Explore the Pacific Northwest

Lake Chelan, Washington

Explore the Pacific Northwest

Top Things to See and Do in Our Pristine Resort Setting

Aerial view of Washington state's Lake Chelan

From the deck of the Lady Express ferry, I stare into the cobalt blue water of Lake Chelan, and the nation’s third-deepest lake seems bottomless. When we pull into a sheltered bay to pick up backpackers at a dock along the shoreline trail, I can see at least 30 feet down, where young kokanee salmon are living in a natural “aquarium.”

With baking hot weather, incredible alpine scenery, and fresh water from the remote reaches of the North Cascades, the 55-mile-long lake is the centerpiece of a quintessential Northwest summer getaway. Here are our 6 favorite things to see, do and explore in this awesome setting.

Boat rentals, watersports and hiking

Summer hiking at Echo Ridge near Chelan, Washington

On hot summer days, there might no better place to be than on the lake itself. Rent a powerboat, pontoon boat or Jet Ski from Shoreline Watercraft and Boat Rentals, which has five locations between Chelan and Manson, the two main towns along the lake’s southeast shore.  Or rent a kayak or paddleboard from Lakerider Sports Chelan, located at Chelan’s Don Morse Park, for fun paddling along the shore (it’s best to head out early, when conditions are calm).

When it’s time to stretch your legs, head up to the Echo Ridge Recreational Area Trailheads (above), about 10 miles north of downtown Chelan, to explore a 26-mile network of Nordic trails that open in summer to hikers and mountain bikers, with no fee required.

Downtown strolls

Chelan Museum in downtown Chelan, Washington

Chelan’s historic downtown district is filled with a variety of unique, family-owned businesses. New to town is Frenchie's Flutes & Fleurs, which carries an eclectic collection of home décor, clothing and gifts, and also serves wine, chocolate and charcuterie. Healthy eaters head to Bear Foods Natural Market for a remarkably diverse selection of foods, including vegan and gluten-free options, that rivals anything you’d expect to find in a large, urban environment. Its Café-Crêperie offers savory and sweet crêpes, and other eats. For a glimpse at old-timey Chelan, stop in at the Chelan Museum (above). Housed in a 1907 building, and operated by the Lake Chelan Historical Society, the space showcases a robust collection of Native American and homestead artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Winery tastings and restaurants

Vineyards at Tsillan Cellars winery in Chelan, Washington

Glacially carved soils and a climate cooled by the lake help give Chelan-area wine grapes the unique character that earned the region its own AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation in 2009. The region’s 30 wineries are still experimenting with a range of varietals and blends, so expect to be surprised by a selection of varietals that ranges from aglianico (among the offerings at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards) to zinfandel (Four Lakes Winery, Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery). For a memorably fun experience, sign up for the Winery Tour with Chelan Electric Bikes. The leisurely, 4-hour rides combine sightseeing along quiet south shore roads on electric-assist Pedago bicycles with stops at three wineries and an optional dip in the lake.

Chelan-area wineries also offer unique experiential dining opportunities in their restaurants. At Karma Vineyards’ 18 Brix Restaurant, for example, your group can share steamed shellfish in the vineyard or in an underground wine cave. Sorrento’s Ristorante at Tsillan Cellars (above) serves Italian cuisine in a setting that makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to a Mediterranean villa. The selection at Lake Chelan Winery includes locally made artisan cheeses and, during its summer barbecues in the vineyard, smoked ribs and chicken, along with grilled burgers, prawns and more.

Slidewaters family fun

Slidewaters Waterpark in Chelan, Washington

Slidewaters Waterpark (above) has been a family favorite since 1983. Over the decades the waterslide park has grown to include a lazy river, downhill racer mats, doubles inner tubes and a kids’ water-play zone. This summer, the park is introducing its new surfing pool, with a stationary deepwater wave that can be adjusted from 1-foot to 6-feet tall.

Enchanting Stehekin

Old schoolhouse at Stehekin, Washington

Near the far (northeast) end of the lake, the community of Stehekin offers a uniquely remote experience. With no roads to town, the only way to get there is by boat, plane or foot. Daily ferry service with Lady of the Lake makes summer visits a breeze. As you sail across the lake, the mountains grow more impressive, and you can often see mountain goats in the surrounding hills. Consider a combination sailing, with a 90-minute ride to Stehekin aboard the Lady Express and a 3-hour stopover, followed by a 4-hour return aboard the Lady of the Lake II (above).

Hikers use Stehekin as a home base for trips into the North Cascades. Stehekin Discovery Bikes offers rentals near the ferry dock, giving you a chance to explore the area. Ride over to Stehekin Pastry Company, about two miles from the dock, to try their famous, gooey cinnamon rolls.

camping along the lake

Lady of the Lake II on Lake Chelan, Washington

Camping options on the south shore include two state parks and multiple spots with RV hookups, including the Lakeshore RV Park. For those with boats, 14 serene boat-in campgrounds dot the waterfront between Mitchell Creek, north of Manson, and Stehekin. (Docks on federally managed lands require a Lake Chelan Federal Dock Site Permit, which costs $5). Most of the campgrounds are nestled alongside protected harbors, offering stellar views of surrounding mountains. Since most also offer fire rings, tent space, primitive toilets, picnic tables and docks, the experience feels like a mashup of backpacking, car camping and boating.

If you don’t have a boat, you can still camp along the lake. Just ride the Lady of the Lake ferry service (above) and ask to be dropped at one of the campground “whistle-stops,” such as Prince Creek or Lucerne, along the way.

Written by Jeff Layton

The Essentials

The city of Chelan, at the southeastern tip of Lake Chelan, is about 180 miles northeast of Seattle, and about 150 miles northwest of Spokane. Campbell's Resort on Lake Chelan and Lakeside Lodge and Suites are the top AAA Diamond Rated lodging properties in the Chelan area. Call or visit your nearest AAA store for maps, guidebooks and other travel-planning resources, including assistance from one of our expert Member Travel Counselors. Map it.