Arrowleaf Balsamroot is already starting to dot the hillsides of the Lake Chelan Valley, and more wildflowers are soon to follow in bloom. We’ve compiled a short list of hikes where you’re sure to find these beauties and so many more.
During the winter months, the Echo Ridge area on the high hills above Manson and Lake Chelan is a prominent Nordic skiing destination. But come spring and summer, that same system of 25 miles of old logging roads offer great opportunities for hiking with expansive views of large fields of wildflowers, plus Lake Chelan to the south, forested foothills to the north, and the high peaks of the Cascades to the west.
Given the elevation, around 3,000 – 4,000 feet, the wildflowers in this area tend to bloom a little later than down in the valley making this a great hike for late spring and early summer viewing opportunities. Located about 9.5 miles from the town of Chelan, the terrain consists of gently rolling hills with possible hiking routes as short as 1 mile.
Hike between 4 and 7 miles, depending on your route, gaining 2,000 feet of elevation offering magnificent views of flowers in April and May, Lake Chelan down below and the Cascade Mountains out in the distance. Look for the earliest bloomers like Yellow Bell and Desert Buttercup blooming trailside as early as late March, followed by fields of the more common yellow balsams and red Indian paintbrush showing their colors in April and May. Keep in mind that there is no designated trail here, but the terrain is open and the vegetation is low.
From the end of the pavement on Chelan Butte Road, walk about ½ mile and leave the left side of the road heading east until you reach the north-trending ridgeline which takes you directly to the summit. You can also access the top of Chelan Butte by car during summer months once the snow and ice have melted from the narrow winding gravel road, or you can hike those 2 miles to enjoy more time in the sunshine and exercise. The Chelan Butte is accessed from the town of Chelan by turning on Millard St, across from Lakeside Park. The Butte is a popular destination spring through fall.
CHELAN LAKESHORE TRAIL
Cross babbling streams, view cascading waterfalls, and view meadows of wildflowers while hiking alongside the banks of sparkling Lake Chelan. The trail mostly stays up on a bluff as it follows the contour of the lake, occasionally dipping down to the waterline. There are lots of ups and downs, though nothing is too steep. Typically open in March, this is one of the first trails to open each year on the Wenatchee National Forest and North Cascades National Park and runs 18 miles along the north side of the 50.5-mile long glacial-carved lake, connecting the Prince Creek Campground with the remote village of Stehekin on the west end of the lake.
Most people begin the trail at Prince Creek and take one or two nights to complete the 17.5 mile journey to Stehekin. For a shorter day hike, you can also start at Moore Point and reach Stehekin in only 6.8 miles. You can stay overnight at the campground in Stehekin or stay in the lodge. The village of Stehekin and these trailheads are accessible only by the Lady of the Lake ferry or a chartered float plane.
STILETTO PEAK TRAIL
The most advanced hike in the list, this is another trail accessed from the village of Stehekin on the northern end of Lake Chelan that travels high into the mountains of the North Cascades National Park. Due to this, and the elevation of the hiking area, this is a hike for later in spring and early summer once the snows and ice have melted.
The Stiletto Peak Trail is a 5-mile (one way) day hike from Fireweed Camp, a horse camp at the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and McAlester trail, along McAlester Creek. Fireweed Camp is accessed via the North Cascades Hwy SR 20 where the PCT crosses it and there’s a parking area along the side of the road. After a 1.5 mile level hike from Fireweed Camp, the trail leaves the Stiletto Spur Trail and begins switch backing up to open alpine areas. After about 2.5 miles, you’ll enter into meadow after meadow of vibrant wildflowers. The next thousand feet of elevation gain, is where you’ll see the most wildflowers in the area where up to 15 varieties of wildflowers can be seen blooming at the same time. Enjoy the fields of flowers and hike as far as you’d like to return the same way, or continue on for rewarding summit views and a loop hike. The maintained trail ends at 6300′; an easy route can be followed to the ridge top at 7223′, the site of an old fire lookout where you can look back down into the valleys filled with the seas of color. Stiletto Peak is just to the east at 7660′.
This entire area is a beautiful but fragile alpine area; take care that no sign of your passing remains. A loop trip of about 12 miles can be made by continuing east from Stiletto Peak on a cross-country route, past Stiletto Lake and up to Twisp Pass; then following the Twisp Pass trail down past Dagger Lake and back on to Fireweed Camp. Most of this loop is trail-less however and a good map and compass are required.