"Stehekin" is the name Northwest Indians gave this picturesque valley passage through the North Cascade Mountains, and it means "the way through." Glacial Lake Chelan, the jewel of this rugged valley, links it with the rest of central Washington. Water is the major highway in and out, especially in summer, when the community's residents, who like sharing their unspoiled world, open their doors to visitors, welcoming them to various inns and their popular bakery and ranch. At dawn, the lake ripples with feeding fish. Afternoons are breezy, alive with birds. At night, the darkness is so enveloping that it's hard to spot your own feet. But when you lift your eyes to the sky, you see a heart-stopping bowl of glittering stars.
Here's how to experience Stehekin.
When to Go
Stehekin's high season begins Memorial Day weekend and lasts to mid-October. (Most of the information listed here pertains to this time period; contact each business for winter hours and rates). The weather is best then (with temperatures as high as the 80s and 90s in July and August), and valley businesses, including places to stay, the Stehekin Pastry Company, and bike and boat rentals are up and running. The fly-fishing is legendary here, as are the hiking (the valley abuts the Pacific Crest Trail), kayaking, biking, horseback riding, and pack-tripping in the high country above the valley.
While there is no direct route, you can reach Stehekin by flying to Seattle and catching a connecting flight to Wenatchee's Pangborn Airport. From there, rent a car or take a bus to Chelan, about 43 miles north. In summer, plan to spend the night because the Lady of the Lake passenger ferries leave for Stehekin at 8:30 A.M.
Alternatively, call ahead and charter a floatplane from Chelan through Chelan Airways (a minimum of four passengers is required), or hike in via the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Chelan Airways: 509-682-5555. The flight between Chelan and Stehekin is $165 round-trip, $120 one way. There is a four-person minimum per flight, but you can often join another party to meet the requirement.
- Lady of the Lake ferry service. From May 1 to October 15, there are two ferry options. Lady of the Lake II is the slow boat (the trip takes four hours one way); a round-trip ticket between Chelan and Stehekin is $39 (plus a variable fuel surcharge). On the Lady of the Lake Express, a round-trip (two and a half hours one way) between Chelan and Stehekin is $59 (plus a fuel surcharge).
- Pacific Crest Trail Association for trip planning and trail conditions.
Where to Stay
Despite Stehekin's small size, it features a range of accommodations. Just above the boat dock, the Stehekin Landing Resort offers comfortable rooms, some with water views, and a lakeside restaurant serving three meals daily. The Stehekin Valley Ranch, 9 miles up the road, has woodsy cabins and a dining room featuring family-style tables and an enormous hearth for giant pots of cowboy coffee.
Other choices include the water-view Silver Bay Inn Resort and the Stehekin Rainbow Lodge, on the Stehekin River, near the region's largest waterfall. Cottage and cabin rentals are also available: Boulder Cabin, Flick Creek House, Stehekin Cedar Home, Stehekin Log Cabins, and Stehekin Mountain Cabin.
You can camp at one of 100 backcountry campsites or take advantage of well-stocked Tent-to-Tent camps, so you don't have to pack supplies.
- Boulder Cabin or Stehekin Rainbow Lodge, 206-508-1025. At the Boulder Cabin or the Stehekin Rainbow Lodge, the rate is $165 per night for two people.
- For information on Tent-to-Tent camps, go to courtneycountry.com.
- Flick Creek House, Nancy Barnhart, P.O. Box 25, Stehekin, WA 98852 or 509-670-0915. Write or call for rates.
- Silver Bay Inn, 800-555-7781. For one to two people, prices range from $135 to $245 per night with a two-night minimum from May 1 to June 19 and from September 16 to October 23; $175 to $375 (with a five-night minimum for cabins) from June 20 to September 15.
- Stehekin Cedar Home, Walter Winkel, P.O. Box 14, Stehekin, WA 98852. Write for rates.
- Stehekin Landing Resort. Prices range from $93 per night for a standard double-occupancy room without a lake view in the off-season (October 16 to June 14, excluding major holidays) to $185 per night for a double-occupancy room with a kitchen unit and a lake view in the high season (June 15 to October 15). There is also a lake house available for a two-night-minimum stay that is $299 for four people in the off-season and $379 in the high season. The rates go down slightly the longer you stay.
- Stehekin Log Cabins, 509-682-7742. At the Stehekin Log Cabins, the price is $170 per night for a three-bedroom, two-bath house. For parties larger than two, there is a surcharge of $10 per person ($5 for children ages 6 to 11). There is also a six-night rate of $900 for two people ($50 for each additional person).
- Stehekin Mountain Cabin, Don and Roberta Pitts, P.O. Box 38, Stehekin, WA 98852 or email@example.com. Write or email for rates.
- Stehekin Valley Ranch. Prices range from $85 per night, per person, for a one- to two-night stay in a tent cabin to $95 per night, per person, for a one- to two-night stay in a cabin with a bathroom. All meals are included in these rates, as is bus transportation within the valley. The rates go down slightly the longer you stay. There are also units with kitchenettes ($150 per night, excluding meals).
The bright-yellow Stehekin shuttle bus, one of the area's charmingly ragtag herd of vehicles, all transported by barge, is the valley's sole public transportation. The bus leaves from the boat landing (the spot where the ferries dock) and makes four daily round-trips up the valley from mid-June to October. The driver will drop you off along the way and return for you wherever you like. He can also answer your Stehekin questions, and offers colorful, off-the-cuff details about the scenery.
Some valley accommodations come with cars or with a rental-car option. Because there is little traffic, a rented bike may be all you need, but be aware that the road into the valley is paved for only four miles from the boat landing.
What to Do
Summer offers the greatest variety of recreational options, including fishing (trout, lingcod, and chinook salmon), horseback riding, biking, kayaking on the lake, hiking and backpacking, and river rafting (best in June when the water is high; easier for beginners in August).
Check fishing regulations and make reservations for kayaking, riding, and rafting at the Outdoor Store up the hill from the boat landing; rent bikes at Discovery Bikes or the Stehekin Landing Resort (see above).
A great hiking guide, Stehekin, A Guide to the Enchanted Valley, by Fred T. Darvil Jr., is available at the crafts store, the House That Jack Built, or on amazon.com.
A few not-to-be-missed Stehekin sights include the 312-foot Rainbow Falls; the Buckner apple orchard (run by the National Park Service), where you can pick your own apples in fall; and the original one-room schoolhouse, which was open from 1921 until 1988. The Golden West Visitors Center, overlooking the boat landing, is another must-stop for anyone interested in Stehekin history and lore. And don't overlook the Stehekin Pastry Company, located 2 miles from the boat landing. It's a community social hub as well as a source for good coffee, cinnamon buns, sandwiches, and salads.
During winter, a very quiet time in Stehekin, the Landing Resort is open on a limited basis for visitors who want to cross-country ski or snowshoe in picturesque solitude.
One of the most memorable things about Stehekin, in any season, may be the distance it takes you from your everyday life. Although its electricity comes from the power of the Stehekin River, the hamlet has no phone service, no cell phone reception, and only one pay phone. Some residents have satellite phones and television, but many don't.
Text by Susan Heeger