the resort’s floating cabins by car; those coming by canoe paddle upstream along RipRap Creek from Diablo Lake and portage a mile across the dam, then paddle up the lake to the resort. The resort operates a water taxi service that picks up their guests and other lake visitors by prior arrangement in trucks downstream, then transports them by boat to either their rentals or to one of the lakeshore campsites.

A Backcountry permit is required to camp at Ross Lake and can be obtained from the Ranger Station or the resort store. Most campsites are rather primitive, with no real facilities other than a fire ring and boat dock. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden trout or char can be caught in the lake’s clear, cold waters, although tackle is limited to artificial lures and barbless hooks. Fishing season is from July 1 to October 31st. A total of three rainbows can be kept; the char must be released. An appropriate fishing license is required for the country one is fishing in (USA or Canada). The dividing line for the two countries is clearly marked, but those desiring to fish the full range of the lake might be well advised to purchase both permits.

Swimming in Ross Lake is possible, but the only sandy beach areas are at the two largest campgrounds. The water remains quite cold year round. Ross Campground on the Canadian side offers more developed amenities and a day-use area within the 88-site campground. As water levels vary dramatically from season to season, the Canadian shoreline is often high and dry except between June and October. Many of the boat docks are not usable in times of low water. Luckily, water levels correspond quite well to fishing season.

Tucked within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Ross Lake is further surrounded by North Cascades National Park, Okanogan National Forest, Skagit Valley Provincial Park, and EC Manning Provincial Park. All of these parks are blessed with great hiking trails among abundant wildlife and pristine woods. Those who enjoy mountain hiking will find that Hozomeen Mountain, Ruby Mountain, and Desolation Peak are within sight from much of the lake. Nearby Jack Mountain towers a full 7000 feet above the surface of the water. The National Park Service provides trail maps for download on their website, and more detailed maps may be purchased at the Visitors Center.

The heavily wooded slopes along Ross Lake support a wealth of flowers in spring, including lupine, honeysuckle, columbine and wild roses. Great blue herons, eagles, owls and kingfishers are often seen near the shore. Observant hikers may glimpse coyote, grey wolves, deer, beaver, martin, chipmunk and even an occasional black bear. Very rarely a cougar may be seen. In this pristine wilderness, it isn’t hard to imagine the lives of the ancient forest dwellers that archaeological evidence shows once traveled through the valley. Pottery shards from the American southwest give evidence that the Skagit River Valley was once part of an important native trade route.

Most first-time visitors coming from the south will want to stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center near the village of Newhalem for access to maps, information on local trails, conditions and special alerts. Those not intending to camp or stay at the floating resort on Ross Lake will find all types of alternate lodgings along Route 20 between I-5 and Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Guest houses, rental cabins and small motels are all available. This scenic area has long attracted nature lovers and free spirits who enjoy waking up to wilderness and pure air. There are plenty of local artisan shops, small cafes and guest cottages available to entertain visitors. Even if serious hiking or fishing is not on your personal agenda, there is plenty of scenery to be seen from the highway and refreshingly quaint places to stop and recharge.

The dam impounding the Skagit River that forms Ross Lake was built in several stages, beginning in 1937. The Skagit Hydroelectric Project builders first built what was then called Ruby Dam to impound a storage pool for two other dams downstream that provided hydroelectric power to the City of Seattle. The dam was later enlarged and still later renamed Ross Dam after the late director of the project. The last enlargement caused 480 acres in British Columbia to become part of the growing lake. Generating turbines were eventually added to provide even more electricity. A ‘Ross High Dam’ project to raise the water levels another 100+ feet ran into major environmental protests, causing the planned expansion to be placed on hold for 80 years. An agreement was signed between the two countries for BC Hydro to provide electric power to Seattle for the cost of what it would have spent to enlarge the dam. The electricity from the Skagit Project and that from the agreement result in Seattle being one of the ‘greenest’ cities in the United States. Won’t you come and visit beautiful Ross Lake?

Things to do at Ross Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Provincial Park
  • National Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Ross Lake

  • Char
  • Dolly Varden Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Ross Lake Photo Gallery

  • Ross Dam, 540 feet high, 450 MW

Ross Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Seattle City Light

Surface Area: 11,680 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,603 feet

Average Depth: 123 feet

Maximum Depth: 400 feet

Water Volume: 770,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1949

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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