Lake Chelan Stories and Tips

Lady of the Lake--Uplake by Boat

Lady of the Lake II Photo, Lake Chelan, Washington

Before mentioning the Lady Boats that make the runs, let me say a little bit about the lake itself. 'Blue Chelan' is accepted as the most pristine open water in the country. Though part of the 'clear blue' water reputation, it turns out, was because copper tailings from mines at Holden killed micro-organisms of the kind that cause green water in other lakes. The Chelan Valley is the deepest gorge in North America, surrounded by 9000 foot mountains, with the glacier-carved lake itself over 1400 feet deep (third deepest in the U.S.), the bottom 400 feet actually below sea level. 27 glaciers and 57 creeks feed the lake, whose shoreline is maintained by the damn down at Chelan.
The lake provides a unique passageway into deep wilderness--it would take weeks to hike into Stehekin if the lake were not there. Stehekin, by the way, is the only town in mainland Washington that has no road leading in to it--you get here by boat. Lucerne and Holden village are the same. The Lady of the Lake stops off and delivers mail, the stores take orders from residents and have the orders sent up on the boat. Point of purchase offers and impulse buying are minimal here. The uplake end, at Stehekin, is remote and almost eerily clean. You get off the boat and notice an odd smell, which you finally identify as fresh air, unpolluted, unsmogged, unsmoked. It can cause euphoria.
The headwaters are in the North Cascades National Park, a new, wild, rugged chunk of upthrust. It's the largest and most rugged alpine wilderness in the United States (outside of Alaska, which is just generally large and rugged, even the women). It is an above-the-treeline sort of place scored by over 400 glaciers and punctuated by dozens of 9000 foot peaks. Virgin douglas fir and red cedar forests harbor wildlife including gray wolves and grizzly bears. An idea of the terrain can be read right off a map--Desolation Peak, Mount Fury, Jagged Ridge, Mount Terror. And when you step off the boat in Stehekin, you are right there in it--just start walking uphill.
There are only about 70 residents of Stehekin, and you can be one of them for a night or two in the North Cascades Stehekin Lodge. They have 28 units of tranquility (no phone, no TV, no cars, no news) some with kitchens, ranging from $90-129 a night. There are also some fun seasonal packages, like an autumn leaf weekend; snowshoe, bike, XC ski, and rafting junkets; and unusual stuff like their Moonlight Snowshoe outing, with bonfire and frivolity. These run about $199-299 for two.
Contact the Lodge at 509-682-4494 or

Now, about those Lady Boats. The Boat Company has been running people uplake for over 100 years, but they keep up with the times. The Lady of the Lake is a big 350 passenger job with viewing decks, which makes a liesurely trip up the lake, stopping in Manson and Lucerne and Holden and Stehekin. It's a whole day thing, as it should be. $23 round trip.
The newer-fangled Lady Express does it in half the time. You can kill time FASTER! $42 TR in May-October, $23 November-April.
For those who can only handle calm and leisure at ultra turbo high speed, there is now the Lady Cat, a high-powered speedboat that looks like a liveboat on the Starship Enterprize and does the trip in an hour for like $90. Free 'Type A Yuppie Scum' T-shirt thrown in.

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