Permits, What to Pack, and How to go Kayak Camping

By GCI ambassador Doris Wang


Since purchasing kayaks a few years ago, I have always wanted to try kayak camping. I knew there were some kayak camping/boat-in spots in Washington state, but I didn’t really know how to go about planning the trip.

Last year, after a bit of research, I found that you could reserve boat-in campsites on Washington’s Diablo Lake. I got my hands on reservations—but ended up double-booking myself on another backpacking trip. I gave my kayak-in campsite permits to a friend and put the plans back on my to-do list for.

This year, when the time to put in reservations came around, I scored permits again! I got to work planning and finally made it happen. We kayak camped on Diablo Lake in the beginning of July 2022, and it has been the highlight of my summer so far!

Arriving at Thunder Point campsite with lots of gear.



Reserving Permits

North Cascades National Park has changed their permitting system a few times recently—this information is for the 2022 year.

For campsites such as the one we booked, you must have a backcountry permit. There was an open lottery permit application in early March, but I was not among the winners. So in April, when the permit sale opened to the general public, I logged on right away and booked our permits. (Some permits are also reserved for same-day walk-ups, but those are never guaranteed to be available when you go. As a weekend warrior with a desk job during the weekdays, I tend to book permits in advance.)

The National Parks’ permit reserving system is currently on To find the permits there, search “North Cascades National Park Backcountry Permits,” check availability, and start with Diablo-Ross Lake Boat-In tab. There are 3 campsites on Diablo Lake: Thunder Point, Hidden Cove, and Buster Brown. We stayed at Thunder Point.

A trip that was well worth the planning.


What to Pack for Kayak Camping

A few weeks before heading out, we had to figure out how to transport our dog with us on this trip, since we planned on bringing him. We own 2 single-person kayaks, but with our black lab being almost 90 pounds and not liking water, we couldn’t just put him in our kayaks. We found an inflatable raft at Costco that could hold up to 600 lbs., which meant we could transport our dog as well as a human and our gear! In fact, this raft allowed us to bring more gear than we expected, so I was happy to pack my GCI Outdoor MaxRelax Pod Rocker.

After creating a few packing lists, we decided that kayak camping required a mix of backpacking and car camping gear. We packed a Jetboil cook system to boil water and to be able to make some hot meals, but we also packed a cast iron and some firewood so that we could cook over a campfire. We also brought a cooler, which kept ice in it the whole weekend. This let us bring perishable foods like bacon and sausage for the weekend too.

At the end of the day, what you pack really comes down to how much stuff you’re willing to pack out, and how much your kayak or boat can carry! Just make sure to bring back everything you packed, since there are no trash cans out there.

Relaxing by the lake in my PodRocker!



Kayaking to Thunder Point on Diablo Lake

The day we set sail, we first had to stop by the North Cascades Park Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount to pick up our permits. From there, it’s another 25 miles to the Colonial Creek Boat Launch.

The paddle from Colonial Creek to Thunder Point is about 2 miles one way. We paddled out Friday afternoon and struggled with the wind the whole way. To avoid the wind, people recommend paddling out in the morning, since the wind tends to pick up in the afternoon. It took us under an hour to get to the campground, which is only accessible by kayak or boat.

This was our first time kayak camping, and it definitely will not be the last. With this spot only accessible by boat, we barely saw anyone all weekend aside from paddleboarders and other kayakers coming and going on the lake during the day. Another thing checked off my bucket list!

Happy camping!

Our quiet campsite made for an amazing weekend.