North Cascades National park was always a mystery for me. I remember the first time seeing the impossible color of Diablo Lake on Instagram, and thinking how this place could be real. Three years ago, when I planned the Washington State summer road trip, the Northern Cascades were left out. And I felt so sad about it! Well, after the trip, I returned to the thought that I should have planned differently.
As an orderly in the advance planner, I booked Summer vacations in winter. Having an idea to visit all US national parks, I started with booking lodges. And again, surprise waited for me. I knew about Lake McDonald Lodge and that it’s only open from July. But what I didn’t realize is that deep in the Cascades there is another Lodge, Stehekin Lodge.
Memorial Day weekend. Chelan, WA. Early morning. We are waiting for our lake to the Stehekin.
Trip from Chelan to Stehekin
The best part of Stehekin Lodge is that there are only a few options on how you can arrive in it. And none of them include a car. The lodge is situated on the long 50 plus miles lake Chelan. No roads are leading to it; you can hike to it, ride a boat, or take a ferry from Chelan.
There are only two (in high season) boat rides from Chelan Stehekin: quick trip (I mean 2.5 hours) on Lady Express and even longer trip, 4 hours, on Lady of the Lake. Both depart at 8.30 am. If you are planning this way of transportation, book the tickets weeeeell in advance. I tried to find tickets on Saturday and back on Monday, only to realize all Monday return trips were fully booked. Don’t be me, don’t make the same mistake.
So we had tickets up and down lake on Express Lake. Saturday promised to be warm with some clouds, and I was very happy.
Two and a half hours could sound as long but the lake shore is very scenic. We were met with low clouds and fog that made views moody.
Stehekin is a small community with lodges, restaurant, cafe, national park visitor center, and the network of trails.
We had a plan to hike Rainbow Loop Trail starting from Northern trailhead after the lunch. We checked in our room; I went to take a shower. And when walked out of it, the weather changed. It wasn’t light rain. It was a shower when you could see only a few yards around you. There was no option to hike up in the mountains.
The rain ended before dinner, so we have a few hours of daylight to explore the shore.
There is no roads to Stehekin but there are roads in the town. We took the road from boat dock that follows the east shore up to the Stehekin River.
The road comes closer to the shore shortly, and the nice view over the mountains opens. The shores covered with wildflowers and wild roses are nice foreground to the mountains hiding on the clouds and fog.
When we decided to return back, clouds cleared southern part of the lake and we finally saw the sun.
We returned to the lodge and walked to the Stehekin Restaraunt for dinner. It was a delicious meal. Also, check out local hard cider while there.
Sunset at the Stehekin docks
When we walked out of the restaurant, the skies started to show some good sunset potential. I took the tripod, found a nice dry spot on the dock, and spent the next 30 mins looking at how the sun played with clouds and mountains.
If someone told that to get this kind of sunset, I need to sacrifice a hike I wanted to do for a long time, I would not have any doubt what to choose.
After such stunning sunset, I had a hope of rainless morning. I set my alarm 30 mins before sunrise. But when it rang, I didn’t need to stand from the bed to hear the sound of the rain.
It was 8 am when it became clear that rain will not end. We wore all the rain gear we had and went hiking Rainbow Falls.
I hoped that we would take a shuttle closer to the falls, but the first shuttle started at 9 am. So we decided not to wait and hiked all the way to the falls.
It’s more than a mile from the Lodge to the falls, and it’s an easy hike when it’s good weather. But we were wet after half of the mile hike.
The falls are huge. It’s one of the sight you cannot miss while in the area. There are few viewpoints. I photographed only lower point. The falls were overflowing with water, the mist of them were harder than rain. The upper overlook felt more like a cold shower, I was afraid to pull out the camera under all that water.
On the way back we stopped at Stehekin Pastry Company for warm and fresh pastries and coffee.
After breakfast, it felt warmer and closer to the room. We had only time to walk back to the lodge, dry a bit, and check out.
After returning to our car, we found lunch at Chelan and drove north towards Washington Pass. As we drove, the weather changed several times, but higher we drove, colder it got. Washington Pass met us with cold winter temperatures.
The ranges covered with snow looked great under the heavy clouds
Ross and Diablo Lakes
Our next two stops were Ross and Diablo lakes. As scenic WA 20 descended from Washington Pass, weather changed again. Clouds started to disappear, and become warm.
When we stopped at Diablo Lake it felt like summer again.
I waited more that three years to see the Diablo Lake, and when I finally got the chance, it looked stunningly beautiful.
Gorge Creek Falls
From lakes road enters wooden area, and passes several falls. Having not a lot of time, we stopped only at Gorge Falls.
The water created a narrow way in the rock of the mountain, a total of 242 miles in 5 section height.
The falls are fully accessable from the bridge, but there is also a short and easy Gorge Overlook trail that will lead you to the nice view.
Originally, I also planned to stop at two more falls: Ketchum Falls (48°42’15.8″N 121°11’28.3″W) and Ladder Creek Falls.
From Gorge Creek Falls we proceeded our way west towards small town of Concrete. It’s southern gateway to the Baker Lake and mt Baker. Our schedule didn’t allow us to check out Mt Baker Hwy and Artist Point and their breathtaking views of Mt Baker.
However, Baker Lake allows you to have a little peek of what waits for you north.
Baker Lake Dam
Baker Lake Dam has everything: day-use area, nearby campgrounds with views of five stars hotels, salmon fishing, and water sports. We stopped there before sunset when the light turned golden to see mt Baker.
From the day-use parking area, you get two views: the stunning cone of mount baker and mount Shuksan east of it.
Further up Baker Lake Road here us another beautiful view of Mount Baker from the bridge at Boulder Creek. Panorama Point Campground has views of the Cascades and Mount Shuksan.
If you want to have even better view of Mt Baker hike East Bank Baker Lake trail for two plus miles.
If you have one more day
Drive Mt Baker Hwy towards Artist Point. The area is famous with views and waterfalls.
Info and links
- Official North Cascades National Park page
- Stehekin Lodge requires at least two night stay. Here is their official site
- Visit ladyofthelake.com to book a ferry to and back from Stehekin. First boat leaves uplake at 8.30 am. The last returning boat, Lady of the Lake – the longer ferry, goes back from Stehekin to Chelan at 2 PM. If you plan right, you can spent two hours exploring the area and be back to the mainland before the dinner.
- Taking about exploring, Stehekin has 50 minutes Rainbow Falls Bus tour, apple Buckner Homestead Orchards with a list of events, and Stehekin Garden that produces organic fruits and vegetables, and goat cheese.
- If you want to hike check the best trails in the area here . I planned Rainbow Loop Trail. There is also popular Agnes Gorge Trail
- You can take a shuttle to the trailhead. Check National Parks page for details
- Also check my other Washington State adventures