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Part of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area surrounds the upper end of beautiful Lake Chelan in Washington State. It also encompasses the lower end of the Stehekin River watershed that feeds into the northern end of the lake there. It is bordered to the north by the North Cascades National Park; the other sides border on the Wenatchee National Forest, and close to its east lies the Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness Area separating the upper lake drainage from the Twisp River drainage (excellent backpacking).

There are no roads leading to the recreation area; the easiest access is by a passenger-only ferry, hydroplane, or float plane bringing one from the small town of Chelan to the smaller resort town of Stehekin which is within the boundaries of the recreation area. You can also hike in via sevaral different routes, perhaps the easiest being a mostly-downhill, 2 to 3 day trip in from Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway. The inaccessibility is largely due to the impressively gnarly mountainous terrain that surrounds the upper lake. Looking across from Stehekin at the steep mountainside rising from the lake, one gets the feeling that this is what an Alpine lake on the Swiss/Italian border must have looked like to Henry and Catherine in the rowboat.

From Stehekin town, the Stehekin Valley Road heads around the lakeshore and then upriver toward the National Park. There are several manicured campsites along the road complete with johnnys-on-the-spot and tent pads, luxurious amentities for the hardened hikers coming off the Pacific Crest Trail, which crosses the road just outside the boundary of the recreation area.

The recreation area is technically in Eastern Washington, but it is close enough to the Cascade Crest that the flora includes fir trees in the higher elevations; lower elevations and the lakeshore are dominated by pine trees. Like all of the North Cascades National Park, this area is dominated by forest land. You'll find many animals about, the most interesting of which is probably the reclusive black bear while the most oft-encountered are deer. Beavers make their dams along the Stehekin River, and the lake itself provides good fishing, I'm told. Honestly, animals and plants are what I seem to remember the least, while I can replay the scenery in my head a million times over.

Activities include boating, rafting on the Stehekin River, bicycling, horseback riding, backpacking and hiking. The ferries run all year, and standard winter activities like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling probably abound (not having been there in winter, one can't say for sure).

U.S. National Parks and Monuments

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