Lake Chelan’s Clear, Cool Water in the Summer
From the deck of the Lady Express ferry, I stare into the cobalt blue water of Lake Chelan, and the nation’s third-deepest lake seems bottomless. When we pull into a sheltered bay to pick up backpackers at a dock along the shoreline trail, I can see at least 30 feet down, where young kokanee salmon are living in a natural “aquarium.”
With baking hot weather, incredible alpine scenery, and fresh water from the remote reaches of the North Cascades, the 55-mile-long lake is the centerpiece of a quintessential Northwest summer getaway. Here are our six favorite things to see, do and explore in this awesome setting.
(Check for road alerts before you go, and call or go online to confirm the availability of specific attractions and services such as fuel, lodging, restaurants, seasonal events and gatherings.)
Boat Rentals, Watersports and Hiking
On hot summer days, there’s no better place to be than on the lake.
Rent a powerboat, pontoon boat or Jet Ski from Shoreline Watercraft and Boat Rentals, which has five locations between Chelan and Manson, the two main towns along the lake’s southeast shore. Or rent a kayak or paddleboard from Lakerider Sports Chelan at Chelan’s Don Morse Park for fun paddling along the shore. It’s best to head out early, when conditions are calm.
When it’s time to stretch your legs, head up to the Echo Ridge Recreational Area Trailheads (pictured above), about 10 miles north of downtown Chelan, to explore a 26-mile network of Nordic trails that open in summer to hikers and mountain bikers, with no fee required.
Downtown StrollsChelan’s historic downtown district is filled with a variety of unique, family-owned businesses. Frenchie’s Flutes & Fleurs carries an eclectic collection of home décor, clothing and gifts, and also serves wine, chocolate and charcuterie. Healthy eaters head to Bear Foods Natural Market for a remarkably diverse selection of foods — including vegan and gluten-free options — that rivals anything you’d expect to find in a large, urban environment. Its Café-Crêperie offers savory and sweet crêpes, and other eats. For a glimpse at old-timey Chelan, stop in at the Chelan Museum (pictured above). Housed in a 1907 building, and operated by the Lake Chelan Historical Society, the space showcases a robust collection of Native American and homestead artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Winery Tastings and RestaurantsGlacially carved soils and a climate cooled by the lake help give Chelan-area wine grapes the unique character that earned the region its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation in 2009. The region’s 30 wineries are still experimenting with a range of varietals and blends, so expect to be surprised by a selection of varietals that ranges from aglianico (among the offerings at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards) to zinfandel (Four Lakes Winery, Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery). For a memorably fun experience, sign up for the Winery Tour with Chelan Electric Bikes. The 4-hour rides combine leisurely sightseeing along quiet south shore roads on electric-assist Pedago bicycles with stops at three wineries and an optional dip in the lake. Chelan-area wineries also offer unique experiential dining opportunities in their restaurants. At Karma Vineyards’ 18 Brix Restaurant, your group can share steamed shellfish in the vineyard or in an underground wine cave. Sorrento’s Ristorante at Tsillan Cellars (pictured above) serves Italian cuisine in a setting that makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to a Mediterranean villa. The selection at Lake Chelan Winery includes locally made artisan cheeses and, during its summer barbecues in the vineyard, smoked ribs and chicken, along with grilled burgers, prawns and more.
Slidewaters Family FunSlidewaters Waterpark (pictured above) has been a family favorite since 1983. Over the decades the waterslide park has grown to include a lazy river, downhill racer mats, doubles inner tubes, a kids’ water-play zone and a surfing pool with a stationary deepwater wave that can be adjusted from 1-foot to 6-feet tall.
Near the far northeast end of the lake, the community of Stehekin offers a uniquely remote experience. With no roads to town, the only way to get there is by boat, plane or foot.
Daily ferry service with Lady of the Lake makes summer visits a breeze. As you sail across the lake, the mountains grow more impressive, and you can often see mountain goats in the surrounding hills. Consider a combination sailing, with a 90-minute ride to Stehekin aboard the Lady Express and a 3-hour stopover, followed by a 4-hour return aboard the Lady of the Lake II (pictured below).
Hikers use Stehekin as a home base for trips into the North Cascades. Stehekin Discovery Bikes offers rentals near the ferry dock, giving you a chance to explore the area. Ride over to Stehekin Pastry Company, about two miles from the dock, to try their famous, gooey cinnamon rolls.
Camping Along the Lake
Camping options on the south shore include two state parks and multiple spots with RV hookups, including the Lakeshore RV Park. For those with boats, 14 serene boat-in campgrounds dot the waterfront between Mitchell Creek (north of Manson) and Stehekin. Docks on federally managed lands require a Lake Chelan Federal Dock Site Permit, which costs $5. Most of the campgrounds are nestled alongside protected harbors, offering stellar views of surrounding mountains. Since most also offer fire rings, tent space, primitive toilets, picnic tables and docks, the experience feels like a mashup of backpacking, car camping and boating.
If you don’t have a boat, you can still camp along the lake. Just ride the Lady of the Lake ferry service and ask to be dropped at one of the campground “whistle-stops,” such as Prince Creek or Lucerne, along the way.
Call or visit your nearest AAA store for maps, guides and other travel-planning resources, including assistance from one of our expert Member Travel Counselors.
Hotels and Lodging
Campbell’s Resort on Lake Chelan and Lakeside Lodge and Suites are among the top lodging properties in the Chelan area. Search for resorts and hotels, customer reviews and property amenities.