Stehekin is a spectacular mountain community tucked into the North Cascades along the Stehekin River at the head of Lake Chelan. It’s remote location without cell service and very little internet makes it a magical place to get away from it all.
Despite it’s stunning scenery and limitless opportunity for many kinds of outdoor recreation from hiking to fishing many Washingtonians have never been here! Whether you’re a Washingtonian or traveling from the other side of the world, let me show you why it’s worth it to make the effort to visit Stehekin and all the wonderful adventures you can have here.
Stehekin is located at the head of Lake Chelan in the North Cascades mountains at the eastern edge of North Cascades National Park in Washington State. The Stehekin Valley is the homeland of the Chelan, Okanagan and Yakama People.
How to get to Stehekin
One of the best things about visiting Stehekin is the unique adventure getting there! There are no roads in or out of Stehekin and your options for getting there include a boat ride, a long hike or a chartered float plane.
The Lake Chelan Boat Company offers ferry service from the town of Chelan to Stehekin in 2.5-4 hours (depending on which boat you’re on the Lady of the Lake, Lady Express or Lady Cat). There are layover options in Stehekin for day trips between 90 minutes and 3 hours (depending on the boat you’re on). There are a few snacks available on board the boat, but not full meal service so I recommend bringing food with you.
The Stehekin Ferry also offers service to Stehekin starting from Fields Point Landing (17 miles from the town of Chelan).
If you are traveling with a wheelchair, make sure to call the boat company to ensure that loading and unloading will be workable on the date you want to travel. Lake levels alter at different times of year which changes the boarding procedures. In my experience they are extremely helpful in helping you figure this out but make sure to call them before booking to make sure they are ready for you and that they can accommodate you.
Lake Chelan Boat Company also offers private boat charters to Stehekin from the town of Chelan.
Another option is to charter a float plane from Seattle or Chelan.
Best time of year to go to Stehekin
Stehekin is accessible all year with the Lady of the Lake boat company operating at least one of their boats every day.
Summer is ideal when businesses and lodging are open, tours are operating and there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. July, August and early September have the driest and warmest weather.
Most businesses are open from Memorial Day through sometime in September. I recommend checking with individual businesses as sometimes hours might be limited or not open at all due to staffing challenges in this very remote location.
Getting around in Stehekin
Once you arrive in Stehekin, you have a few options for getting around. The Red Bus tour (described below) is a good option for those on a day trip with a short layover, or rent an ATV!
If you have a longer layover or are staying a few days, you can rent a bike from Discover Bikes which is a great way to see the valley. You can also rent ATVs right next door at the log office (more info below).
There is also a shuttle that goes around the valley between the ferry landing and High Bridge (Mile 11) with stops along the way.
Some cabins available for rent include a car you can use to drive around the valley. Check with your host to find out if this is available.
Things to do in Stehekin
If you only have a short layover on a day trip, I recommend either taking the red bus tour to Rainbow Falls or renting an ATV from the log office and going to Rainbow Falls. Make sure to give yourself enough time to stop at the Stehekin Pastry Company too. You’ll get to see the stunning waterfall and have some amazing food while getting a feel for the Stehekin Valley. If you’re staying longer or have a longer layover, then you can fit in even more fun in Stehekin.
See stunning Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Washington State and a must see if you’re in Stehekin. If you have a short layover, you can take the red bus tour here and also to the Pastry company. Rainbow Falls is about 3.5 miles from the ferry landing.
Once you arrive, it’s a short walk (less than 200 feet) on a wide gravel trail to a viewpoint of this gorgeous waterfall. If you’re up for a short steep climb and are ok with getting wet, you can also walk up to the upper viewpoint in a couple of minutes. This walk is short but very slippery and muddy.
There’s a lovely picnic table and pit toilet at the small parking area.
Grab a pastry or lunch at the Stehekin Pastry Company
The Stehekin Pastry Company is nothing short of a legend, both in the Stehekin Valley and across Washington State. Their incredible pastries (try a cinnamon roll, they’re amazing and huge!) are unforgettable and you can get lunch here too.
If you have a short layover and take the Red bus, they’ll stop here so you can check it out.
They are usually open May through September and sometimes a bit earlier or later.
Check out the Golden West Visitor Center of North Cascades National Park
The Golden West Visitor Center is located next to the lodge and is generally open from Memorial Day through late September. Here you’ll find a park service bookstore, lots of information about trails and maps and a small exhibit area.
Check their schedule for ranger programs that are offered sometimes.
See the historic Stehekin School
Stehekin is a very small community but it does have it’s own school for students up through 8th grade. The new school (opened in 1988) is just down the road but you can go in and walk around the old school, a beautiful 1921 log building.
Enjoy local produce from The Garden
The Garden is a beautiful place to buy local produce (generally June through October) and in early season you can get local honey and goat cheese and yogurt. It’s located about a mile and a half from the ferry landing, before you get to the pastry company.
Stehekin hikes perfect for a day hike
Stehekin is a hikers paradise, whether you’re looking for a mellow day hike or a strenuous multiday backpacking adventure. Check with the national park service for backcountry permits and multiday hiking and camping options.
For a mellow hike with some ups and downs but no steep climbing, try the Lakeshore Trail. The Lakeshore trail extends 17 miles along Lake Chelan from Stehekin’s ferry landing. Though this is often a multiday trail, as a day hiker you can explore as far as you like before turning around to head back to Stehekin. Make sure to keep an eye on your energy level and have plenty of snacks and water and everything else you need for a day hike. Set a turnaround time and stick to it since the trail goes much further than you can do in a day.
Another mellow option is the Stehekin River Trail, a 7.5 mile round trip trail that is mostly flat. Starting from the Harlequin Campground 4.5 miles from the ferry landing, this is a beautiful hike along the Stehekin River.
The Agnes Gorge Trail starts from the High Bridge Ranger Station further up the valley (11 miles from the ferry). This is another beautiful hike focused on river and forest that is not steep. Make sure to take the Agnes Gorge Trail not the Agnes Creek one (which is harder and takes you on the Pacific Crest Trail). A 5.5 mile hike with 300 feet of elevation gain, you’ll explore the river and forest and a small waterfall along with some great views. Watch out for a stream crossing just over a mile in that could be a bit challenging during spring melt or heavy rain. Check with the park service for current conditions.
If you’re looking for more challenge, try the Rainbow Loop Trail or the Purple Creek Trail. The Rainbow Loop Trail is a 4.5 mile one way (catch the shuttle bus at the other end) with about 1000 feet of elevation gain, starting at the upper trailhead and catching it again at the lower trailhead. Purple Creek starts at the ferry landing and is a super tough climb up nearly 6000 feet to Purple Pass. You can do a shorter trip however by turning around at any point along the trail. There are some good views of the lake starting about 3 miles up the trail.
Rent a bike or e-bike to explore the Stehekin Valley
Discovery bikes is located just up the road from the ferry landing and offers mountain bikes as well as e-bikes to explore the Stehekin Valley. You can rent by the hour or by the day, depending on how long your stay is and how much you want to see.
Rent an ATV to explore the Stehekin Valley
The Log Office, located next to Discovery Bikes just up the road from the ferry landing, is the perfect hub to plan your Stehekin adventures. Nick at Stehekin reservations can get you set up with all kinds of adventures (see below). If you have a short layover, you can rent Can-Am ATVs that seat up to 6 people (including the driver) which is a fun and unique way to explore the sites of the valley!
Go Horseback riding
Horsebacking is another activity you can reserve through Stehekin reservations and you can do a short tour or lesson or a multiday adventure.
Kayak the estuary at the head of Lake Chelan
Kayaking is another wonderful way to explore the valley (see Nick or book through Stehekin Valley Ranch). The estuary where the Stehekin River flows into the head of Lake Chelan is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore on a kayak. There are options for both single or double kayaks and learning to kayak is part of the experience.
Fishing is excellent in the many creeks, rivers and lakes of the Stehekin area. Washington’s fishing regulations can be complicated to follow (see them here) so it’s important to read up on them and get your license if you want to fish on your own.
A good option is to do a guided fishing trip and let your guide find you a wonderful place to fish and worry about keeping it all legal. This is another adventure you can plan with Nick’s help from the Log office.
Restaurant options are very limited and have limited hours. It’s a good idea to bring food with you and definitely bring any food to prepare with you from Chelan. There is a small general store with a few food staples at the North Cascades Lodge and local vegetables and cheese can be purchased at The Garden (again, limited hours).
The North Cascades Lodge has a full restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner (the only place to eat dinner in a restaurant in Stehekin).
The Stehekin Pastry company is open for lunch.
Both options are open late May or June through mid September (if you’re visiting in the shoulder season call and ask if they are going to be open).
The North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin is located right at the ferry landing and offers lodge rooms as well as cabins. They have one of the two restaurants in the valley and the only one open in the evening.
The general store at the North Cascades Lodge also has a few grocery staples.
Stehekin Valley Ranch is about nine miles up the road from the ferry landing and provides transportation around the valley as well as meals that are included. They have cabins, wagons and tents, some with their own bathrooms and others with bathhouses nearby.
You can also rent a number of cabins in the valley on vacation rental websites or on Stehekin’s website. Some of the cabins come with a car for exploring the valley.
Lodging is available year round.
There are three campgrounds operated by the National Park Service in Stehekin. Two are a short walk from the landing and the Harlequin Campground is a little over 4 miles up the road. All three require advance reservations from late May through mid September.
Stehekin is a wonderful destination for visitors who truly want to get away from it all in a stunning mountain environment. For those who are ready to go without cell service, internet and are able to bring everything they need with them, this is a stunning and unique getaway in the Pacific Northwest.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. 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 adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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