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Originally published Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 12:06 AM

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Stehekin is a quiet winter-sports wonderland

Stehekin, a remote village at the north end of Lake Chelan that gets few winter visitors, offers miles of quiet trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Special to The Seattle Times

Happy trails

STOP BY the Golden West Visitor Center for a free copy of the "Stehekin Snow Trails" brochure. It describes 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails for all levels. One of the most scenic, Buckner Orchard Loop, is a 2.5-mile figure-eight beginner's trail from Rainbow Falls through the historic Buckner Ranch, an early 20th-century apple orchard with views of the Stehekin River. Its trailhead is 3.4 miles from the boat landing.

The narrow road that leads up the valley from the landing is plowed for about 8.5 miles to Stehekin Valley Ranch. Another easy trail (four miles round-trip) begins at the end of the plowed road and leads to High Bridge, the starting point for the advanced Wagon Trail Avalanche Bypass and Cottonwood trails.

If You Go

Stehekin

Getting there

The Lady Express boat to Stehekin is operated by Lady of the Lake, www.ladyofthelake.com. 888-401-2224 or 509-682-4584. Operating days: Nov. 1-Dec. 31, boat runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (no service Christmas Day). Jan. 1 — March 31, boat runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday only. Winter fare: Adults, $39 round-trip; children 2-11, $19.50; younger than 2, free.

More information

Golden West Visitor Center, winter hours: 12:30 — 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. 360-854-7365, Ext. 14. It is affiliated with North Cascades National Park Complex: www.nps.gov/noca. Free overnight camping permits are issued here.

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STEHEKIN, Chelan County — A handful of boats played tug of war with the dock, the stretch and pull of their ropes the only thing disturbing the early morning's quiet. An aging pickup eased into the parking lot at the ferry landing. Conversations among the few early risers were muted as if, by agreement, no one wanted to break the spell.

Autumn at this small outpost on the northwest end of the 55-mile glacier-fed Lake Chelan marks the end of the busy tourist season. By mid-October baking pans were stored at the Stehekin Pastry Company and strong cowboy coffee pots emptied at the Stehekin Valley Ranch as winter hibernation began. The public shower and restroom near the boat dock closed Oct. 31.

It isn't that this popular outdoors destination shuts down completely — it simply shifts into a much slower gear. Anyone who's visited this laid-back outpost stretching some nine miles up the 25- mile-long Stehekin Valley — home to some 85 permanent residents, a K — 8 school and U.S. Post office — might wonder how it could get much slower.

"It is so serene, so quiet up here in the wintertime," says Nancy Davis, manager of Stehekin Landing Resort, with its 28 lodging units of varying size. "It is just a different place in the winter. We go for walks at night with the moonlight sparkling off the snow and the lake."

It's also a quiet winter wonderland for snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

Surrounded by North Cascades peaks, "Stehekin" is from a Native American word meaning "the way through" as it was part of a route that once linked the tribes of the Puget Sound and Skagit areas with those of the Columbia River Plateau. It's now part of the North Cascades National Park Complex.

Even in winter getting to Stehekin is half the fun. No roads lead here. Chelan Seaplanes stopped regular runs in mid-October. Visitors travel from Chelan by private boat or take a 2-½-hour trip on the Lady Express through the gorge housing this third-deepest lake in the United States (Lake Tahoe and Crater Lake are deeper) to reach "the landing," a cluster of wood-frame buildings housing Stehekin Landing Resort and its restaurant, a gift/food snacks store, a public dock, and the National Park's Golden West Visitor Center, bordered by a few privately-owned cabins.

Day trips

In winter, the Lady Express leaves the Chelan Boat Company at 10 a.m. (for a shorter cruise start at Field's Point Landing at 10:50 a.m.), arriving at Stehekin at 12:30 p.m. If you haven't snacked on the way up, spend the hour layover warming by the Stehekin Landing Resort restaurant's fireplace while eating hot soup and sandwiches from the grill. Save time to check out maps and displays at the Golden West Visitor's Center. You'll be back at Field's Point by 3:10 p.m. and Chelan at 4 p.m.

Longer visits

With limited accommodations, those planning to stay and who didn't bring along their all-weather tents and camping gear must have advance reservations. The BYFD rule applies — bring your own food and drink, as well as snowshoes or skis and any other outdoor gear you'll want.

Here are a few places to stay, dine or visit this winter:

Boulder Cabin (www.rainbowfallslodge.com, 206-219-7512), is a one-bedroom unit with full kitchen nestled in trees about two miles from the landing and close to trailheads. Owners Norma and Vince Ward provide shuttle service from the landing (including snowshoes and a toboggan sled to get you from the plowed road to the cabin in the event of deep snow).

Stehekin Pastry Company and Log Cabins (http://stehekinpastry.com, 509-682-7742), is renting one of their two cabins, two miles from the landing behind the bakery. The three-bedroom, two-bath unit can sleep 9 persons and comes with a van as part of the rental.

Stehekin Landing Resort (www.stehekinlanding.com, 509-682-4494) will operate its restaurant from 11:30 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. on boat days (see schedule in "If You Go"). Fuel will be for sale. A lakeside cabana with chairs and barbecue will remain open.

• Norma Ward in September opened It's all about Ewe (www.rainbowfallslodge.com, 206-219-7512), a shop specializing in home spun and hand-painted yarns. "Knit, crochet, read and relax while you are here," she suggests. Winter shop hours are 1 — 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Jackie Smith is a Kirkland-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to NWWeekend.

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