Desolation Peak Campground
Every day Never Closes
Lonely, spectacular and historic, Desolation Peak is a favorite and popular destination above the shores of Ross Lake despite its remote location. For those “enjoying” the 4000 ft hike up the mountain, this mountain camp allows them to split the hiking burden (up and down) over more than one day while dramatically enhancing their mountain top time and experience.
Located among the nearly last scattering of scrubby trees the campsite sits on the backbone of the ridge, south of the historic lookout. Without dense forest the view is spectacular. Throughout the day and even into the night the light and shadows sweep across the horizon producing an endless variety of color, contrasts and shadow on the mountains, lake and sky.
Much of the wide open vista is a result of a raging climax fire of the 1920s that jumped across the Skagit River (before the creation of Ross Lake) and swept up the mountainside denuding the slopes of vegetation, thus the mountain’s name, Desolation. Despite the inhospitable name, this panoramic view in the middle of the remote wilderness provided an ideal location for fire-watchers hoping to prevent similar fires from occurring. The original lookout still stands and during periods of high fire danger is still used. Located about a mile north on the mountain’s true summit an intervening false summit hides a view of the lookout but also provides greater privacy for campers from the many day hikers visiting the historic site.
Few casual visitors stop by the campsite. Lack of water and amenities and the punishing climb often leave little energy for side trips during a long and tiring day. With room for no more than a party of eight campers, chances are there won’t be a crowd. While there are no restrictions about where campers can hike during the day and night, there is no camping allowed outside the campsite, particularly at the lookout and on the summit.
Consideration for drinking and cooking water is a must. The closest trickling stream which may or may not have water flowing, is halfway down the mountain (the trail crosses it). Most campers in early season “mine” a nearby snow-bank, a tradition that stretches back to the early fire-watchers. Climate change as well as yearly fluctuations however makes the availability of snow uncertain. In addition to the permit, campers are also required to carry and use approved “bear cans.” All food and scented toiletries (as well as empty food wrappers and other cooking waste) must be stored in them when in camp. While this requirement superficially seems related to large spooky carnivores the greatest benefit to campers is the prevention of food and equipment damage by little rodents which otherwise would gnaw their way through everything in the camp, day and night.
While the only way to this campsite is by hiking the Desolation Peak Trail there are a number of ways to reach the trailhead. Boat, hike and horse are all possibilities with beginnings at Hozomeen Camp to the north, The Ross Lake Resort, or the East Bank Trail from Washington State Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway (see related articles this website). Seasonal limitations to backcountry travel in this region include snow, forest fires, lightning, winter-gated roads and highways, and changing lake levels.
While the difficulties of reaching and staying at this remote mountain top camp may not be for everyone, the rewards in views and wilderness intimacy are hard to duplicate.
Access the campground via Desolation Peak Trail. The trailhead can be reached by trail (Hozomeen Camp, East Bank Trail) or boat (Hozomeen Camp, Ross Lake Resort). Preregistration with camping permit is required.
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