Water World

What to Do and Where to Eat in Lake Chelan

Central Washington's massive lake is popping year-round.

By Allison Williams Photography by Brooke Fitts

Forget cars. Ferries are the way to travel in these parts.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Lake Chelan is 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, or visit small independent restaurants in Manson. The east-of-the-mountains sunshine brings beach days from spring to fall.

Visit Stehekin

Stehekin sits on the exact opposite end of the 50-mile lake from the town of Chelan, accessible solely by boat, plane, or foot. Though not technically part of the North Cascades National Park, much of the land—and the local bus—is operated by the park service. Besides the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, the highlight of the small settlement is the massive cinnamon rolls at the Stehekin Pastry Company. Trips on the Lady of the Lake ferries take between 70 minutes and four hours to travel the entire distance (the express options run on a more limited schedule).

No surprise here. Lake Chelan shines with water activities galore.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Take to the Lake

With plenty of lake to work with, there are countless ways to play on its surface. Parasailing with Chelan Parasail is perhaps the most unique—picture waterskiing, but replace the skis with a parachute as you’re towed behind a speedboat, ascending 300 feet into the air. But it doesn’t take much boat-driving experience to rent Bayliners, pontoon boats, or other easy-riding vessels from Shoreline Watercraft to tow water-skiers or just serve as a floating beer cooler.

Dive into Slidewaters

A classic lake vacation wouldn’t be complete without an old-fashioned theme park. The twisting waterslides, lazy river, and 60-person hot tub of Slidewaters water park have been a Chelan summer staple since 1983, and this year the park introduced a new surf wave. Short surf sessions on the man-made curl are free with park entry.

Sliding into summer has never looked quite so, er, pink.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Roll Away

With largely mellow rolling hills around the lake, the region is ideal for pedaling. The Echo Ridge area, a cross-country ski destination in winter, includes more than 25 miles of trails before the snow falls. Chelan Electric Bikes offers tours on single or tandem e-bikes, some connecting wineries with tastings to break up the ride.

Go to the Movies

The small, square blocks of downtown Chelan are dotted with swimwear stores and clothing boutiques, but the highlight is the Ruby Theatre, 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.

Ruby Theatre has been a Chelan gem since 1914.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Linger Over Breakfast

Just how country is Blueberry Hills? The onetime homestead in the hills is anchored by a wooden barn and surrounded by 10 acres of u-pick blueberry plants. Inside, picnic tables compete for space with walls of jarred jam and the oddball collections from co-owner Kari Sorensen’s grandparents—like eyeglasses and rotary telephones strung on the ceiling. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, but blintzes and Danish yeast waffles topped with warm blueberry pie filling are most worth the hick schtick.

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