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 (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 (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 (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 (slidewaterswaterpark.com) have been a Chelan staple since 1983.