5 Things to Explore at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project

Summer is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest with the fall season peeking over the horizon. Before we know it, school will be back in session, leaves will start to change colors and the days will begin to get shorter. Now is the time to plan that one last road trip before Labor Day. City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project is just a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle and offers fantastic views and stops along the way! Nestled in North Cascades National Park, Skagit offers majestic mountain views, emerald waters and a rich history of providing clean energy to the Puget Sound. Here are a few of our favorite must-dos!

1) Explore the wares at the Skagit County General Store

Since 1922, the Skagit General Store has provided provisions for City Light employees and, more recently, road warriors alike. Today, employees and visitors alike can purchase milk, soda, and snacks, plus camping and picnic supplies. The store is especially known for its delicious homemade fudge! While they do offer samples, you’ll probably leave with a pound…or two.
(While you’re in Newhalem, be sure to get a selfie with Old Engine 6, the decommissioned train engine on the side of Highway 20!)


2) Feel the refreshing spray of water on Lake Diablo

Hop aboard the Alice Ross IV (named after the wife of City Light’s first superintendent, J.D. Ross) and set out on a tour of Diablo Lake. Experience parts of the lake that are typically hidden from view when traveling by highway or hiking on trails. Your tour will come alive with stories about the early explorers and settlers in the area and the challenges of dams and powerhouses in a very remote location. Skagit Tours offers lunch and afternoon tours. Between the almost-ethereal emerald waters and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, it will be a trip you will not soon forget.
Click here to register for a lake tour!

3) Climb around Ladder Creek Falls

Next to the Gorge Powerhouse flows the Ladder Creek Falls. A flight of stairs brings you close to the falls surging through imposing rock formations.
J.D. Ross envisioned and treated the Skagit Project as a theme park, and remnants of that vision are still visible to this day, specifically: the illuminated falls. At night, the falls come alive with color that change by the minute. The best way to experience falls is following Skagit Tours’ renowned Dam Good Chicken Dinner*, a meal that has been enjoyed for decades. It’s a Skagit Project essential!
*A vegetarian option is also available.  

4) Sign up for a class at the North Cascades Institute

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center’s mission is to inspire and empower environmental stewardship for all through transformative educational experiences in nature. This beautiful facility was constructed with support from City Light and is operated by the North Cascades Institute. NCI offers classes that range in age range, duration and interest.
Click here to learn more!

5) Drive (or walk!) across Diablo Dam

Last, but certainly not least, the views from Diablo Dam are not to be missed on your excursion in Skagit. Just off of Highway 20, Diablo Dam provides a 360° view of mountains and Lake Diablo. Stick around and take a lake tour or venture out one of the many trails in the area.

These are just a few of our favorite things to explore in the area. Now it’s time for you to make your own must-do Skagit Project list! Learn more about the variety of tours offered through Skagit Tours. We’re confident you’ll find a tour that will pique your interest! But book soon! Most tours run through September and space is limited.

Click here to get started. See you soon in Skagit!


Boundary Hydroelectric Project Receives National Historical Recognition

Boundary Hydroelectric Project from its Vista House

For more than 50 years, the Boundary Hydroelectric Project has powered Seattle with its clean, hydropower. At 340 feet tall, the concrete double-curvature arch of Boundary Dam cuts an imposing figure on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington. In January, City Light submitted an application to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for Boundary to the National Register of Historical Places. Today, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation determined that Boundary meets the National Register criteria.

“Determining the Boundary Project’s eligibility for the National Register is a requirement of our license to operate the dam, but to be listed on the National Register is an honor,” explains City Light’s Mike Aronowitz. “It’s confirmation that the history and design of Boundary deserve to be nationally recognized and preserved.”

The nomination will now be sent to the Keeper of the National Register within the National Park Service, who makes the final listing decision.



City Light announced its plan to acquire the Boundary Dam site and construct a hydroelectric power plant Oct. 27, 1953. On July 10, 1961, City Light was issued a license by the Federal Power Commission, granting the utility permission to utilize a section of the Pend Oreille River and construct Boundary Dam. Construction began in August 1963 by carving out 500,000 cubic yards of the limestone mountain to make way for the world’s largest underground powerhouse at the time. The machine hall, which houses the turbines that generate electricity, was excavated to be 477 feet long, 76 feet wide and 15 stories below the ground. The dam itself was built to an astounding 340 feet tall, 32 feet at its base and eight feet at its crest. The reservoir that retains the water from the Pend Oreille River is 1,794 acres and 17.5 miles long, roughly three times the size of Lake Union.

The 1,040-megawatt Boundary Hydroelectric Project (Boundary Project) impounds the Pend Oreille River in a rural canyon north of Metaline Falls, in Pend Oreille County (pronounced Pon-deh-RAY), Washington, and is owned and operated by Seattle City Light (City Light) under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) License No. 2144. Completed with four generation units in 1967, the multi-component facility was built between 1963 and 1967 and consists of a concrete variable-radius, double curvature, thin arch dam, an underground powerhouse, the Vista House, and other support and recreation-related built resources as were developed during the original construction period. The overall nominated district covers 167 acres, all located within the larger boundary for the FERC license.

The Boundary Project is located at river mile 17 on the Pend Oreille River in a narrow canyon in the Selkirk Mountains, in northeastern Washington, about ten miles north of the Town of Metaline Falls and one mile south of the U.S.-Canada border. Boundary is a multi-component project occupying 167-acres within the larger licensed area, and is operated by Seattle City Light under FERC License No. 2144.1 The individual resources of the Boundary Project were designed by multiple engineering firms and architectural firms as detailed below, under the direction of Herbert V. Standberg, City Light’s project engineer, with Cr. Hoidal and Robert L. Skone providing, respectively, civil and electrical engineering oversight.
The Boundary Project is documented as a “district” which includes the dam, forebay, powerhouse, transmission line, Vista House, and related recreational and support structures, tied together by the original looped road system from the controlled access point at the end of Boundary Road.

In 2013, City Light was issued a new license to operate Boundary through 2055. With the new license comes several important recreation developments that will directly benefit the local community and promote economic development. Improvements are already underway at the Forebay Recreation Area. Other enhancements are slated for Metaline Waterfront Park in 2018, followed by two new spectacular viewing locations and a portage trail for kayakers around Metaline Falls in 2019. A new hiking trail on the east side of the reservoir will be added in 2020.