Known as the gateway to the North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan lies tucked behind the North Cascade Mountains in north-central Washington. Even though the rugged, seemingly untouched Cascadian range is only a boat ride away, the lake’s southern shores are quite developed and attract thousands of campers each year.
Probably the most popular spot for Lake Chelan camping rests on the southern at Lake Chelan State Park. Surrounded by local wines and restaurants and world-class outdoor adventures, Lake Chelan State Park camping is a convenient basecamp for adventures on one of the world’s longest lakes.
Lake Chelan State Park is the Place to Chill in the North Cascades
From above, the lake looks like a snake, a long and narrow body of water in a deep valley carved out by the Chelan Glacier during the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. Lake Chelan is 50.5 miles long, but at its narrowest point, it’s only 0.35 miles wide. With a depth of 1,486 feet, this is the third-deepest lake in the U.S. after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe.
Protected lands surround pretty much the entire lake, from the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in the north to Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on both its western and eastern shores.
It’s this proximity to gorgeous natural scenery—snowcapped mountains, pristine rivers, abundant wildlife—as well as plenty of facilities and services that makes camping at Lake Chelan State Park an annual tradition for many Washingtonians.
Camping at Lake Chelan State Park
Lake Chelan State Park lies on the lake’s southwestern shore, just off Route 971 and northwest of the town of Chelan. Encompassing 139 acres of lakeshore forests, the park’s shoreline is about 6,000 feet long—plenty of room to stretch out with few neighbors. Beach access is available via a stairway from the campground.
There are 108 standard campsites, 18 partial-hookup sites, and 17 full-hookup sites. After a long day of outdoor fun, you can wash up at five restrooms with showers. Rates range from $20 per night for a standard campsite in winter to $45 for a full-hookup site in the peak season.
If you don’t mind the cold, you can enjoy much of what Lake Chelan has to offer throughout the entire year. Although snow conditions might influence the use of facilities such as the boat launch, the campground remains partially open all year. The bathrooms close for the winter season on October 31. RV and trailer reservations are accepted through winter for sites 8 to 15. Sites 1 to 7 and 19 to 25, on the other hand, are first come, first served during winter.
“This park is about 10 miles from town and has tent sites that are right on the lake, it’s amazing. There is a boat launch and large swimming area. Because Lake Chelan is such a tourist town in the summer, do not expect that this is a quiet serene camping experience. If you are looking to come to Chelan, book your site early.” — The Dyrt camper Steven G.
What to Do Around Lake Chelan State Park
Sail Out to Stehekin & Holden Village
The northern end of long Lake Chelan is protected by the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, which is part of the greater North Cascades National Park complex. Before this was a protected area, there were mining settlements, including Holden Village and Stehekin. While they are inaccessible via roads today, curious visitors looking for an adventure can head to these towns nestled in the North Cascades wilderness by boat, seaplane or on foot.
Hop on the Lady of the Lake passenger ferry and stop at either Holden Village or Stehekin, both of which feature a blend of modern luxury like wineries and restaurants, and phenomenal landscapes of glacier-fed rivers, blue-green lakes, towering peaks and mysterious old-growth forests.
More Than 30 Lakeshore Wineries Are Nearby
While wilderness and water fun are what tempts many visitors to go Lake Chelan camping, the area has yet another thing going for it. Officially designated as an American Viticultural Area in 2009, the Lake Chelan Valley is home to more than 30 excellent wineries.
All of them lie scattered along the lake’s southern shores, offering amazing views and even better wines. Craft beer may get much of the attention nowadays, but at Lake Chelan, locally made wine remains the star of the show.
“This place it awesome! Instead of a bar crawl, it’s a winery crawl!” – The Dyrt camper Cury H.
Hike Around Alpine Terrain
Maybe you’re interested in getting some high-altitude hiking in on your camping trip—or maybe you missed the boat on permits for the Enchantments but still want to see gorgeous Washington state scenery. Either way, hiking around Lake Chelan State Park will provide you a chance to view the lengthy, deep lake from plenty of perspectives.
While the only trail accessible from the state park is the friendly Little Bear Trail, avid terrain trekkers can head to the nearby Okanogon-Wenatchee National Forest for more varied hiking options. If you’re looking to start a real adventure, head to the northern end of the lake at the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and you’ll find the northern tip of the Pacific Crest Trail, where hikers have thru-hiked from the North Cascades down to the edge of Southern California.
Fish, Swim or Boat on a Washington Water-Lover’s Paradise
In addition to an awesome lakeside location, camping at Lake Chelan State Park also gives you the opportunity to explore the epic landscapes of central Washington. Some of the Washington’s greatest kayaking, canoeing and fishing awaits on the lake itself, while the remote and rugged North Cascades are an adventurer’s paradise. Rentals for water crafts like canoes, kayaks or stand-up paddle boards are available around the nearby town of Chelan. Note that if you want to take your own boat out on the lake, you’ll have to get a $7 launching permit, available from the visitors center.