13+ Fun things to do at Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is a popular playground for residents of Washington as well as visitors. With it’s perfectly blue long and deep lake water carved by glaciers during the last ice age as well as it’s consistently sunny and hot summer weather, it’s easy to see why.

There’s plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure and fun in the water set in the midst of arid hills and vineyards just east of the Cascade Mountains. There’s really something for everyone, whether you want mellow beach or pool days or epic hiking and biking adventures. Come along to see all the fun you can have at Lake Chelan!

Interesting facts about Lake Chelan

mountains rising up from the side of Lake Chelan, a large glacially carved lake. It's a cloudy day
Lake Chelan’s steep glacially carved sides
  • Is Lake Chelan Washington’s largest lake? No, it’s the second largest!
  • How long is Lake Chelan? 55 miles long
  • How deep is Lake Chelan? 1500 feet deep in some places, and a few places are even slightly below sea level!
  • Does Lake Chelan freeze in winter? No, but it’s cold!
  • How cold is Lake Chelan? The lake is cold in winter, but the lake water near the beaches warms up to near 80 degrees by late summer.
  • Is Lake Chelan Natural or man made? Lake Chelan is a natural lake, however when the damn was built near town it raised the water level of the lake higher than it would be naturally, and Chelan PUD can raise and lower the lake levels

Where is Lake Chelan?

Lake Chelan is located north of Wenatchee, west of Spokane and northeast of Seattle at the eastern edgge of the North Cascade Mountains in Washington State.

The Lake Chelan area is the homeland of the Chelan, Okanagan and Yakama People.

How to get to Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is a driving destination and it’s most practical to get there by car.

From Seattle, head over I-90 (Snoqualmie Pass) and I-97 (Blewett Pass) OR over Highway 2 (Stevens Pass). It’s 180 miles and around 3.5 hours driving time from Seattle, not including stops or traffic.

From Spokane, west on Highway 2 to State Highway 172 take you there in 150 miles and a little under 3 hours of driving time.

Related: 12 Amazing weekend getaways from Seattle

Best time of year to go to Lake Chelan

Summer is the best time to go to Lake Chelan for swimming and water sports. Days are hot and sunny and the lake is slightly less cold!

If you’re more interested in hiking, biking or other non water activities, then spring and fall have more mild temperatures, but still lots of sun.

Winter is great for cross country skiing and other winter sports with less crowds and lower prices (although some businesses may not be open or have more limited hours).

Things to do at Lake Chelan

Swimming, paddling and playing in the Lake

A girl looking away from the camera wading in a lake up to her knees. She has long blonde hair and is wearing a purple skirt and long sleeved shirt. In the distance are hills and homes.

Lake Chelan is known for the unending summer fun in the lake! Many hotels and vacation rentals have private beaches and outdoor pools and there are plenty of public beaches as well. If you’re visiting in the summer a beach day is an absolute requirement!

Swimming is a very popular activity at Lake Chelan. Swimming beaches are available at Don Morse Memorial Park in the town of Chelan, Lakeside Park and Lake Chelan State Park on the south side of the lake and Willow Point Park in Manson.

You can also rent paddleboards and kayaks at Don Morse Memorial Park.

Jetskis and waterskiing are also super popular on Lake Chelan. You can rent and take tours on all kinds of watercraft here! There are many boat launches around the lake.

Explore the town of Chelan

The main street of a historic town. There are cars parked on both sides and many businesses

Do yourself a favor and give yourself some time to explore the small town of Chelan and its historic main street. The Riverwalk takes you on a mile loop around the river (you can add on additional trails for more distance if you like).

Learn about the area’s history at the museum and visitor center, take in a movie at the historic Ruby Theater and enjoy some ice cream.

Hiking

A hiker on a dirt trail on a hill above Lake Chelan. Below you can see the trail winding up the hill as well as the town, the lake and distant mountains
A hiker climbing a hill above Lake Chelan (Chelan Butte Trail)

There are lots of wonderful hikes around Lake Chelan, from mellow mostly flat walks to challenging climbs to great views. This area has beautiful wildflowers in spring (April and May) making it the ideal time for hiking.

In summer hiking can be very hot so make sure to have lots of water and sun protection! Read all about my favorite hikes in Chelan here.

Biking

If you’re driving to Lake Chelan, you can bring your own bike, or you can take a guided e-bike tour with Chelan Electric Bikes.

They offer a four hour winery tour that includes beautiful scenery, winery stops and even a swimming stop.

Many trails allow bikes and you can also bike on the roads. There are lots of mountain biking opportunities for those who are into going off road.

Take a boat trip on the Lady of the Lake to Stehekin in North Cascades National Park

The Stehekin ferry landing at the head of Lake Chelan. A few boats are moored and the lake is surrounded by forested hills and snow capped mountains on a cloudy day
Approaching Stehekin on the Lady of the Lake

I highly recommend the boat trip up the lake to the head of Lake Chelan at Stehekin at the eastern edge of North Cascades National Park. You can stay multiple days there, but it’s totally worth it even if you can only do a day trip.

The boat ride up the lake is a beautiful ride that transitions from the arid near desert landscape into the mountains of the rugged North Cascades. Once in Stehekin, you can explore the village and visit a stunning waterfall, even on a short layover.

There are a couple of different boat options that are faster and slower (4 hours or 2.5 hours one way) and you can mix and match them for a 90 minute to 3 hour layover. If you’re not sure what option to take, give them a call, they are super helpful. Also, if you are planning to make the trip with a wheelchair, make sure to call them to talk through your options. The different boats and lake levels at different times of year change what your options are so call before booking for the best experience.

Wine tasting

a patio with tables and chairs next to a lawn and a vineyard with a view down to trees, homes and Lake Chelan.
The wonderful patio for wine tasting at Cairdeas Winery

The hills around Lake Chelan are home to more than 30 different wineries! A few of them have food as well (including delicious farm to table options at Vin-du-Lac). I love Cairdeas Winery in Manson for it’s beautiful patio area with a view of the vineyard and lake as well as their wonderful wine.

If you’re more of a beer or cider person, Lake Chelan has you covered there too. Stormy Mountain Brewing in Chelan and Lake Chelan Brewery in Manson both have good beer and good food.

For cider, try Washington Gold, Steelhead or Chelancraft in Chelan or Rootwood in Manson.

Farmer’s Markets and local produce

a clump of three ripe apples that are red an yellow growing on an apple tree
Apples abound in late summer and fall

Lake Chelan sits right in the middle of one of Washington’s major agricultural areas for fruit and vegetables. If you’re visiting in summer or fall, you’ll encounter plenty of fruit stands along the road – bring cash and stop for the best fruit you’ve ever had. Cherries in early summer give way to stone fruits like peaches and apricots, followed by apples and pears in fall.

Chelan has a bountiful farmer’s market on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, and the Sunshine Market is open daily and has local gifts and some groceries in addition to local produce.

Golf

It’s probably not a surprise that a place with lots of sun has lots of opportunities for golf. The Lake Chelan area has six golf courses with great views, so if you’re a golfer pack your clubs.

Slidewaters Waterpark

For an alternative to plenty of beach days, this water park is a really fun diversion! Water slides and pools along the hillside offer an awesome view while enjoying water park adventures and slides.

Next door is High Trek Chelan, a more terrestrial experience with obstacle courses, ropes courses, ziplines and more. A great place to have more adventures if you’re ready for a break for water focused fun.

Beebe Bridge Park

Beebe Bridge Park is another excellent swimming opportunity in the Columbia River just a few minutes from the town of Chelan. This is a good alternative to the beaches on Lake Chelan.

The park also has camping (reservations are required), picnic shelters, restrooms and showers, a boat launch and play equipment.

Fishing

Washington’s fishing regulations can be complicated, so make sure to educate yourself about the different areas, regulations and options. You can also hire a guide to figure that out for you. You’ll also need a fishing license. You can get one online or at Walmart or Ace Hardware in town.

Fishing is popular in and around Lake Chelan, where you can fish for a variety of fish including Rainbow Trout and Kokanee. The Columbia River and Chelan River offer fishing opportunities as well as several lakes close by.

Beebe Springs Wildlife Area

Beebe Springs Natural Area, one of the hikes near Lake Chelan. There are lush green plants near the river and dry hills in the background
Beebe Springs Wildlife Area

Beebe Springs Wildlife Area (a different place though very close to Beebe Bridge Park) offers mellow gravel trails and is an excellent place for bird watchers. Located right along the Columbia River, it stays mostly green along the river even in the hot dry summers and there is a little bit of shade in places.

There are a couple of miles of flat trails to explore as well as pit toilets. A Washington Discover Pass is needed to park here (and unfortunately not available on site).

What is there to do at Lake Chelan in winter?

Snowy forested hills seen from high above. There are distance mountains and clouds.
Cross Country skiing near Lake Chelan in winter

Lake Chelan is most well known for it’s epic summer water focused lake adventures, but it’s a wonderful place to visit in the winter as well.

Consistent sunshine make it a wonderful winter getaway, especially from gray and rainy places like Seattle.

Echo Ridge Nordic Ski area is one of my personal favorites for cross country skiing in Washington State. The views are amazing and the grooming is excellent (though the dry climate makes enough snow a challenge at times, go for January and February for the best conditions). There is a warming hut for lunch too!

The Echo Valley Ski area is an awesome old school low key downhill ski spot that has a wonderful tubing hill.

Snowmobiling is very popular in the Chelan area, with six motorized sno parks in the area groomed for snowmobiles.

Best places to eat at Lake Chelan

Restaurants get very busy during the summer and having the option of cooking some of your own meals or having some picnics is a good way to reduce stress and crowding when making your plans for food at Lake Chelan.

The Apple Cup Cafe is the place to go for a classic American breakfast. Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, there are plenty of coffee huts for a quick bite with your morning coffee.

Local Myth Pizza is a good bet for pizza. Mexican food is almost always good in the Chelan area, and Marcela’s has good vegetarian and vegan options. Stormy Mountain Brewing is a great option for pub food and local beer.

When you’re spending a summer day at the lake, you really need to get some ice cream! There are plenty of good options but I like the ice cream shop in The Landing.

If you’re into food, I recommend reading the Emerald Palate’s suggestions for more amazing food in Chelan.

Where to stay at Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan has many hotels and vacation rentals located in town as well as along both sides of the lake as far out as Manson, about 15 miles from the town of Chelan. If you’re interested in a place to stay with a pool or private beach, make sure to search for that. I also recommend thinking about how you want to spend your time and picking a location that works with that so you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the car after you get there.

If you’re looking for an area where you can walk to restaurants and maybe even catch a movie on a rare rainy day, I recommend staying in the town of Chelan. If you prefer being away from the hustle and bustle a bit more, I recommend staying in the town of Manson. Manson is a bit further from town but still right on the lake surrounded by plenty of beaches along the lake and wineries on the surrounding hillsides. There’s a grocery store and gas without having to go back to Chelan.

I like Wapato Point in Manson that has condos and homes available for rent as well as boat rentals, two pools (indoor and outdoor), a beach and other fun for kids like a playground and mini golf.

Camping at Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is really popular with campers and reservations are necessary several months in advance to secure a spot.

Lake Chelan State Park is a good option as well as 25 Mile Creek State Park. 25 mile is perfect for those who want to get away from it all, since it’s further out the road and has no cell phone service. Reservations are not required, but are necessary to get a spot. Lake Chelan State Park has showers and RV hook ups as well as a dump station.

Chelan PUD operates a campground at Beebe Bridge Park on the Columbia River, just a few minutes from Chelan. Reservations are required here. There’s a boat launch, playground, swimming area, showers and restrooms.

Chelan City Parks has a campground almost in the town of Chelan for RVs and tents that requires reservations.

Wapato Lake Campground is near Manson and operated by Manson Parks, you should definitely reserve ahead here too.

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!