A mid summer special email from Stehekin Valley Ranch in my inbox today brought back memories of a Fourth of July long weekend trip to Lake Chelan and Stehekin.Now, a lot of folks go to Lake Chelan during summer. They typically visit the wineries, fruit orchards , jet ski , rent a boat or even swim in the lake and drive back. It’s so popular that getting reservations in Lake Chelan during summer is very difficult.
When we visited few years ago (long before Varun was born), we found lodging available for one night at a Bed and Breakfast in Chelan and 2 nights at Stehekin Valley Ranch.As there is limited accommodation (unless camping), we jumped at the opportunity to stay at the Stehekin Valley Ranch.
We had first read about Stehekin Valley in Sunset Magazine as one of the places to unplug from modern world and simply relax. They have packages that include breakfast/lunch and dinner (but not activities) and we just went with that.
Most families don’t go to Stehekin due to its remote location and limited medical facilities.A 2 1/2 hour boat ride along the 55 mile long Lake Chelan takes you to the Stehekin landing dock. The island’s population of ~ 100 permanent people lives simply amidst nature, glaciers and glacier fed rivers. The only other way in is to hike the North cascades Pacific Crest Trail or take a seaplane. You rarely see families with babies/young kids but its the place to be if you have adventure loving older kids.
We drove to Fields Point Landing stop and took the faster Lady of the Lake ‘Express ferry to Stehekin. Parking our car at Fields Point Landing saved us 40 mins of boat ride each way – which we knew would be critical to getting back home at time with the later (and slower) ferry that were planning to take (to maximize time at the Ranch).
The boat stops en route at fixed points as well as camp sites along the banks of the lake. The journey is very scenic with clean blue waters of the lake lapping up to barren mountains with sparse vegetation – typical of central Washington.
We stayed at the rustic A frame cabins at Stehekin Valley Ranch – a working ranch with communal dining options and activities such as rafting, horseback riding , bird watching, hiking and guided tent to tent glamping into higher mountains.
The Ranch picks up guests at specific times from the landing dock, aligned with the boat arrival time.
The drive to the ranch starts off on a paved road and then goes over unpaved sections. Once we reached the ranch by afternoon, we were happy to leave the dusty road behind and check out the A-framed cabin. It was rustic as described, with comfortable beds (one in the loft and one on main), comforters for cool nights and attached bathroom. The cabin overlooked open grassy natural lawn, horse ranch and tall evergreen trees.
Visiting the Rainbow falls
We were famished after the long-boat ride and then the van ride and immediately went over to the communal dining hall for a hot meal. We shared our table with three older ladies who were at the ranch to go bird watching. After lunch, we borrowed cycle and a bottle of water from the ranch and drove down to see the Rainbow falls. The falls are accessible from the road but we decided to do a hiking loop and so we left the bikes near the road and hiked in. We saw a small black bear on the hike ambling along and minding his own business till I screamed and made it run away. Vipul till date teases me about his lost photo opp since I couldn’t keep my mouth shut 😉 and later we met a group of hikers who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for about a week and didn’t get to see any bear ( and here we were on a casual hike and saw one).
We continued on to the falls . A brief scramble over rocks brought us to these beautiful falls and are so named after the beautiful rainbows that are formed in its cool spray. We enjoyed the solitude at the falls and soaked in the cool mists on a hot July afternoon before continuing the hike.
The next part of the hike brought us to a hill-top overlooking the Valley floor. A bit like Yosemite, we saw the valley with its fruits orchards and the Stehekin river snaking through. Again, we were the only ones on the hike and simply loved soaking the sun under the cloudless July skies. A beautiful memory that lingers on years after the trip.
We made our way back to the trailhead and completed the loop to the place where we had stashed our cycles on the way in. The ride back to the ranch was hard after the long hike. We stopped many a times along the way to soak in the snow capped mountains and admire quaint bridges over the river.We somehow made it back to the ranch, and had hot coffee, followed by dinner.
After dinner, many folks stayed out to star gaze – a rarity in Seattle, while others like us turned in early to the background music of northwest insects.
The next morning, we woke up early to a hot breakfast and then went for a short horse back riding tour with the Cascade Corrals. The ranch has Norwegian Fjord horses , a breed known to be very gentle, and after selecting a tame horse for us we went through forest undergrowth, along rocky cliffs, over old roots and down to the lake. The horses were perfect for us with our beginning horse riding skills (or lack of them) and except for the patch along the rocky cliffs with a steep drop off on other side, it was a beautiful summer morning ride into the back country. The ranch offers longer rides, but 2 hours was what our ‘butts’ could handle and we were a bit glad to get off the horses back at the camp.
After the morning ride, it was time for us to pack our bags and head back to the landing to catch the slower Lady of the Lake ferry to Chelan.
Pies and More
The ranch staff was kind enough to pack us a couple of sandwiches for the journey home. But we were thrilled when we did a 20 min stop at the Stehekin bakery – a place famous for its hot coffee and homemade pies. We savoured the pies and other baked goods in their well-tended (and bursting with blooms) garden.
With a hot coffee to go, we were back on the bus and reached the landing with time to spare. We walked around the dock and up to the Stehekin landing resort which looked like a convenient place to stay as well. The boat ride back was slow and we dozed off in the hot sun with a promise to come back in fall to experience Stehekin in its fiery glory.
If you are in Seattle and have never been to Stehekin, I urge you to go there. When we first moved to Seattle, Vipul promised to take me to San Juan island and we kept on postponing it to ‘next summer’. Next thing we know, we are here in India and San Juan island is a distant faded memory. Don’t let this happen to you – do visit Stehekin. In my opinion its the closest thing to Yosemite in WA state!
P.S. There is a mid summer special running at Stehekin Valley Ranch. Mention the promo ‘Mid summer special’ and you will receive a free raft trip as part of the trip. And no, I don’t get paid for it. I just love this place a lot 🙂