Stehekin: Destination for Vacation and Relaxation
by Curt Remington
How would you like to visit a place that is truly beautiful, secluded and unique, a place where you can find serenity and really relax. Stehekin, Washington is such a place, and it’s affordable too. You can even camp there, if you like. It takes a little work to reach, but getting there is well worth the effort and half the fun. There are no roads to Stehekin, so you have to hike, boat or fly. Fortunately, the boating option includes a couple of passenger ferries that regularly make the trip up Lake Chelan, a 55 mile long fjord-like lake that’s the third deepest in the United States. Its gorge is the deepest in North America, if you measure to the bottom of the lake, 1486 feet below the surface.
So, what is Stehekin? The Native American word means “the way through,” since the Cascade Pass and Stehekin valley served as a trade route for many, many years. Now,Stehekin Landing and the valley are a small, rustic community, with 75+ year-round residents, surrounded by the rugged beauty of Washington’s North Cascades mountains. Stehekin Landing contains a resort with lodge buildings, docks, some picnic areas, a restaurant, some gift shops, a National Park Service visitor center and a small campground.
What to Do
It’s a wonderful place for hikers, climbers and boaters to do their thing, but anyone can come and relish the seclusion of sitting on one of the lodge’s decks, overlooking the lake. From there, you can feel the gentle breezes, smell the Ponderosa pine and watch the activity on the docks. There’s just enough activity to be interesting, but not so much that it actually distracts from your relaxing. To me, meditating is one of the best things to do in the valley.
If you decide to leave the deck to explore the area, there are 15 or so miles of roads in the Stehekin Valley, along with countless miles of trails. Nearby trails range from a short nature path behind the visitor center to the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile trail that extends from Mexico to Canada. We met a group of “thru-hikers” that were fascinating but a bit ripe smelling. Upon reaching civilization, a shower would rank high on my priority list, and they are available in Stehekin. Regular phone service is not available, however there is a satellite phone for emergencies.
The National Park Service operates busses that run up and down the valley, or you can rent bikes, providing access to places like the Stehekin Pastry Company, the Stehekin Valley Ranch and many of the trails.
On our recent trip, two of my daughters took the bus to the ranch for a horseback ride, where they spotted a cinnamon-colored black bear.
I rode the same bus with my daughters as far as the Rainbow Loop Trailhead. From there, I set out on a five-mile hike which turned into nine miles, after a side-trip and an extension on the end, to take-in more of the beautiful scenery. One of my stops put me at the top of a cliff with panoramic views up the valley into North Cascades National Park, extending down the valley and all the way to Lake Chelan’s turquoise waters. The extension at the end of my hike brought me to Rainbow Falls, a spectacular 312 foot cascade, and to Harlequin Bridge over the Stehekin River, where I waited for the bus.
That evening, we had a delicious dinner in the restaurant. Our bus driver stopped in, immediately recognizing my daughters and I. She introduced herself to my wife, saying “Oh, you must be the mom.”
People are very friendly. The last time we visited, the woman running the craft store was also our waitress that night and the teacher during the school year. Even with all those jobs, I’ll bet she still finds time to enjoy the serenity of the area. For those of you that aren’t in Stehekin, you can try this visualization meditation for connecting with the wonderful serenity and energy of the place.
Meditation for Connecting with Stehekin
Find a comfortable chair in a quiet place, and take a seat. It doesn’t have to be in Stehekin. Take a long look at the picture of the Adirondack chair with the view up to the end of Lake Chelan. This chair is for your use and sits alongside a public gazebo near the lodge. As you can see, it overlooks the tranquil waters of the lake, with distant views into North Cascades National Park. Now close your eyes and imagine yourself in that chair. You can feel a slight breeze on your cheek and smell the fresh mountain air with a hint of lake smell. Feel the soothing energy of the lake and the mountains that surround you. Let the earth energy soak in through your feet, while blue energy from the sky runs down through the top of your head. Occasionally, a bird chirps and the pine needles rustle. Imagine these details as clearly as you can, and feel the energy of the place renewing you. When you feel ready, open your eyes and let the Adirondack chair turn back into whatever you’re sitting on.
Holden Village is another secluded, unique and beautiful place. To reach Holden, it’s eight miles “down lake” from Stehekin, then 12 miles up a remote road. Holden is on the border of the Glacier Peaks Wilderness and is deep in the mountains. Since 1960, Holden has been owned and operated by the Lutheran Church and is used as a “center for renewal.” You don’t have to be Lutheran to go there, however I believe they expect you to take part in their programs. Nightly rates are very reasonable and include lodging, food and the programs.
The village is an old mining community (closed in 1957), where $66,500,000 worth of copper, gold and zinc were removed. At one time the remote village had a movie theater, bowling alley and ice cream parlor, in order to keep morale up among the miners.
Reaching Stehekin or Holden Village
Although there are no roads to either location, there are rugged trails through the wilderness from places like Cascade Pass or Rainy Pass. The shorter routes to Stehekin are approximately 18 miles of hiking (one way) plus catching the park service bus. For most of us, this is a multi-day backpacking trip. Of course you can take the Pacific Crest Trail in, starting as far away as the Mexican border.
From Chelan, Washington, at the other end of the lake, you can get on a floatplane or one of the ferries, Lady of the Lake II and Lady Express. Round-trip ferry tickets start at $39, much cheaper than a round trip flight to the Seychelles. Of course you need to reach Chelan first, possibly via a flight into Seattle and a scenic drive over the North Cascades. You might even consider the full Cascade Loop. According to National Geographic traveler, it’s “one of America’s grandest, most spectacular drives.” The route includes stops like Leavenworth, Washington’s version of a Bavarian village and Winthrop, fashioned after the American old west.
Whatever route you take, Stehekin is a beautiful, secluded and unique place where you can find some real serenity.
This article was written by Curt Remington