Chelan Lakeshore Trail
I took a good friend for her first backpacking trip on one of the premier spring hikes in the Pacific Northwest: the Lakeshore Trail. Just reaching the trail involves driving about four hours from Seattle, and then catching a ferry, the Lady of the Lake, which drops you off at Prince Creek, also known as “the middle of nowhere.” There begins the hike to Stehekin, WA, a small town of 85 people (10 of whom have phones).
Because it was Memorial Day weekend, got off the boat with 100 of our new best friends. So we waited with countless butterflies at the landing for the crowd to disappear on the trail, watched the boat get smaller and smaller until it vanished around a bend in the lake, and felt the sense of being alone in a vast wilderness come over us.
We hit the trail, going slowly at first to let some distance develop between us and the masses. Soon we felt we had the entire lake to ourselves, and rarely did we see anything that challenged our happy illusion.
Immediately the trail starts ascending the hillside, and enters a meadow. From the ferry the mountains here look brown and dead, seem to be made up of exposed dirt and rock, with a few trees scattered here and there. But from up close, they’re teeming with life and color.
Of course as the trail rose up above the lake, it offered superb views. Ironically we spent very little time near the shore of the lake, only visiting occasionally at camps and in the last few miles approaching Stehekin. Lake View Trail would have been a better name for this hike. The views were stunning!
As we hiked, we found out that this transition zone between the mountains and desert was a giant wildflower garden. We saw millions of lupines, entire hillsides turned blue and purple, again and again for miles.
Of course lupines weren’t the only flowers we saw. The trail offered great variety: open, sun-blessed meadows, lush ravines, burn zones with ghost trees, ponderosa pine forests as we approached Stehekin. Wet zones were full of Columbia tiger lilies and columbine, lupines preferred drier pastures, paintbrush were their allies, balsamroot, the remains of played out glacier lilies and too many others to count.
And then, after 17 miles of Lakeshore Trail, we arrived in Stehekin. We celebrated with a hot meal in the restaurant, and marveled at iced tea after filtering water from creeks for the past couple days. We camped for the night, and spent most of the next day kayaking.
And, eventually, it was time to catch the ferry back to civilization. As we boarded, we saw the fast option.
The ferry takes several hours to cross the lake, while Chelan Seaplanes makes the journey in half an hour. For context, it took us two days on foot. Of course, the travel time reinforces the sense of remote isolation in a big wilderness. The ride is lovely early in the season when the mountaintops still have snow on them.