Lake Chelan isn’t overwhelming, but by all rights it should be. It’s the country’s third-deepest lake—after Crater and Tahoe—and at 50 miles long, it’s nearly the length of an Olympia-to-Seattle commute. But if Lake Chelan is a giant crooked finger, only its very tip, its fingernail, is seriously populated. You can see the lake bottom through blue-green waters in the town of Chelan, a community of fewer than 4,000 full-time residents that sits between the lake and the spot where the Columbia River makes a sharp turn.
Once home to mines and lumber mills, Lake Chelan is now dedicated to recreation, especially when summer temperatures regularly settle in the mid-80s. At the center of the lake vacation scene is the venerable Campbell’s Resort (104 W Woodin Ave, 800-553-8225; campbellsresort.com). Family owned since C. C. Campbell staked a claim on the south shore in 1901, it now boasts building after building of lakefront lodging and multiple beaches, pools, and docks. The classic vibe extends to breakfast—the summer--only bistro has been dishing apple-oat pancakes for a century.
The small, square blocks of downtown Chelan are dotted with swimwear stores and clothing boutiques, plus the Ruby Theatre (135 E Woodin Ave, 509-682-5016; rubytheatre.com), claiming to be the oldest continuously running theater in the state. Though the marquee now advertises blockbuster movies, not nascent talkies and minstrel shows, the venue’s horseshoe balcony and pressed-tin ceiling remain.
No less a part of Chelan’s classic feel is Local Myth Pizza (122 S Emerson St, 509-682-2914; localmythpizza.com), a joint so steeped in small-town funkiness that a light fixture above the pizza oven is made of a colander and a stretch of copper tubing. Like everything else in town, hours are spotty, depending on season and tourist crowds; more reliable is the Evening Farmer’s Market Riverwalk Park (Wapato Ave and Emerson St, chelanfarmersmarket.org) that operates just outside its doors every Thursday from 4 till 7pm in summer. Follow a day on the lake with fresh-baked pies and produce grown in the rich agricultural areas around Chelan.
A classic lake vacation wouldn’t be complete without an old-fashioned theme park. The twisting water slides, lazy river, and 60-person hot tub of Slidewaters Water Park (102 Waterslide Dr, 509-682-5751; slidewaterswaterpark.com) have been a Chelan staple since 1983.
Published: August 2013