Washington State isn’t exactly hurting for breathtaking vistas: on the west coast, white waves wash up on endless beaches; in the east, an agricultural utopia rolls with hills and hay as far as the eye can see. In between, the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges jut into the sky like jagged jaws, ready to snap up the next person who dares challenge Washington’s rightful title as Most Gorgeous state. It’s in those very mountains that you’ll find Washington’s most beautiful place: Diablo Lake.
Two-and-a-half hours from Seattle, via the scenic North Cascades Highway, Diablo Lake glimmers in a shade of green usually reserved for jewelry: depending on the angle, perhaps it’s a jade pendant or a dusky piece of turquoise. Its calling-card color comes from the fine grinding of rocks by surrounding glaciers and its frigid temperature from the enormous dam that contributes only the deepest, coldest glacial waters to the lake.
But on a summer afternoon, after a quick two-mile hike up the Thunder Knob Trail for a bird’s-eye view of the lake, the icy waters make for a refreshing dip. Across the highway from the trailhead and swimming beach lies Colonial Creek Campground. Though it will allow reservations starting in 2017, it’s currently first-come, first-served, which on an August weekend means arriving by Thursday afternoon to snag a spot for the weekend. The more adventurous and well-equipped can paddle or motor a craft out to the many boat-in-only campsites that dot Diablo and adjoining Ross Lakes. Ten minutes up the road from the beach, Newhalem and Goodell Creek campgrounds allow reservations—and are also where you’ll find the nearest store and cell-service.
Even as temperatures climb toward 100 degrees, the shaded campgrounds and cool waters keep afternoons refreshing, while late evenings are pleasant. But the wee hours are downright cold: don’t forget to bring your warmest sleeping bag. But even as you wake up shivering until the sun starts to shine, there’s a warmth that comes from looking over that green-glass lake, knowing you’re in the most beautiful place in the most beautiful state.