We’re learning more and more about local festivals and one we recently heard about was the Skagit River Bald Eagle Festival.
The eagle migration from Canada to Washington’s Northern Cascades typically occurs in December and January and apparently it is a huge draw for locals and tourists. There are “viewing stations” at several points along Route 20 East, including the Howard Miller Steelhead Park (52804 Rockport Park Road, Rockport); Sutter Creek Rest Area, Milepost 100, Highway 20; and Marblemount Fish Hatchery (located on Hatchery Road off Rockport-Cascade Road).
We actually heard about the festival last year, but sadly, we learned about it a week after it ended. We went up to see the eagles, but only saw about four, because most had moved on to other places to get fish. While in this area last year, we also learned that you can take a river float trip to view the eagles during Eagle Festival – to which we said “Sign us up!”
After booking a reservation with Captain Dave of Pacific Northwest Float Trips, Chad, Greer, William and I headed up to Howard Miller Steelhead Park for our river trip. There were about twenty-five people signed up for tours, so Captain Dave split us into smaller groups. We joined our guide, Shane (who Greer and I thought resembled a mountain man version of Brad Pitt) and two other couples and drove up river in the oldest van I’ve ever seen to put in our raft.
Prior to launching the raft, Shane disappeared into the woods. He came back with some cool branches and explained to us their medicinal qualities, like an ancient shaman.
It was a very foggy and cold morning and we were very glad we had followed Captain Dave’s advice to “dress warm!”. We started off at a leisurely pace, enjoying Shane’s tales of previous rafting expeditions, many of which seemed to involve wine and cheese – our kind of guide! It turns out Shane grew up on the Skagit River and has been a guide for decades. He could really handle the boat as well as tell us all about the geology, wildlife, and history of the river.
It took a while to spot the first eagle, but we were all excited when we did.
Shortly after viewing the first, we saw a younger eagle in a tree. The younger ones don’t have the typical white head – that comes with age (at about age 5).
Just when I thought my feet couldn’t get any colder, we rounded a bend in the river and the fog broke and AAAAAHHHHH the sun came out. From that point on, the views were amazing. We could see the snowy El Dorado Range in the distance behind us as we travelled down-river.
This river valley in the middle of the Northern Cascade mountains is truly gorgeous and, on this day in particular, quite serene.
All told, we saw about 15 eagles on our trip – which we were told by Shane is a low count because many had already left the region due to a low salmon turnout this season.
After posing for photos with Shane after we landed on shore, we drove up to the Eatery for a bite to eat. Sadly, this cute establishment (a huge hit in the summer months) was closed for the season. We peeked in the little chapel across the street,
said a small prayer for the Seattle Seahawks (who were playing in the playoff game against San Francisco later that day), and headed for home. Perhaps because we paid homage to the birds that day, the Seahawks won the playoff game!
Important Travel Notes:
To get to Howard Miller Steelhead Park: 52804 Rockport Park Rd, Rockport (Take Exit 230 Hwy 20 off I-5 and head east about 37 miles to Rockport.)
Credentials Required: Northwest Forest Pass (although if you are parked there for a rafting trip, the rangers aren’t so strict about this).
Eagle Viewing Float Trip: Reservations Strongly Recommended! Call (866)967-8555 or in Washington (360)719-5808. You can also book the trip through their website http://www.pacificnwfloattrips.com