Lake Chelan has a secret. Although it’s located just three hours from Seattle, it’s part of a different weather system. While Seattle is known for clouds and rain, Lake Chelan enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year. What’s more, it’s that rare destination with fantastic views from every direction. Everywhere you turn, you see mountains, vineyards, and of course, the glistening expanse of Lake Chelan, stretching as far as you can see.
This isn’t to suggest that Lake Chelan isn’t more than just a pretty face. The area offers a variety of diverse year-round activities. Here are the best things to do while you’re there.
Explore the Lake
At 50 miles long and almost 1,500 feet deep, Lake Chelan is the largest natural lake in the state of Washington. The lake is narrow and framed by hills and mountains, offering stunning views from both the water and shore. There are 15 docks for boaters maintained by the National Forest Service or the National Park Service. Permits are necessary and can be purchased through the ranger station in downtown Chelan.
Be careful—the Lake Chelan Dragon, a fearsome beast rumored to be related to the Loch Ness Monster, supposedly haunts the lake.
Spend the Night Under the Stars
Although camping in Lake Chelan is at its height in the summer, the views and diversity of activities make it a popular pursuit year-round. There are numerous campgrounds in the area, including Lake Chelan State Park, a 139-acre campground in the forest at the south end of the lake. Lakeshore RV Park is located on the north shore, closer to the amenities of town. The Chelan Valley is also home to many smaller lakes, which are home to sites like Wapato Lake Campground.
Taste Local Wine
Locals have been growing wine grapes in Lake Chelan since 1891. In 2009, the region was officially designated as its own AVA. It's one of the smallest AVAs in Washington, with approximately 250 acres of grapes and over 30 wineries.
The hills above the lake are dotted with vineyards. Most of the wineries, like Amos Rome Vineyards, Succession Wines, and Cairdeas Winery, are boutique operations, and there's a good chance you'll get an opportunity to chat with the owners or winemakers when you stop by. As a bonus, most tasting rooms enjoy gorgeous views of the lake.
Enjoy Local Beer and Cider
Eastern Washington is famous for growing hops and fruit, and the breweries and cideries of Lake Chelan invite visitors to sample this local goodness in a glass. Chelan Craft Cider and Washington Gold Cider specialize in hard ciders. They take their craft seriously and don’t limit themselves to apples. On any given day, the cideries of Lake Chelan might also be serving up ciders made from raspberries, pears, or cherries. Breweries abound in the valley as well, and visitors can enjoy a pint at establishments like Stormy Mountain Brewing, where beer is made on-site.
Try Local Farmers' Bounty
The Chelan Valley is peppered with farms. Every Thursday evening from the end of May until the end of September, you can sample their bounty while listening to live music at the Chelan Farmers Market. Finds include hand-picked tomatoes, pears, apples, herbs, fresh flowers, and freshly made cheese.
If you prefer to leave the cooking in someone else’s hands, restaurants like the Riverwalk Cafe and Blueberry Hills Farm and Restaurant pride themselves on sourcing their menu from delicious local ingredients.
Hang Out Downtown
Downtown Chelan is the picture-perfect small town of your Hallmark Christmas movie dreams. People say hello when they pass on the sidewalk, and boutiques and antique stores are an easy way to pass the time. Stop by the Chelan Museum to learn more about the area’s early history as a mining and logging community. Housed in the old Miners and Merchants Bank building, admission is free thanks to the efforts of the Lake Chelan Historical Society. Afterward, take a stroll on the mile-long river loop trail and explore the 12 acres of Chelan Riverwalk Park. Hotels such as Campbell’s Resort and Grandview On the Lake offer amazing views just steps away from town.
Embrace the Snow
Winters in Lake Chelan bring snow and all of the beauty and fun that goes with it. Echo Valley Family Ski Area offers 70 acres of family-friendly space to ski, snowboard, or tube. Echo Ridge Nordic Ski Area offers 25 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoes.
There are six official sno-parks for snowmobilers in the Lake Chelan area, all of which feature warming shelters and spectacular viewing points along the trails.
Get Your Golf Game On
Lake Chelan is a premier golfing destination with eight different golf courses located in and near Chelan Valley. Bear Mountain Ranch is an 18-hole golf course, each of which has spectacular views of the mountain or lake. The Lake Chelan Municipal Golf Course also boasts one of a kind views and daily lessons from PGA professionals. The award-winning Gamble Sands golf course is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Chelan and consistently named as one of the best golf courses in North America.
Lake Chelan is one of the top fishing destinations in Washington State, with an average catch of more than six pounds! Species include Chinook Salmon, Lake Trout, and Kokanee. Three miles away, the Columbia River is also a productive area to fish for Sturgeon, and the Stehekin River, which feeds into Lake Chelan, is famous for fly-fishing. Fishing licenses are available at Kelly’s Ace Hardware. For folks who want to hire a guide or charter, Lake Chelan Adventures and Heavy Hitter Guide Services offer a variety of packages.
Step Back in Time in Stehekin
Located at the south tip of the lake, Stehekin is about as remote as you can get and only accessible via boat or seaplane. Visiting is like stepping back in time. It’s a small wilderness community with only a handful of small businesses, including Stehekin Pastry Company and the North Cascades Lodge, located in the 800-mile forest of the North Cascades National Park. Activities in Stehekin include hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, rafting, and camping.
Stehekin is accessible year-round via the Lady of the Lake passenger ferry, which departs from downtown Chelan and three other locations along the lake.