Tucked away in the northwest end of Lake Chelan, just south of North Cascades National Park, lies the small community of Stehekin. The remote location and natural beauty add to its allure. Named for the Salish word for “the way through,” Stehekin can only be reached by boat, small plane or by hiking the 23 miles from the Cascade Pass parking lot to High Bridge. With no cell service and minimal Wi-Fi, this is the place to go to disconnect with the world and reconnect with yourself.
Preparing for the Trip
Months before our weekend adventure, I researched lodging options for our stay. We stayed in a one-bedroom cabin with a kitchen at the North Cascades Lodge. The lodge has cabins, standard rooms, rooms with views, or a stand-alone lake house. You will also find a restaurant and small store if you need any supplies.
Depending on your timing, you may find that you need to pack some essentials. Since the dining options are closed from late fall to spring (and since good food is crucial to a great vacation), you will need to pack some meals. I packed up a few necessities into our cooler bag – butter, cheese, bread, fruit and some drinks. We made grilled cheese with soup, hot dogs and ramen for our meals.
Since there are no roads to Stehekin, I opted for taking a ferry boat ride with the Lady of the Lake. The ferry leaves Chelan promptly at 8:30 every morning in the summer. If you aren’t close to Chelan, I definitely recommend staying in a hotel so that you can catch the ferry in time.
There are lots of hotel options to pick from. Added bonus, you can grab a coffee or breakfast in Chelan before the approximately three-hour boat ride. Lady of the Lake did an incredible job getting us and all our stuff safely on board. When we arrived to check in, we were instructed to drop our bags and cooler next to the corresponding sign for our final destination. They loaded everything for us so we could find seats near the front to take in the views.
There are three main places to get a meal in Stehekin: the Stehekin Pastry Company, Stehekin Valley Ranch, and the North Cascades Lodge. These places are only open seasonally, closing for the winter months. Stop by the Stehekin Pastry Company for a plethora of baked goods and some huckleberry ice cream. They also offer a coffee drinks and a limited breakfast and lunch menu. The Stehekin Valley Ranch offers dinner specials in their rustic cookhouse. If you are not staying at the ranch, a reservation is required. The North Cascades Lodge offers lunch and breakfast for anyone in the area.
Things To Do
The level of activity you choose to do can range from sitting in the sun with a good book to hiking and exploring everything in town and the North Cascades National Park. Here you can kayak, go horseback riding, hike, fish or camp. We rented a Can-am Defender from Nick at Stehekin Reservations, just a five minute walk from the landing. He also rents electric bikes and leads fly fishing adventure groups. He was super friendly, made sure we had an up to date map and gave me the run down on how to operate our new mode of transportation. With our ride secured, we set off to see the sites.
Stehekin Valley Road follows the Stehekin River and is the only road you need to know in the valley. This road will take you to the Stehekin Pastry Company, the schoolhouse, Buckner Orchard, the Garden, Stehekin Valley Ranch, Harlequin Bridge, dozens of hiking trails and the entrance to the North Cascades National Park.
We took full advantage of our time with the Can-am. We stopped for cookies and a coffee at the Pastry Company, bought some souvenirs, checked out the schoolhouse and drove as far as we could into the park. After about 16 miles, the road changes from gravel to a narrow forest trail at High Bridge. If you are willing, you can drive this trail as far as it will take you. We turned around at a washout since we could not cross and headed back to town. When we made it back, I filled the Can-am back up at the one and only gas pump located at the landing and returned it home. That afternoon I took a nap, read a book, and dipped into the cold waters of Lake Chelan.
There are numerous hiking trails to explore and reconnect with the stunning landscape. Some of the most popular options are the Imus Creek, Purple Creek, Agnes Gorge and Rainbow Falls. We decided to explore Rainbow Falls since it is one of the more easily accessible trails. The hike is short and flat making it a great option for families. The falls drop 312 feet into the valley producing a spray that creates rainbows, hence its appropriate name! The lower viewpoint is wheelchair accessible; the upper view requires walking up a few stairs and a slight incline.
While it may take some planning and some not so traditional ways to travel, Stehekin should be on every adventurer’s travel list.
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