Let’s begin with vinicultureLet’s begin with viniculture. Chelan is home to enough wineries and vineyards to keep an oenologist content, not just for a day or so, but for a week or more of happy hopping. In fact, you can even stay in the vineyard by setting up base at the two-bedroom villa above the barrel room at Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery. There is no need to ever leave the estate, since the winery thoughtfully also has an on-site restaurant. (Reservations are currently unavailable so all seating is first-come, first-serve.) Designated an American Viticulture Area in 2009, the Lake Chelan Valley is young and energetic, with more than 30 wineries perfectly situated to catch the never-ending lake views. The 135-acre Tsillan Cellars appears for all the world to be an Italian country estate plucked from the shores of Lake Como. Enjoy the cioppino at Sorrento’s Ristorante amidst the terraces, gardens, waterfalls and the views of the Cascade Mountains in the distance.
Lodging is plentiful around Chelan
Lodging is plentiful around Chelan and most accommodations, such as the condos at Grandview on the Lake, offer, well, a grand view from every guest room of its one, two and three-bedroom suites. Go jump in the lake – the complex enjoys 700 feet of private waterfront space – or rent a boat, jet ski, kayak or stand up paddleboard at nearby Shoreline Watercraft. Or get a birds-eye view of the lake by parasailing.
If you want to walk off those extra wine pounds, head to the 25 miles that comprise the Echo Ridge trail system around Chelan. Feeling ambitious? Traverse Devil’s Backbone, a 13-mile stretch that requires transportation at either end. Not that ambitious? Go beachcombing for pretty rocks and minerals, abundant on the beaches.
At the opposite end of the 55-mile-long Lake Chelan is the far corner of the world known as Stehekin. You’ll find no grocery stores in Stehekin and just a smattering of dining options. Cellphones rarely catch a signal, and the internet is wishful thinking. No roads lead to little Stehekin, which is accessible only by boat, plane or foot. Why visit? Because it is amazingly gorgeous.
For most visitors, the Lady of the Lake, or one of several sister ferry boats, is the preferred mode of transport for the three to four-hour trek to this remote settlement of roughly 90 full-time residents, though a 2.5-hour express route is also available. The boat trip along the fjords is worth the price of admission, but at the end of the journey, adventure awaits at the North Cascades National Park.
The boats deposit visitors at the tiny dock by the North Cascade Lodge, one of the smattering of lodging options. Locals such as Dave and Jeannetta Kurth, who operate Stehekin Creekside Cabin, welcome visitors to their homestead with plenty of hospitality – and farm-fresh eggs.
At the Kurths’, you will meet their handsome Norwegian fjord horses and you may even get pressed into service rounding up an errant chicken. The couple will also outfit you with a clackety Mazda MPV minivan that will gallantly transport you through Stehekin’s bumpy dirt roads and take you to the end of the trail at North Cascades National Park. You can also explore them by renting a bike once in Stehekin.
With approximately 30,000 visitors a year, North Cascades is near the bottom of the list of the least-visited parks in the lower 48. Compare that number with the more than 12 million people who annually descend on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the country’s busiest.
If you prefer solitude, North Cascades is your park. With more than 300 glaciers as well as alpine lakes and forested valleys, the sense of wilderness would make Henry David Thoreau drool, and you probably won’t see another soul during your visit.
A visit to Stehekin
Beyond the park, the lure of Stehekin includes the two-tiered, 392-foot Rainbow Falls. Hike an easy National Park Service trail to the base or venture to a vantage point a little further up, where you will get drenched, both by water and the sense of wonder at the raw power of the glacially cold water.
A visit to Stehekin should include a stop — or several — at the Stehekin Pastry Company, with its well-deserved reputation as the outpost of gourmet food in the Cascades. During the summer months, the bakery offers a shuttle ride from the dock two miles away so day trippers can indulge in its delicacies. You may even want to lengthen the connection by staying on one of the two cabins on site.
Biking and hiking are favorite activities, as are kayaking and fishing. Stehekin Valley Ranch, open June through October, offers lodging from glamping-style tent cabins to ranch wagons, as well as horseback rides and hearty dining.
Stop by the historic Buckner Orchard, an intact example of turn-of-the-century farming homestead in the Pacific Northwest. The 100-year-old trees are still bearing delicious apples in this jewel of a place.
After your wilderness sojourn, head back on the boat to Chelan for a leisurely hour’s drive to Leavenworth and willkommen to Bavaria. Once a logging town teetering on the brink of extinction, Leavenworth reinvented itself into a premier travel destination brimming with old-world charm, not to mention plenty of beer. As it often happens with facsimiles, Leavenworth replicates its theme with more gusto and fun than a real Bavarian municipality.
Don the lederhosen and the dirndl and take in Bavarian architecture present even in its fast food chains. In the winter, the village sparkles as a top Christmas destination.
Perfect for a long weekend, Chelan is also tailor-made for a long, leisurely vacation. The wine is fine, the food is good, the view is vast and the fun runs. What more would you want?
Sonnenberg is a travel and lifestyles writer based in Melbourne, Florida.
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