Visit the Skagit River for Eagle Viewing and Hiking
The Skagit Eagle Festival in January offers chances to see eagles up close and learn more about them.
By Amos Almy, Rockport and Rasar State Park interpretive specialist
The upper Skagit River region is quiet this time of year. With Highway 20 closed at the Ross Dam Trailhead (milepost 134), the road is a dead end. But there is still plenty to see in this beautiful part of the state—including a lot of eagles right now.
In January, the Concrete Chamber of Commerce hosts the Skagit Eagle Festival. The annual event invites visitors to explore the region in search of bald eagles that have migrated from Alaska and Canada. At times, their numbers can reach into the hundreds along a short stretch of the river from Rockport to Marblemount. The eagles are hungry and are looking for food. Chum salmon in the Skagit River provide a buffet to hungry eagles.
If you'd like to see the eagles, bring binoculars and warm, waterproof clothing to make your visit more enjoyable.
Here are some insider tips on viewing eagles.
- Be at the Eagle Watcher sites (see below) between dawn and 11 a.m. This is when the eagles are most active and you may be rewarded with some amazing sights.
- Eagles feed by the river’s edge where dead salmon wash ashore. Please keep your distance and do not disturb them so they expend as little energy as possible.
- Cloudy or overcast days are best for seeing eagles because after feeding they will perch in trees lining the river—perfect for photographs or spotting with binoculars.
- Days with bright sun means eagles are more likely to be soaring far above your heads. Still a sight to see!
- At night, eagles roost higher up where it is warmer. They also prefer large trees so Rockport State Park is an ideal place. Late afternoon hikers may hear their chattering.
Where to see the eagles
At Howard Miller Steelhead County Park in Rockport you will find the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center. This center is open to the public and offers guided hikes, as well as Guest Speakers on weekends. The park also offers wonderful hiking trails along the river’s edge; perfect for spotting eagles resting on tree limbs or soaring above your head.
Bald Eagle Interpretive Center
- Hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Guided hikes: Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.
- Guest speakers: See events calendar for details
Up the road from Howard Miller is Rockport State Park. This park is just off of Highway 20 and offers a variety of hiking trails inside an old growth forest. You can challenge yourself with the 3-mile Evergreen Trail loop that takes you along the park’s boundary.
Or perhaps you are in the mood to learn about this magnificent forest? Sign up for one of their guided hikes! A naturalist will take you through the forest on an easy half-mile, hourlong hike that offers the chance to stand next to 500-year-old trees and catch a glimpse of the Skagit River. This time of the year, it is nice to have a place to warm up, so check out the park’s Discovery Center. Inside the Discovery Center, you will find fun interactive displays, free refreshments, crafts, and a warm wood stove.
Looking for something for the kids? Ask about the Park’s Junior Ranger Program, where the kids can complete an activity booklet for a cool badge.
Rockport State Park
- Hours: 8 a.m. to dusk
- Discovery Center: Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Guided Hikes: Friday to Sunday at 11 a.m., Noon, 1 p.m., and 2 p.m.
Get a close up view
The Eagle Watcher Program through the U.S. Forest Service offers the opportunity to see eagles up close through spotting scopes. Three stations are located in the region: Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Milepost 100 Rest Stop and the Marblemount Fish Hatchery. Look for the yellow binoculars symbol in the map below.
The Marblemount Fish Hatchery offers a short trail to the banks of the Cascade River. This trail and the hatchery itself is a great place to spot eagles.
Looking for something that won’t offer many eagles but is still a great hike? Check out the Diobsud Creek Trail. This will take you through a beautiful forest before ending next to the clear water of Diobsud Creek. Depending on the recent weather, you might even find some snow on the trail!
It might be a far drive from where you are, but visiting the Upper Skagit is special this time of year. Luckily, the two highways (Highway 530 or Highway 20) both offer some beautiful sights of the North Cascades as you drive up the valley.