Lake Chelan: 48 Hours in Vacationland

Vacations are the golden carrots employers dangle as incentive while we toil through the daily grind. For those of us already living in vacationland (in my case, Okanagan Valley), it takes quite a pull to lure us away from our own lakes and beaches. So where does one go for a nearby getaway when one lives in a destination town? Answer: Lake Chelan, Washington.

Approximately two hours south of the Osoyoos border crossing and minutes off Highway 97 is the town of Chelan. It’s similar to the south Okanagan: arid, with an unrelenting sun and sparkling lakes. Their 300 days of sunshine pair well with the 50.5 mile-long glacier-fed lake, and it’s a big one, registering 1486ft at its deepest. Lake Chelan is aquamarine with beaches of pale, granular sand that easily brush off your feet moments after stepping out of its warm waters.

Organizing as a group, grape growers and wine producers in Lake Chelan have made strides in the last several years. Since 2009, Chelan and neighbouring Manson have registered the Lake Chelan American Viticultural Area (AVA), a non-profit association with 20 member wineries. Geographically, the AVA consists of 24,040 acres and is bordered by the south and east parts of the lake, including land lower than 2,000ft in elevation.

Chelan has a small-town-esque main street and diverse selection of businesses in its downtown core blocks. Permanent resident numbers hover around 4,000, but tourism and seasonal residents boost it to 25,000 in the summer. A few minutes north along Lake Chelan is Manson with similar population stats and (if possible) a more condensed downtown area.

My fella and I recently visited Lake Chelan for a 48-hour getaway. Even before we left, I wanted to go back.

From campgrounds to resorts, anyone can find fitting accommodation in the Lake Chelan area, though it can be challenging in summer as rates increase and places fill up quickly. At the suggestion of (and with help from) the Chamber of Commerce, we spent our first night at Lake Chelan Shores. It was 20 steps to the beach, had a magnificent view of the sunset, and felt secluded in a somewhat sprawling resort. Think 1950s American summer playground à la Dirty Dancing but with small groups of condos and no scheduled activities.

There are plenty of choices to suit a variety tastes and more than one good ice cream joint. In Chelan, queue up for a delectable slice from Local Myth Pizza  (it’s well worth the wait) or grab a bite and catch a tune at The Vogue Lounge which doubles as the hot breakfast spot. In Manson, Lake Chelan Brewery Company’s deli sandwich (on toasted sourdough bread with a fresh fruit salad) and a pint of amber ale easily sated my grumbling tummy. Bonus: make a donation to the local food bank for a chance to ink the brewery walls – I’ll never make it as a graffiti artist, but it was fun to try.

Come for the lake, stay for the wine – or vice versa. Vineyards fan out from the lake like a peacock plume, with vibrant greens in sharp contrast with the muted tones of desert gray-brown and an unending cobalt blue sky. Being mindful of palate fatigue and wanting to take our time with each visit, our day’s schedule was limited to three winery visits – and it was time well spent.

Nefarious Cellars 2011 Rx-3: 44% Grenache, 44% Mouverdre, 12% Syrah. This area produces magnificent Syrah, and it shows in this unusual take on the traditional GSM blend; elegant and refined with a dash of fun, it’s like having a picnic on the beach with your best linens. $30 at the winery.

Hard Row to Hoe  ‘Good in Bed’ 2011 Blanc de Noirs Methode Champenoise: traditional method sparkling wine made from Lake Chelan Pinot Noir. Fresh and lively with complex yeasty aromas and a rich, fun fruitiness; don’t let the fun name distract you – this is a seriously good sparkler. Ask Don to tell you about their label. $42 at the winery.

Tildio Winery (pronounced till-dee-oh) 2010 Malbec: Stillwater Creek Vineyard grapes. This is a wine that reminds me how much I can fall in love with Malbec – the inky colour, dark fruit aromas, and smooth (but big) tannins hint at its strength and finesse. My fella and I were treated to a library edition (2006) over dinner with winery owners Katy and Milum, and all I can say is thank you. $35 at the winery – sorry, the back vintage is gone (I drank it).

Bonus: Cairdeas Winery (pronounced car-das)  2011 Gréine: 60% Syrah, 38% Petite Sirah, 2% Viognier. Not yet released, this tasty bottle was provided courtesy of winery owners Charlie and Lacey. We enjoyed it at dinner alfresco style, in the vineyard, and with much laughter. My fella and I have begun planning our next visit – first stop, these folks.


Getting to Lake Chelan from Vancouver

Through Canada

Head east to Osoyoos (via Highway 3), then south on Highway 97. Turn right (west) at Highway 97 Alt; Chelan is a few miles down the road.

Through the United States

Head south toward Seattle (via Highway 5), then east on Highway 2* to Wenatchee; then, head north on Highway 97 and take 97 Alt to Chelan.

*for a scenic drive May through October, turn east on Highway 20 at Burlington and cross the North Cascasdes to connect just south of Omak on Highway 97 – this route is closed in winter and has significant elevation.


Written By:

Jeannette is EAT's Okanagan writer.\r\n\r\nWith her rural Canadian roots and love of grand experiences, Jeannette is equal \r\n\r\nmeasures country and city. Since moving from Vancouver to the Okanagan in 2007, \r\n\r\nshe quit ...

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