Summer Getaway: Chelan, Washington

Escape to Lake Chelan near the Cascade Range

Glacier Peak rises in the background. In the foreground, the dun-colored foothills of the Cascade Range run into crystalline Lake Chelan dotted with motorboats and kayaks. An idyllic town, Chelan, sits at the lake’s southern end. Here, visitors can take dips and paddle board the cool waters, hike and bike mountain paths, and further relax at the wineries dotting the lakeshore.
Go to Town
Loggers, ranchers, and orchardists settled this Washington town in the 1880s, and despite visitors flocking to this town 170 miles east of Seattle to drink in the scenery, Chelan retains its small-town charm. Its main street, Woodin Avenue, was recently designated a “National Main Street” and doesn’t have a single national chain store. I spent my free time wandering in and out of galleries and boutiques featuring the work of local artists and craftsmen, and my entire souvenir budget at Riverwalk Books, which carries a carefully curated selection of popular books, local interest titles, and local authors such as Carolly Erickson and Jen Marlowe. 
I recovered from shopping at The Vogue. A coffee shop and café during the day, at night, it transforms into a low-key wine bar often abuzz with local music. One evening after an early dinner at Vin du Lac Winery’s bistro, I caught a movie at the historic Ruby Theatre, which first opened in 1914 and is believed to be the oldest-running cinema in Washington.
As the wine scene has grown so have lodging options. The Lakeview Hotel in downtown is one of the newest accommodations, with a modern interior and Riverwalk Park just outside. But I opted for the historic Campbell’s Resort, which is not only the area’s oldest resort, but also the biggest, with 170 rooms, two pools, a spa, a marina, and 1,200 feet of lake frontage. The fifth generation of the family is now running it.
Grape Expectations
A decade ago, this area’s apple and pear trees hung heavy with fruit, but when the bottom fell out of the apple market in the late ’90s, several hundred acres were replanted with grapes. Thanks to its mineral-rich volcanic soil and climate, the vineyards flourished. Today, it’s one of the state’s fastest-growing wine regions, with 17 wineries located in the area. The wineries are housed in buildings ranging from a re-created Tuscan villa at Tsillan Cellars to a former apple-packing shed at Lake Chelan Winery.
Chelan Valley Tour’s four- and six-hour W.A.V.E. (Wine Assault Vehicle Excursion) tours hit up to eight wineries. With Chelan Bicycle Adventures, you have time to stop and smell the grapes while on a tour. With 10 wineries within Chelan itself, you can easily arrange your own tour, too. Not wanting to worry about driving while tasting, I chose a walking tour of three wineries: Nefarious Cellars, Tunnel Hill Winery, and Tsillan Cellars Winery.
Lake Chelan Winery, a leader in the local wine industry, offers samples at its open-air barbecues. During the event, each dish, from baby-back pork ribs to fresh wild-caught salmon and strawberry shortcake, is paired with a wine (cabernet sauvignon; syrah or merlot; pinot grigio; and gewürztraminer, respectively). In 1998, Steve Kludt, a Lake Chelan orchardist since 1974, was one of the first to ditch apples for grapes. In 2000, the Kludts licensed and bonded the first winery in the county. The next year the winery bottled its first varietal and the year after, it sold the first bottle of wine made from local grapes. Today Lake Chelan Winery’s wines have won awards in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, and the Monterey  Wine Competition. Its BBQ in the Vineyard restaurant, offered nightly between May and October, is packed thanks to the popularity of its food, wine, and the scenic vineyard setting in which dinner is served.
A Hop, Skip, and a Floatplane Away
The town of Stehekin sits at the opposite end of the 55-mile-long lake from Chelan. It’s only accessible by ferry, foot, horseback, or floatplane, making it one of the most remote towns in the United States. About 100 hardy people live there year-round. I splurged on a 25-minute floatplane flight to spend a day there. Ferries make the trip in two-and-a-half (Lady Express) or four hours (Lady of the Lake II). Planes and ferries both leave from Chelan.
Once in Stehekin, a van shuttles along an 11-mile paved and gravel track that winds toward nearby North Cascades National Park. Rental bikes are available from Discovery Bikes. No matter your method of transportation, you’ll want to visit Rainbow Falls, where a stream of water plunges 312-feet through a break in a rock wall. At the one-room Old Stehekin School, where students learned from 1921 until 1988, you can open a desk and still find crayon nubs. Save time for a Frisbee-sized cinnamon roll at Stehekin Pastry Company on the way back to the dock.