Tucked in between mountain landscapes that might as well be the Bavarian Alps, the Lake Wenatchee area of Washington state is one of the hidden gems you find when exploring the Cascade Mountains near North Central Washington.
The beauty of this region is breathtaking and easily within reach of Puget Sound residents who only have to travel a couple of hours over Stevens Pass to reach the unlimited recreational opportunities in the general vicinity of Lake Wenatchee. Wenatchee area residents have it even better – it's just about a 45-minute drive and an excellent day trip for hiking, fishing or just exploring this scenic back country area.
As former North Central Washington residents, we've long enjoyed trips to Lake Wenatchee, learning to water ski on these frigid, clear mountain-stream-fed waters at the age of eight. There were many trips to the old Cougar Inn at the west end of the lake, a favorite place for boaters to launch for a day of fishing or water skiing. Sadly, the Cougar Inn is gone – but the lake and all its beauty remain.
What impressed us on our most recent trip is the number of new vacation homes on the lake – it used to be that Lake Wenatchee was home to a lot of small, traditional family-owned cabins but expensive new homes have sprung up along the shoreline in recent years as the secret about Lake Wenatchee gets out to Seattle-area professionals and entrepreneurs who don't hesitate to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build in such a beautiful spot.
The advantage for all of us is that some of those spectacular vacation homes are available for rent, which is exactly what we did on our most recent visit. Working with Destination Leavenworth, which has a list of rentals for the entire area, we chose a vacation home near the north shore just a mile or two east of the old Cougar Inn. It wasn't on the water, but this home had a great woodsy feel with its location deep in the forest but just a short walk from the lake.
This home is called the Majestic Pines and offers anything most vacationers would want in a modern vacation home. It's 4,000 square feet and accommodates up to 14 people – with its many bedrooms and separate areas we could imagine it would work well for large groups. The home is decorated in earth tones, wood and slate and just has the feel of a mountain lodge with large wooden beams and lots of sunlight coming through the mammoth windows. There is a gourmet kitchen and a hot tub, ever popular with the kids we brought along – as was the widescreen satellite TV and games.
Using the Majestic Pines as our base of operations, we explored trails, rivers, the big beach at Lake Wenatchee State Park and lots of back roads that take you even deeper into the gorgeous Lake Wenatchee wilderness.
One of our favorite outings was to Hidden Lake, a perfect family hike because of its minimal elevation gain (200 feet), wide trails and accessibility. It's a gentle walk – even with small kids in tow – through thick forests, up hillsides and through meadows to a pristine little alpine lake where you can put in your own air mattress and float in peaceful harmony with nature. A lot of fellow hikers were taking along picnic lunches to enjoy along the water on the bright sunny day we visited. It's not the kind of trail where you get totally away from people – it is one of the most popular in the area – but it also didn't seem overly crowded even on the weekend day we visited. It's only 1.2 miles round trip so it's kind of a walk in the park for seasoned hikers but perfect if you're taking along small fry. To get to the trail, turn onto Cedar Brae Road at Lake Wenatchee State Park and follow the road along the south side of Lake Wenatchee.
Keep in mind that, during winter, this whole area becomes a winter wonderland, with an abundance of cross-country skiing and downhill skiing available only about a half hour away at Stevens Pass.
Any time of year, you'll want to drive the 23 miles east down into Leavenworth, the Bavarian Village and a favorite destination for travelers not only from the Pacific Northwest but from around the world. Ever since town fathers decided back in the 60's to decorate all of their downtown buildings in a Bavarian motif, the town has been transformed into a major tourist attraction. Not only do the buildings look authentic, but he nearby mountains strongly resemble the Bavarian Alps – which makes that German beer and bratwurst just seem to taste all that much better. Leavenworth is also where you'll find numerous restaurants and lodgings so you might consider staying in town and making day trips to Lake Wenatchee. We must say, though, it was quite relaxing to hole up in our mountain vacation home and enjoy all that the Great Outdoors has to offer.
WHERE: Lake Wenatchee is about 23 miles west of Leavenworth in North Central Washington. It's reached from the Puget Sound region by taking Stevens Pass Highway (2) from Monroe – one of the most spectacular drives anywhere as the highway follows the Skykomish River through jagged mountain peaks and lush forest.
WHAT: Lake Wenatchee is a great destination for an extended stay or a day trip and is especially suited to families and those who love the Great Outdoors. The area has a state park, many trails, great fishing and colorful scenic drives.
WHEN: There are two different experiences for those visiting in summer and winter. In summer it's hiking, fishing and lots of water activities; in winter it's cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing (30 miles away) and just simply enjoying the snowy landscapes.
WHY: Lake Wenatchee is easy to reach for most people traveling to or from Seattle and North Central Washington, but it still remains something of a hidden gem and is not yet overrun with tourists. Since Leavenworth is only 23 miles away, all the services you need are relatively close by.
HOW: If you plan to rent a vacation home in the Lake Wenatchee or Leavenworth area, contact Destination Leavenworth at 866-904-7368 or visit them at www.destinationleavenworth.com. Click here for other recommended Lake Wenatchee lodgings.
Photos, from top: View from Lake Wenatchee State Park beach; Hidden Lake is a short family hike; Majestic Pines is an ideal family vacation rental; Kids on the trail to Hidden Lake
Photos by CARY and SANDI ORDWAY
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.