Just 3.5 hours’ drive over the mountain East of Seattle is the land of sunshine, apples and wine! Just one hour past the adorable Bavarian town of Leavenworth, is Lake Chelan, a beautiful town nestled in both valleys and mountains, its 51-mile-long lake stretching from vineyards on the Southeast end to the entry of the North Cascade Mountain Range on the Northwest end.
The population of Lake Chelan is around 5,000 residents, but during the summer it multiplies by five to nearly 25,000 residents.
Lake Chelan is technically a fjord because it’s so narrow. So really, I’m not sure why it isn’t called “Fjord Chelan”. 🙂 The deepest part of the lake is 1,436′ (480 meters), and it is the third deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake in Oregon and Lake Tahoe in California.) Here’s an image from Google Earth that shows how skinny and narrow it is.
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What is there to do in Chelan? Well, for starters, fruit. More specifically, grapes…which make grape juice…which then ferments and becomes…wine! There are over 30 wineries in Chelan, and many of the vineyards are near apple orchards, Chelan’s other prolific fruit. If you’re not a wine-o, not to worry, there’s still something here for you, including hiking, boating and water activities. Also, the sunsets are fantastic. This one reminded us of the Northern Lights and was viewed from our friend’s lanai whom we stayed with!
5 Great Things To Do in Lake Chelan
- Rent a Boat, Stand Up Paddle Board, or Jetski on the Lake (bonus if you have friends who own a boat!)
- Visit the Remote Town of Stehekin on Lady of the Lake Tour
- Go Wine Tasting
- Rent Electric Bikes
- Go For a Hike
How to Visit Stehekin
Stehekin’s motto is “where no roads can take you”, and they mean that literally. The only way to get to this remote town with a population of 75 permanent residents, is via seaplane, boat, or hiking 13 miles in from King’s Landing (one of the stops on the Lady of the Lake Tour.) We opted to take the Lady of the Lake express boat tour, though we wished we had more time for a backpacking trip! This 51-mile journey took 2.5 hours each way, going 30 miles per hour. The journey on the lake is very smooth, and the views are beautiful. You’ll see tall pine trees growing straight out of the rocky cliffs, and waterfalls everywhere, coming from the fresh glacial melt. Tickets are approximately $60 per person round trip, and you must purchase in advance through their website or by calling them.
How do you pronounce Stehekin? The proper pronunciation is “STEH-HEE-KIN”. On the express tour, you have only 90 minutes in Stehekin before the boat heads back. As beautiful as it was, I wouldn’t say it was worth it to have to rush to see the sights and hop back on the boat for an all-day ride back. If you’re not keen on such a long boat ride, you can park your car at Field’s Landing, which will shave off around 50 minutes of the tour. You’re not missing out on much because it’s difficult to hear the narration, and the captain only gives a few tidbits of information here and there rather than a fully narrated boat tour. In order to make this trip worth it, I would spend at least one night to allow for more time for exploring.
Once you arrive to Stehekin, you’ll see park rangers, as this is the entry to North Cascades National Park. There is a shuttle that will take you to Rainbow Falls, Stehekin Pastry and back in time to catch the boat.
OR if you’re not the herded group type, you can opt to rent bicycles for $5 per hour per bike and do the same trip. There is only one road to get to both attractions, so it’s very easy to find, and easily doable within the allotted 90 minutes, but keep an eye on your watch and don’t miss the boat because they leave promptly on schedule. It felt good to get some fresh air after feeling the hum of the boat motor for so long.
The only things we had time for, were visiting Rainbow Falls and grabbing a cinnamon roll (highly recommended!) from Stehekin Pastry.
You can just park your bike and walk in to see these raging multi-tiered falls directly from the road. A great ROI for very little effort.
Where to Eat in Chelan
I am disappointed to say that Chelan didn’t have very memorable food, save for a few places, which I will list below that we enjoyed. Unlike towns like Seattle, Bend or Portland, Chelan isn’t quite known for their food, rather for the endless mountain and water adventures to be had!
Here were some of our favorites:
Siren Song Wines – this is a winery and has outdoor seating overlooking the lake with gorgeous views that reminded us of our time in Lake Garda, Italy. It receives only 3 stars on Yelp, which seem to be for the pricing (it is very expensive for what you get, but you’re paying for the views) and some folks mention the poor service, but we experienced great service the two times we ate here
Mellisoni Vineyards – great views overlooking the lake, and the owners are super friendly! Excellent tasting wines
Lake Chelan Winery – be sure to stop in the Cheese Shop right next door to find cheeses from all over the world
Lake Chelan Artisan Bakery – breakfast & coffee
BBQ in the Vineyard – another restaurant in a vineyard with gorgeous views and outdoor seating! Their rack of ribs was outstanding
Bear Market Natural Foods – grocery store for grab-and-go or for natural groceries if you’ll be staying a while and want to cook your own meals at home
If you’re driving from Seattle, you’ll go right through Wenatchee, where an excellent pit stop is Wenatchee Natural Foods. Order a make-your-own bowl or grab some kombucha on tap. Their smoothies are soooo good, and revitalized us for the hot drive back home
Where to Hike in Chelan
Chelan Butte (7.5 miles RT, 2,500′ elevation gain – Central Cascades, Entiat Mountains)
Echo Ridge – 15 miles of trail systems
Pot Peak & Devil’s Backbone – 13 miles of steady incline; great for mountain biking
Stormy Mountain – 13 miles, 5,500′ elevation gain
I hope you get the chance to visit the land of sunshine, lakes, and endless summer fun in Lake Chelan.
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