North Cascades National Park Complex: Lake Chelan National Recreation Area Overview
The narrow, glacier-carved Stehekin Valley is surrounded by towering mountains. Elevation gradually rises from 1,100 feet at the lake to 5,400 feet at Cascade Pass, about 29 miles away. The Stehekin River, which flows through the valley, is one of three major streams that feed Lake Chelan; the other two, Railroad Creek and Prince Creek, enter down lake outside the Recreation Area. Rainbow Creek plunges 312 feet over Rainbow Falls before joining the Stehekin River 3.5 miles up the valley.
No roads connect the Stehekin Valley with outside road systems. It is accessible by boat, float plane, or trail. The valley road begins at the boat landing and follows the river 22.8 miles to Cottonwood (a campground at the trailhead to Cascade Pass and Horseshoe Basin) inside North Cascades National Park. The National Park Service and private carriers offer transportation for backpackers, fishermen, day hikers, and round-trip sightseers to trailheads and camps throughout the valley.
Lake Chelan, a natural lake, rests in a glacially-carved trough. At a depth of nearly 1,500 feet, it is one of the Nation's deepest lakes, and its bottom lies about 400 feet below sea level. A dam built at Chelan in 1927 raised the lake level 21 feet to increase power production. Lodging and meals, postal service, and some basic supplies for campers are available at the Stehekin Landing.
At the head of Lake Chelan, you can hike, boat, or fly to Stehekin, but you can't drive there in your car. This wilderness community, some 50 miles uplake from Chelan, Washington, is popular with hikers, backpackers, canoeists, boaters, and campers. The Stehekin Valley, surrounded by towering mountains, enjoys a rich history of fur trapping and mining, both short-lived, and homesteading and recreation. Early this century, developers and others recognized that the Stehekin area's greatest importance lay in its recreational and scenic values. In about 1900, hotels and summer cabins began to appear. At that time, the few year-round residents depended on fruit farming, timber, horse-packing, and recreation to make a living.
Travelers find refreshment in the coolness and beauty of Rainbow Falls. A touch of nostalgia surrounds the log school house, still in use since its construction in 1921, and the historic Buckner Orchard. In season, you can take the National Park Service shuttle bus up to valley campgrounds, or the valley road's end within North Cascades National Park. Most people take the commercial uplake boat trip to Stehekin from Chelan. The four-hour trip (quicker boat service is available seasonally) provides shoreline views of private residential and farming development on the lower lake, rugged mid-lake shorelines and national forest lands, and the lake's upper four miles within Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Float plane service is available from Chelan.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication