Welcome to the middle of nowhere, population 105. “I didn’t know something like this existed in the lower 48,” says Mary Weaver, manager of Stehekin’s biggest hotel. Indeed, the lake’s north shore is much like the Alaskan outposts she’d lived in before—off the road system, just a cluster of homes existing as a quiet, largely self--sufficient community. And worth all the trouble, as it happens to be in a jaw-droppingly beautiful place.
Stehekin is the town of Chelan’s shadow twin; it sits on the exact opposite end of the 50-mile lake, accessible solely by boat, plane, or foot. Though not technically part of the North Cascades National Park, much of the land is operated by the park service, including Weaver’s domain, the North Cascade Lodge at Stehekin (lodgeatstehekin.com). It sits in the forest right at the ferry dock; the only place to go from here (besides hunkering down over a burger at the inn’s restaurant) is up the Stehekin Valley’s single road.
Go a mile and a half—rent a bike or take the red Park Service bus—to The Garden (stehekingarden.com), an idyllic plot where Karl Gaskill tends organic vegetables and goats; a blackboard mounted on the rustic fence post outside announces which goat cheese, yogurt, granola, and veggies he sells each day. Nearby, a tiny hut encloses a red gumball machine bearing a handwritten sign: “Last gumballs for 42 miles (as the crow flies).”
Go two miles up the road for the Stehekin Pastry Company (stehekinpastry.com), where even the park rangers flock for pie slices, sandwiches, and cinnamon rolls the size of a baby’s noggin. When the bakery is closed, staff often leave baked goods in the gazebo next to an on-your-honor money slot, and out back are two cabin rentals that come with free vehicle use.
At three and a half miles is the Old Stehekin Schoolhouse, a one-room classic; it’s now a museum of sorts, still lined with desks and children’s art projects. Just past it, a short path leads to the tumbling Rainbow Falls and the Buckner Homestead and Orchard (bucknerhomestead.org), community-run apple fields.
Still up for exploration? Longer trails spur off the main road, but the next major stop comes long after the road turns to gravel. Nine miles up the road, the Stehekin Valley Ranch (stehekinvalleyranch.com) earns status as one of the more remote accommodations in the state. Three styles of cabins dot the property, and dinner is served in a main lodge.
The last sign of civilization before the end of the road is the High Bridge ranger cabin at 11 miles, where an old wood-shingled building, staffed only in summer, stands at the border into the North Cascades National Park proper. When the road washed out up valley, hikers inherited the gentle slope of the road.
Still have energy? It’s 17 miles to Highway 20 along the Pacific Crest Trail. Pack an extra cinnamon roll.