Fall foliage isn’t the Skagit’s draw—it’s the bald eagles that are a constant companion as you run the rushing emerald waters of the conifer- and cliff-lined river. The Skagit’s headwaters are in Canada’s Manning Provincial Park—it flows south before dumping into Puget Sound near Mount Vernon, Washington, 150 miles later. Start in Washington’s North Cascades to paddle the lower 85 miles, no passport required. At first it’s a swift and narrow mountain stream slicing through precipitous bedrock canyons. Pink and chinook salmon struggle upstream to spawn, while and mink and river otter scamper along the banks. The Sauk flows in, bringing glacial deposits that make the Skagit’s waters temporarily milky. Eventually, the river widens and mellows, sweeping through floodplains, past farms and forests and through two towns. Paddle to the end, and you might spot a harbor seal in search of salmon.
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This story first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.