Stehekin, Washington: The Middle of Nowhere

When Tom and I were on San Juan Island, we thought we were pretty remote.  However, we still had cell phone service, internet, and a grocery store 12 miles away.  We didn’t know how good we had it!  Compared to Stehekin, Washington, San Juan Island is the middle of civilization.

Although Stehekin is in the middle of the state of Washington, it is surrounded by North Cascades National Park on one side and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area on the other.  As if this weren’t bad enough, there are several wilderness areas scattered throughout the area.  Consequently, you can only reach Stehekin by boat or floatplane.  The closest road is still about 30 miles from Stehekin.

We took the Lady of the Lake Ferry to Stehekin from Chelan.  It took four hours to travel the 51 miles up the lake with several stops along the way.  One stop that really captured my imagination was Holden, a Lutheran Retreat Center.  It is open year-round but the only way to it is by ferry, then an 11 mile road.  In the summer a bus picks people up at the dock.  In the winter Holden sends a snow cat to pick people up.  The retreat center still manages concerts, classes, and worship every day.

When we arrived at Stehekin we immediately boarded a red bus (the most common means of transportation) for Rainbow Falls.  There is an NPS sponsored tour of Rainbow Falls every day but only immediately after the ferry lands.  We didn’t even have time to check our bags at the Cascade Lodge!

Rainbow Falls is a 312 foot waterfall up a lovely wooded road.  About 15 people rode the bus and enjoyed the narrated tour.  We had plenty of time to walk to the overlook or to enjoy the view from the bottom of the falls. On the way back to Stehekin the bus stopped at everyone’s favorite destination:  the Stehekin Pastry Company.  We bought a cinnamon roll that we split three ways.  Delicious!

Giant table at Rainbow Falls
Golden West Visitor Center
Craft Cabin
Lakeshore Trail
Imus Trail
Spawning salmon
Backcountry Ranger and through-hikers

We checked into the North Cascade Lodge – nice room for a reasonable price – then visited the Golden West NPS Visitors Center.  We walked through the Craft Cabin and then hiked the Imus Trail.  On the map the Imus Trail looks like a nice walk behind the town.  In reality it is up the mountain and then down.

Rainbow Falls
Lower Rainbow Falls
Daring adventurers
Last ones at the falls
Agnes Creek
View from the trail of Agnes Creek
Agnes Creek

Before supper we decided to hike some of the Lakeshore Trail.  Sounds lovely and easy, doesn’t it?  It was lovely.  The Lakeshore Trail climbs up the edge of the valley with great views from mountain goat heights.  We ended up walking about 1.5 miles then turning around to head back.  Great scenery but not really my idea of lakeshore.

The next morning we hiked about two miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.  We took the red bus to High Bridge and began our hike from there.  We saw salmon spawning in Agnes Creek beneath the bridge.  Then we took the Agnes Creek trail which “follows Agnes Creek.”  Follows it but heads up another mountain beside it.  The trail was beautiful with some great views of snow on the mountains around us.  After a couple of miles we headed back down the trail and enjoyed the view beside Agnes Creek.  Then it was time to get on the bus and catch our ferry back to Chelan.

Stehekin is a unique place.  Most of the 95 year-round residents are NPS employees and their families.  The closest grocery store is in Chelan.  The one-room schoolhouse has one teacher and eight students.  Because it only goes up through 8th grade, the students either go to live with a relative for high school or the parents move down-lake.

We enjoyed our visit to Stehekin very much.  It is a beautiful, rustic town inhabited by Park Rangers, their families, seasonal workers, and Pacific Crest through-hikers.  Johnny was ready to volunteer there next summer.  Even though Tom and I like the remote parks, we prefer being closer to a bigger town.  But it is a great place to visit for a few days and should be on everyone’s list.

  • Brenda Ferguson

    Yhe shots of the waterfalls, forest….oh, and the salmon…loved them!

    • revkaren54

      Thank you. Hard to take bad pictures when the place is so gorgeous!