A visit to central Washington's Lake Chelan, nestled into the east side of the rugged north Cascade Mountains, will leave visitors with a lot of questions: Why haven't I been here before? Why don't more people know about this gem? How is this town still so small and friendly? Instead of trying to make sense of this unspoiled paradise, count yourself lucky to be ahead of the masses and schedule as much time here as you can.
Lake Chelan is one of the longest and deepest lakes in the country. But unlike Lake Tahoe or Coeur d’Alene, here you will not be competing with thousands of others to enjoy your time by the Lake. The area receives a tremendous amount of sunshine, bringing perfect weather for swimming, fishing, cookouts, paddle-boarding, water skiing and hiking. White and snowy winters are guaranteed, with an average snowfall of 40in. If the cold doesn't scare you away, winter can be one of the most beautiful seasons that Chelan has to offer.
Lake Chelan State Park is perfectly situated ten miles up-lake from the beautiful town of Chelan. Because Chelan is small and lined with sandy beaches and hotel rooms it can feel crowded. The 6,000ft of beachfront at the State Park are generally only used by campers and folks using the boat launch, so when town fills up you'll love the protected feel out here. Because there are not many spaces for RVers, it is advised to make reservations as early as you can.
There are a few weekends out of the year when things get wild. Chelan draws college students for Spring Break, Memorial Day, and 4th of July. It can be nuts: no parking, blasting stereos, swarming ski boats, crowded beaches and restaurants. But, seemingly all at once, those groups depart and then you may feel like the only person on the Lake. In spite of the occasional party crowds, the prevailing vibe of Lake Chelan is stunning peace and quiet.
RV Rentals in Lake Chelan State Park
Transportation in Lake Chelan State Park
All of the routes into the Lake Chelan involve major hill climbs. Big rigs are advised to avoid using the Navarre Coulee RD - Route 971. It is narrow, rough, and has a steep hair-pin curve coming down to the Lake. Downtown Chelan is also very tight for large trailers and you should follow all of the signs directing large trucks away from the very narrow bridge by the shore in town. Hopefully you can land your trailer or your motorhome and cruise around in a smaller vehicle. If you are heading to Chelan in the winter be ready for snow, storms can often dump more than six inches at once.
Campgrounds and parking in Lake Chelan State Park
Campsites in Lake Chelan State Park
Lake Chelan State Park Campground
The 127 acre park is right on the south shore of Lake Chelan and offers 6,000ft of sandy shoreline. There is a thirty-five site trailer loop offering a variety of sizes and amenities. All sites are back-in and full-hook up with power up to 50A service and pads up to 45ft. In the winter, which can be very snowy, only a few sites are kept open. There are large bathrooms, showers, a dock, and a wide boat launch. In summer, this is one of the busiest campgrounds in the area and there is little privacy on the RV loop, which faces a large sports field and playground. There is a camp store and grill open in the summer. Otherwise you'll need to head east about fifteen minutes to Chelan's several grocery stores and restaurants. There is plenty of additional parking for boats and extra guests, but everyone will need a WA State Parks Discovery Pass for access (your camping fees include access). Pets are welcome in WA State Parks.
Seasonal activities in Lake Chelan State Park
Slide Waters Waterslide Park
If it's time to cool off but the Lake water is still too chilly, Slide Waters provides a full-blown water park right on the edge of Chelan open from May to September. Perched on a hillside on the south shore of Lake Chelan, Slide Waters offers all-day fun for the whole family, while still providing terrific views of the Lake. They have a large variety of slides for a small park, and even a lazy river. There are lockers, beach supplies, and food available to make sure you can stay all day and enjoy the fun.
It may sound underwhelming with so many water sports and recreation opportunities happening on the water, but once you've taken a dip in Lake Chelan you will be spoiled for life. Lake Chelan is one of the cleanest, clearest, and deepest lakes in the world. It is not uncommon to be able to watch giant schools of fish more than thirty feet below you in the crystal clear waters. Visitors travel from all around for the simple pleasure of floating in an inner-tube and soaking in the hot summer rays. The main beaches in town get VERY crowded during summer weekends. The beach at Lake Chelan State Park is definitely less busy, but the noise of jet skis and other watercraft are a certainty midday. Take advantage of the extra long summer days this far north and you'll feel like you have the entire lake to yourself in the morning and evenings.
Lady of the Lake Ferry
The drive from downtown Chelan to the State Park will give you amazing views of Lake Chelan, but this is truly just a glimpse, because the lake is an unbelievable fifty miles long. To see all of it, schedule yourself on board one of the daily ferry rides all the way in, a day-long adventure, to the isolated village of Stehekin, nestled in the remote North Cascades National Park. The Lady of the Lake ferry is the only routine way in and out of this remote place and spending your day taking in one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Deep water means BIG fish. The Chinook salmon in Lake Chelan often reach thirty pounds in size, and with fifty miles of water to explore, Chelan is a top fishing destination. The best conditions are outside of summer for several reasons. The fish prefer cooler water temperatures and the lake is maintained at a much lower water level in the off-season, providing better access to hiding places which the fish love. Check out the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for detailed information on permits, seasons, and local regulations.
With 300+ days a year of sunshine, and one of a kind soil, climate and geography, Lake Chelan provides the conditions for world-class wine. There are over thirty wineries ringing both sides of the Lake, and many trace their history back over one hundred years. Whether you take a guided tour, or leisurely cross them off your list one at a time, there are enough stops to keep you busy for weeks. Special tasting events are scheduled all year round, providing entertainment in any season.
The quiet town of Chelan comes to life in January for Winterfest. Ice sculptures, live music, wine, beer and cider tastings, fireworks and carriage-rides fill the streets for a week. Lake Chelan is surrounded by snowy hills in winter and town is decorated elaborately in holiday lights and decorations. Winterfest has been planned with all ages in mind, so feel free to make it a family trip.