Long ago, Native Americans named it Stehekin – “the way through” – because it was one of few travel routes through the formidable barrier of the North Cascades. Today visitors will find a com- munity of 85 people who thrive in the isolation of this beautiful valley. Although there are 15 miles of road in Stehekin, the fact that no roads come into the valley from the outside helps shape the character of this remarkable place and the thoughtful quality of life that its residents share. Most visitors arrive by boat, a few come by air, but a surprising number hike into this remote valley following the same cross-mountain routes used for centuries by the Native Americans.
Stehekin is a small, unincorporated community located at the northwest end of Lake Chelan. Accessible only by boat or seaplane (or by foot if you’re up for a 50-mile hike), this hamlet nestled in the North Cascades at the headwaters of Lake Chelan boasts 95 full-time residents, blue-green water fed by glaciers, sub-alpine timber, deer outside your front door, and a kind of magic only found when absolutely lost in nature.
Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or a place to relax, there’s plenty to do in Stehekin.
Stop in at the National Park’s Golden West Visitor Center for a bicycle map of Stehekin and a self-guided bicycle/ walking tour to many Stehekin points of interest including the Pastry Company, Stehekin’s One Room Schoolhouse, Rainbow Falls and Historic Buckner Orchard.
No visit to Stehekin is complete without a visit to the Stehekin Pastry Company. Stop in for any of a variety of hot and cold beverages, breads and pastries including their famous cinnamon rolls. Call a day ahead and they will be happy to prepare a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches, pastries, fruit and drinks.
Golden West Visitor Center
The National Park Service’s Golden West Visitor Center opened in 1927 as “the Golden West Lodge,” a resort hotel. Today, the Golden West welcomes you with information on all Stehekin activities including Park Service evening programs, naturalist talks and children’s activities. Ask for your free copy of the Self-Guided Walking/Biking Tour to Rainbow Falls. Backpackers can get camping permits, maps and information on trails and weather conditions. “A Wilderness Place” is an entertaining 10-minute video about Stehekin and the surrounding wilderness. Book lovers can browse the bookstore and the “Golden West Gallery” features art of the North Cascades. (360) 854-7365 x 14
Historic Buckner Orchards
The property that now comprises the Buckner Orchard was homesteaded in 1889 by Bill Buzzard. After clearing about an acre of land, Mr. Buzzard built a log cabin, which is still standing today, and planted a large garden. He also cut many of the large trees on the homestead and sold them to mills down lake or as fuel for the steamers which supplied mines in the upper valley. Steamers required 6 to 12 cords of wood to make the round trip. In 1911, ownership changed hands to the Buckner family, who arrived in Stehekin with fairly elaborate plans to develop what they called Rainbow Ranch. Apples were their focus and the first thing needed was water. The hand-dug ditch still carries irrigation water to the orchard today. The Buckner Ranch and 90 acres of surrounding area are now listed as the Buckner Homestead National Historic District. The property was sold to the National Park Service in 1970 and they offer guided walks on weekends during the summer. Every year in October, Stehekin celebrates a Harvest Festival organized by the Buckner Homestead Heritage Foundation. In the fall, visitors and locals are encouraged to pick apples and make their own apple juice. The Harvest Festival will be held October 5th, 2013. www.BucknerHomestead.org
The Stehekin Valley is in the heart of the North Cascades and is in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, part of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. It is a major entryway into the mountains, providing access to some of the best hiking and backpacking in the world. Trails range from short one-mile hikes to major treks including the Pacific Crest Trail which extends from Canada to Mexico. Ask about trail listings from the Chelan Ranger Station in Chelan, or the Golden West Visitor Center at Stehekin Landing. Free backcountry permits are needed for overnight stays at all North Cascades National Park Service Complex camps and they are available at ranger stations on a first-come first-serve basis up to a day in advance. Boat-in camps do not require a backcountry permit, but do require a $5/day or $40/season (May 1 to October 1) Lake Chelan Federal Dock Site permit for boats.
Camping is only permitted in designated campsites and established cross-county zones. Party size is limited to 12 Trails range from short one-mile hikes to major treks including the Pacific Crest Trail which extends from Canada to Mexico. (6 in cross-country zones) and campfires are allowed only in provided fire rings and prohibited in subalpine areas. You can hike with your dog on a leash on trails in the Lake Chelan National Recreation area (the area around Stehekin) but not in the National Park except on the Pacific Crest Trail. For information about permits, please contact the Ranger District Station in Chelan at (509) 682-4900 or the Golden West Information Center at (360) 854-7365 x14. In case you forgot anything, you can find hiking and backcountry items as well as gift items at the House that Jack Built, the North Cascades Lodge, and Golden West Visitor Center, all located at Stehekin Landing. For power food and goodies, stop in at the Stehekin Pastry Company!
Up valley from Stehekin Landing is a beautiful 312-foot waterfall. Spring is the best time of year to see the falls. During the thaw from April to June the water flows like liquid thunder, misting its visitors. Winter visitors occasionally enjoy the crystal blue ice of a frozen waterfall. A new ADA accessible trail was built in 2011, and offers views for visitors in a wheelchair. A second viewpoint was also constructed at a location higher up the falls, and there is now a better experience for everyone visiting the falls. The bus used on the Rainbow Falls tour is ADA accessible as are all of the shuttle busses.
Raft the Stehekin River
The Stehekin River winds down from its Cascade Mountain tributaries to empty into the head of Lake Chelan. The last 11 miles are great for river rafting. The first half of the trip has the most whitewater, and the latter is a smooth, relaxing ride, meandering through the Stehekin Valley. Reservations required. Stehekin Valley Ranch (800) 536-0745, www.StehekinOutfitters.com Flightseeing An air tour will give you a “bird’s eye” view of over 110 miles of unspoiled wilderness and the translucent waters of Lake Chelan. Cradled in one of the deepest gorges in North America, Lake Chelan begins deep in the heart of the North Cascades and extends 50.5 miles into the desert of North Central Washington, offering a spectacular contrast in geography and topography. Air tours are a photographer’s paradise. Tour packages are available and include flying up the Stehekin Valley to Cascade Pass and Trapper Lake in the heart of the North Cascades and views of Rainbow Falls from the air. Flights are arranged on an individual basis.