Lake Chelan Stories and Tips

Boat-Only Campgrounds Uplake--FREE!

Campground View Photo, Lake Chelan, Washington

The downlake end of the Chelan Valley is crammed with motels, hotels, resorts, condos, rental houses, bed & breakfasts, while uplake there are only a few resort lodges. But the real fun, for my money, is in between--canoeing up and camping at the string of campsites that are only accessible by boat. They are nicely spaced to allow a trip up lake and back, and provide a great place to stay for awhile and explore the mountains above. Do a little fishing and hanging out in a place with no cars and where nobody is going to suddenly walk up on you.
These are thought of as fairly primitive sights by the Park Service and Forest Service, but I call them pretty luxurious--they even have toilets. The shelters are great. Only trouble is, you don't get as many canoes and kayaks here as you get skiboats full of dickheads or houseboats full of Flintstones and Kids. But after labor day it gets nicer. A nice time at the lake in general--after school starts, but still nice enough to swim down by Manson, a bite in the night and color in the leaves.
Big Creek has 1 permanent shelter and 4 tent sites, a double outhouse, 4 picnic tables and fire rings, and a dock for about 4 boats (or a bunch of canoes). I've never stayed at Corral Creek, but it's about the same size. Deer Point has 5 tent sites and good shelter from downlake winds, but NONE from uplake winds. This is significant in the 'Narrows' of the lake, where winds get funneled in by the steep, high surrounding cliffs and can blow your bootie away. I watched my girlfriend get dragged 40 feet before she gave up and let go of our 8x10 tent one time. (once she let go, it settled down) And I once saw a guy open his front door and have the wind just blow the seams out of the back of his two man tent. You gotta be ready for wind...if it isn't blowing now, it will. I had to spend three days at Big Creek once because high winds made it impossible to take off in my overloaded canoe. (Fortunately part of the load was one of the nastiest girlfriends I've ever had the pleasure of, so we whiled the time away. She even managed to shoot some fish with my bow, stalking naked along the shore with a 50 pound compound loaded for bear.)
Domke Falls, where the outflow from Domke Lake makes it down to Lake Chelan is a very nice spot with 4 tent sites, a floating dock (which makes it better in winter than a fixed dock) and some pretty good fishing right there at the campsite. Graham Harbor has a huge floating doc and 5 tent sites, with a permanent shelter. The Lucerne site, right by the Forest Service Station, has a big dock and lots of tables, but isn't really much of a camp spot--same goes for Mitchell Creek. Refrigerator Point is a good one, with 4 tent sites, 4 tables and 2 toilets, Safety Harbor is almost identical--and probably the best wind-sheltered of all the campgrounds. I spent four days here in February once, huddled around a fire in 20 below weather when a ling cod line-fishing trip got snafued--we didn't react soon enough to the Lady of the Lake passing and her wake swamped out canoe and soaked all our stuff (except the clothes on our back, which we soaked ourselves trying to rescue the rest of the stuff). I'm sure Patrick McManus could have made it funny, but were able to contain our laughter while trying to make a fire quick enough to keep from freezing to death. I was afraid my fishing partner was going to kill me so she could warm her hands in my carcass. I wouldn't have put it past her. Anyway, we survived.

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