Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is a sprawling 61,958 acres. Surrounded by the Cascades mountain range, this national recreation area features stunning glaciers, thick forests, beautiful lakes, and breathtaking valley views. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park, and Ross Lake Recreation Area are three separate park units in the region but are managed as a single unit.
Lake Chelan is one of the deepest lakes within the United States reaching a depth of about 1,500 feet. While the lake is only 2 miles wide, it extends about 50 miles into the Cascades with its northern end reaching into the Stehekin Valley. The area is an attractive destination year-round, though it is most popular from April to October.
There is much to see and do around Lake Chelan Recreation Area. Plan a hike or overnight backpacking trip down the 400 miles of trails. Those looking to fish are likely to have luck on Lake Chelan and the Stehekin River. Plan to see wildlife during your visit, including numerous species of birds and black-tailed deer. For those wanting to camp overnight, multiple roadside campgrounds are located within the recreation area.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is about 35 miles south of the US and Canada border. Located in Chelan County, the area includes the north end of Lake Chelan and extends into the Stehekin Valley.
The recreation area is located in a mountainous region. Some roads may be hazardous, especially during the winter months. Snowfall is most common between November and March. The park is open year-round but some roads may be closed due to snow or even rockslides. Check road conditions prior to your visit.
There are some services available in the peak season, but it is advisable to bring the supplies you need for your trip. During the off-season, Golden West Visitor Center is closed along with any other services.
Harlequin Campground has seven campsites is located by the Rainbow Falls and River Trail trailheads about four miles north of the Golden West Visitor Center.
There is no running water at this park and any water collected from camp should be treated prior to consuming. Each campsite has a picnic table and firepit.
Purple Point Campground is located along the shores of Lake Chelan and has a total of six campsites. It has treated water as well as flush toilets. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire pit.
This campground is an ideal location for RVers that are planning to make use of the water. Purple Point offers easy lake access and has a boat ramp.
Lakeview Campground is located behind Golden West Visitor Center. This campground ten campsites and there is access to flush toilets and treated water. No campfires are permitted at Lakeview.
It is near hiking trails and the shore of Lake Chelan. There are corrals for horses and group sites are available as well.
There are a few road accessible campgrounds located within Stehekin. The campsites are primitive with very few amenities. These rugged sites are small, so large rigs cannot be accommodated. All camping with the exception of Lakeside sites require a camping permit which can be picked up at Golden West Visitor Center.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area provides visitors with wildlife viewing opportunities. There are numerous birds with over 200 species recorded in the area including the endangered spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Black-tailed deer are often observed grazing in the quiet mornings and evenings. Gray wolves and even black bears have been seen within the park. Be sure to store food properly and keep a safe distance from wildlife.
While exploring Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, stop by Golden West Visitor Center. There are several exhibits featuring arts and crafts from local artists.
At the visitor center, you can also pick up permits for campsites and overnight backpacking trips into the Recreation Area as well as to North Cascades National Park.
Kayaking, canoeing, boating, and other water sports are popular activities on Lake Chelan as well as other lakes in the area. Multiple ramps and boat launches are located on the lakes, making it quick and easy to drop in your boat. For thrill-seekers, the rapids of the Stehekin River are attractive for whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area connects to North Cascades National Park providing endless hiking and backpacking options. There are nearly 400 miles of trails to explore ranging from short, easy paths to steep grades with elevation gain. Hikers will be rewarded with views of glaciers, ridges, valleys, and thick forests. The hiking trails are open year-round, though they are most popular from April to October just after and before the snow.
The fishing is great at Lake Chelan and on the Stehekin River. Lake Chelan has many different types of fish and the most commonly caught are freshwater cod, trout, and kokanee salmon. In the Stehekin River, anglers will find rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. A fishing license is required to fish on Washington lakes and rivers. Be sure to check regulations and comply with catch limits.
There are two popular routes for bicycling in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The first is Stehekin Valley Road. To access this road, visitors will need to take a ferry. Visitors can bring over their own bikes or rent instead. The road begins along the shore of Lake Chelan, crosses over the Stehekin River, and takes cyclists through rolling hills, making the ride more challenging.
The second route is the North Cascades Highway which is a much more challenging ride. The elevation gain is more than 7000 feet and has many scenic overlooks. Cyclists should watch for vehicle traffic and rock slides.