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Central Washington

Lake Chelan is a paradise for outdoor-lovers

By CARY ORDWAY

If you ever thought you would like a visit to Scandinavia and a cruise on one of the fjords in that region of the world, consider a visit to Lake Chelan, Washington state's 55-mile-long glacier-fed lake that snakes through the majestic North Cascades and some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

A boat trip through the North Cascades is a photographer's dream and local boat service makes the trip from Chelan easy. It's just one of the many attractions awaiting visitors to Chelan, located in North Central Washington.

As we head into late spring and summer, the small town of Chelan, population 4,000, comes alive with visitors from Western Washington cities and other places where they have heard about the visual wonders of this unique body of water. Once in Chelan, they discover a surprising number of luxury hotels and lodgings, most with lakefront accommodations, and several fine restaurants to feed the masses. In summer, it's not uncommon for the Lake Chelan area to swell to 25,000 residents and visitors.

Dropping into the Lake Chelan Valley on Highway 97A coming from Wenatchee, visitors are taken aback by the spectacular views looking up lake into the North Cascades. The town of Chelan sits at one end of the lake surrounded by green hills dotted with orchards and wineries, while at the other end you'll find Stehekin, a tiny community of 85 year-round souls who can only reach their village by boat. About a third of the way up the lake from Chelan the lakeshore changes dramatically to steep mountains and, off in the distance, the snow-capped Cascades are always there to frame the perfect picture.

Visitors can take a car about half way up the lake and then hop the Lady of the Lake passenger ferry to take the two-hour trip from Field's Point to Stehekin. Or they can take the boat all the way from Chelan. Either way, there are lodgings in Stehekin for an overnight stay or visitors can make a daytrip and be back for dinner at one of the local restaurants. Another great way to go up lake is to take a float plane, which substantially reduces the time needed to get to Stehekin.

The area has a full calendar of events during late spring and summer and, in May, you will enjoy such events as the Manson Apple Blossom Festival and the Spring Barrel Tasting put on by several local wineries. The summer season also is when the Deepwater Amphitheater at Mill Bay Casino rolls out its annual concert series featuring top names in rock and roll and country music. Check the Deepwater website to plan your trip around one of these musical events.

Typically the weather gets quite warm starting in June, if not sooner, and boaters love to enjoy 80-degree summer days out on the lake with the lake water warming up just enough to make swimming and water sports pleasurable. Keep in mind, this lake is fed by more than 100 glaciers so the warmest water is going to be near Chelan where the lake is much shallower than on the mountain end of the lake.

Don't have a boat? The area features several fine parks including some right on the lake where you can swim and enjoy other water sports. Hiking is also popular in the area, with several trails near Chelan and also near 25 Mile Creek, which is about half way up the lake.

Campers will find Lake Chelan State Park one of the most enticing parks in the state system with its picturesque location about 10 miles up the lake from Chelan. The park features campsites, cabins, swimming and a boat launch and is busy throughout the summer season. Stehekin also offers campgrounds and access to stream fishing and trails into the North Cascades. A few miles before you get to Stehekin is the lakeside hamlet of Lucerne where you will find the trail head for a 2.5-mile hike to nearby Domke Lake, which also features a public campground on the lake.

Lake Chelan is about equi-distant from the state's largest cities – 160 miles from Seattle and 150 miles from Spokane. Western Washington visitors can come by way of either Stevens Pass or another route that includes freeway driving on Snoqualmie Pass all the way to Cle Elum where there is a turn-off to Blewett Pass – both Blewett and Stevens Pass will end up in Wenatchee where you turn on Highway 97A to go to Chelan.

There is also a wide assortment of lodgings and restaurants in Wenatchee. Dubbed the “Apple Capital of the World,” Wenatchee has created a tourist infrastructure that can handle the big crowds each spring who come for the Washington State Apple Blossom. In winter, the city is known as a ski destination, with Mission Ridge Ski Resort only a few miles south of the city.

For more information on Lake Chelan, call 1-800-4CHELAN or visit www.lakechelan.com.

Photos, from top: Lake Chelan State Park area; resorts in city of Chelan

By CARY ORDWAY

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