The Ultimate Stehekin Adventure Guide

Madalyne Loree
21 min readJan 17, 2024


I first heard of Stehekin from a friend who had done the PCT (twice). She casually mentioned during one of her longer diatribes about the adventure a cute, little mountain town set along the bank of a massive lake that was home to one of the best bakeries she had ever been to. Nature, remote location, baked goods — I was interested. Stehekin was officially on my want-to-visit list.

Somehow it would take me two years and a weird set of circumstances to finally see the town for myself. But upon landing at the small ferry dock (after a five hour drive that began at 2AM and ended with my third round of coffee), I quickly realized that my friend was 100% right: Stehekin was one cool place to visit (and yes, the bakery was damn good).

So what makes Stehekin worth seeing? Well, besides the fact that it is located in a beautiful section of Washington state (smack dab within the center of the large North Cascades complex), the town also has a lot of interesting history, some great hiking and backpacking trails, and the aforementioned bakery. It is also unreachable via road/car — which in my opinion gives it a fun remote vibe.

Below you will find my in-depth Stehekin travel guide that covers pretty much everything you need to know about visiting this cute mountain town for yourself.


| Location: northern Washington state, within the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and on the bank of Lake Chelan (find it).

| Population: 112, though most are not year-round residents

| Naming: in the Salishan language Stehekin means “the way through”

| Best Things to Do: hiking, backpacking, boating/fishing

\\ Stehekin Weather | The Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Stehekin is during the warmer summer and fall months — namely June, July, August, and September. During this time of year, you can expect sunny days, comfortable temperatures, and easy access to the nearby hiking trails.

Similarly, if you are hoping to swim in Lake Chelan (which Stehekin sits on the bank of), then plan your adventure to coincide with the hottest part of the year (namely July and August).

\\ What to Bring With You to Stehekin

Obviously, what gear you bring to Stehekin will highly depend on what time of year you are visiting and what adventures you are planning to do while there (hiking, boating, backpacking, etc.). Below are a few key things to remember if you are thinking of visiting for a few days during the warm summer months (like I did):

| Bug spray: the mosquitos can be absolutely horrible, especially during the early morning and dusk hours. Make sure to bring a bottle with you even if you are not planning to do any major hikes or mountain adventures.

| Sunscreen: never leave home without sunscreen, especially if you are planning to spend a decent amount of time out on the water or at higher elevations (like in the mountains surrounding Stehekin). I absolutely love this natural sunscreen from MadHippie.

| Cash: try to bring at least a bit of cash with you when heading to Stehekin for there is no ATM available in town. While cash is not highly used, it is nice to have in order to tip your bus drivers or other service personnel. Also, some places only take cash (like The Garden).

| Comfortable shoes to hike or walk in: one of the best things about Stehekin is its proximity to numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty. Therefore it is important to make sure you pack at least one pair of comfortable shoes that you can wear while tromping around in the woods. This pair by Salomon is a great option.

| Swimsuit: Stehekin is located right on the banks of Lake Chelan — a stunning narrow mountain lake that measures just over 50 miles in length. If planning to visit in the summer, make sure to bring at least one swimsuit along so you can cool off in the water after a long day of exploring.

| Warm jacket: but also, while summer days can be quite hot, due to the elevation and the surrounding mountains, the mornings and evenings can get quite chilly. Make sure to bring at least one cozy jacket for those times. Check out my top choice.

\\ How to Get to Stehekin

Because Stehekin cannot be reached via car, it will take a bit more effort to make it into town. Luckily, there are 3 ways to do it: by boat, by foot or by plane.

By far the most common way to reach town is via one of the ferry boats that cross Lake Chelan throughout the day. The closest major town to Stehekin is Chelan, Washington, which also sits on the banks of the lake (see map below). It is relatively easy to reach the town of Chelan from the major Pacific Northwest cities of Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon, as well as from the nearby city of Wenatchee, Washington (a bigger town where you can find lots of major box stores for last-minute supplies as well as lodging). See driving times to each location below.

WENATCHEE, WA → CHELAN || 50 minutes, 38 miles

SEATTLE, WA → CHELAN || 3 hours, 180 miles

PORTLAND, OR → CHELAN || 5.5 hours, 323 miles

Besides taking a ferry up to Stehekin — which is quite scenic and fun — you can also choose to hike in along one of the major hiking trails that cross the surrounding mountains (including the Pacific Crest Trail/PCT) or if you are lucky and/or know the right people, you also have the option to fly in and land on the small dirt runway on the outskirts of town. Learn more about how to reach Stehekin below.


There are two ferry companies that run the route between Chelan and Stehekin: Lake Chelan Boat Company and Stehekin Ferry. It is best to book your ticket(s) online ahead of time (especially during the busy summer season).

| Lake Chelan Boat Company

This boat company offers 3 types of ferries, each offering different speeds and levels of comfort.

| The Liberty: the fastest at 1.5 hours one-way, most expensive, not always running.

| The Lady Express: takes 2.5 hours one-way, stops at numerous points along the lake and runs daily (during the busy season).

| Lady of the Lake: the slowest boat at 4 hours one-way, also the most comfortable and cheapest option.


| Stehekin Ferry

There is only one boat option through this company, a larger vessel that only offers indoor seating. Unlike the above ferries, this route runs from Fields Point (just up the road from Chelan) to Stehekin instead of from Chelan. The boat trip takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes one-way.


Besides running between the towns of Chelan and Stehekin, other possible stops include Fields Landing (where the Stehekin Ferry begins), Prince Creek, Lucerne/Holden, and Moore Point. Similarly, if you are looking to stop at a more remote point on the lake (for example, if you want to begin your hike there or just camp in a quiet spot), then you will need to let the ferry company know ahead of time so they can put you on the correct boat.


If you don’t want to take a ferry into Stehekin then really your only other option is to hike in. Luckily, there are a number of beautiful hiking trails that lead into town. Some of the most popular options include starting at Cascade Pass or Rainy Pass in North Cascades National Park or hiking along the flat Lake Trail (which as the name applies, meanders right alongside Lake Chelan).

| Cascade Pass to Stehekin

20.6 miles one-way, 6,601 ft. elevation gain || Start at Johannesburg Camp (Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm TH) in North Cascades NP, hike out on the Cascade Pass Trail to the Upper Stehekin Valley Trail and then jump onto the PCT, ends at High Bridge Campground (where a bus can take you into Stehekin).

| Rainy Pass to Stehekin

18.9 miles one-way, 4,812 ft. elevation gain || Start on Highway 20 in North Cascades NP, take the PCT all the way to High Bridge Campground (where a bus can take you into Stehekin).

| Lakeshore Trail

Perfect early season backpacking trip (usually snow-free by May 1st), starts/ends at Prince Creek (16.9 miles from the Stehekin Landing/boat dock), relatively flat with very little climbing. You will need a ferry or private boat to pick you up or drop you off for the trail doesn’t go all the way to the town of Chelan.


You can technically fly into the small town of Stehekin. But you will need to have your own small plane and be skilled in flying through the mountains and landing on a dirt runway. The airport is located on the outskirts of town roughly 3 miles from the bakery and 5 miles from the ferry dock/visitor center.

Just some food for thought: the Stehekin Airport is noted by the Washington State Department of Transportation as being one of the state’s most challenging.

\\ How to Get Around Stehekin

While the town of Stehekin is not very large, it is rather spread out. Really the town is made up of two areas: the ferry dock, where you can find the North Cascades Visitor Center, some campgrounds and lodging, and the general store, and the neighborhood zone, which is where the famous bakery and garden are located, as well as most of the homes of year-round residents. The two areas are roughly 2 miles apart — though it is very easy to either walk, bike, or take the bus to get to either.


FERRY DOCK → THE BAKERY || 1.9 miles




The most straightforward way to explore Stehekin and the surrounding area is by foot. But do note that while the town of Stehekin is pretty small, some of the main attractions are relatively far away. This includes the popular Rainbow Falls, some of the main trailheads for hiking into neighboring North Cascades National Park, and the popular Stehekin Valley Ranch (where you can find lodging and food).

💬INSDIER TIP: because Stehekin cannot be reached via car, walking along the road is quite safe for there is very little traffic (only a few buses and cars that have been shipped in).


If you want to get around the valley on your own terms but don’t feel like walking, then your best bet is to either rent a bicycle or a Can-Am (a raised, heavy-duty enclosed ATV that costs $65 per hour). It is recommended to book both ahead of time, especially during the busy season.

❔GOOD TO KNOW: from the Stehekin Landing ferry dock, it is an easy 5-minute walk to the Discovery Bike shop where you will be able to pick up both bikes and Can-Ams. The shop is open from 8AM to 5PM starting in mid-May.


There are various bus companies that run between the main tourist points in Stehekin, including from the main landing/ferry dock, the bakery, the Garden, Rainbow Falls and then all the way up to High Bridge Campground (the main trailhead for many of the most popular hiking trails, including the PCT).

Look for buses from Stehekin Valley Adventure (a ride costs $10 per adult if going from the ferry landing all the way to High Bridge or $5 per adult if just going to the bakery).

❔GOOD TO KNOW: buses run during the busy season, usually June to October. If visiting outside of this time, I would suggest trying to contact the bus companies ahead of time or make other transportation arrangements.

\\ Where to Stay in Stehekin

There are a few Stehekin lodging options to choose from, including the more upscale Stehekin Valley Ranch, various privately owned cabins, and park-run campgrounds. Below is a breakdown of the main lodging options in and around Stehekin.


| Stehekin Valley Ranch

If you are looking for a more luxurious stay up in Stehekin, then this family-owned ranch located on the outskirts of town is the perfect fit. Accommodations include tent cabins, ranch cabins, wagons, and a ranch house (great for larger groups). All reservations also include a meal plan. Learn more about staying at Stehekin Valley Ranch, including the various activities they offer, here.

| North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin

Another option is to book a room at the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, which is a bit more rustic and centrally located (it is right next to the ferry dock). There is also a restaurant and store on the premises. Learn more about the lodge and its amenities here.


There are a few homes you can rent in and around Stehekin if you need a bit more space and amenities (like a kitchen). Most rental options are cabins of varying ages and sizes. A few options include this cabin located right on the lake (can accommodate up to 4 guests), this retro cabin that sits on the bank of the lake and includes a personal vehicle to help you get around the valley, and a creekside cabin that offers 2 rooms and easy access to the bakery and Rainbow Falls.

💬INSIDER TIP: do note that because there are very few options available (the town is not very large) the cabins often get fully booked up early in the year (aka plan your trip well in advance). Similarly, most rental options are NOT found on Airbnb — be prepared to contact the owners directly or go through various local rental services.


There are a few campgrounds dotted around the Stehekin area, including two that are right in town near the ferry dock and one that is just on the edge of town along the road that leads into the national park. The three campgrounds below are first-come (non-reservable) outside of the peak season and reservable during the summer (highly recommend trying to make a reservation in advance). Learn more about each campground and make your reservations at

| Purple Point Campground

Located right next to the boat dock and lodge/general store, this campground includes food storage lockers, picnic tables, boat rentals and is pet friendly. It costs $20 per night during peak season (May 20th — September 8th). // LEARN MORE

| Lakeview Campground

Located just above the national park visitor center and within easy walking distance of the boat dock, the Lakeview Campground offers similar amenities as the campground above and costs the same amount ($20 per night during peak season). // LEARN MORE

| Harlequin Campground

Located a bit farther outside of town but still within walking distance (and definitely reachable by bus), the Harlequin Campground is a bit more rugged than the two in town (above). Picnic tables, pit toilets and food storage lockers are available, but running water is not (the Stehekin River does run nearby though). It costs $20 per night during peak season. // LEARN MORE


If you are planning to camp in the backcountry that surrounds Stehekin, then you will need to first secure a backcountry camping permit (which can be picked up at the visitor center in town). Learn more about what each campground offers, what you will need to bring and other helpful information at the North Cascades National Park Wilderness Trip Planner.

The closest backcountry campsites to Stehekin include Bridge Creek Campground, North Fork Campground, Heaton Campground, Rainbow Bridge Campground, and Rainbow Lake Campground.

\\ Food in Stehekin

I really only knew two things about Stehekin before visiting: it was located on a lake in North Cascades National Park and it had a kickass bakery. So you can imagine how fast I walked (ran) to see the bakery for myself on morning one of my visit.

Besides the famous bakery, you can also find food at the Stehekin Valley Ranch (supposedly quite pricy but tasty), the restaurant at the lodge, and at the small general store located right next to the ferry dock.


🕝HOURS: 7:30AM — 5PM, sometimes opens earlier during peak season

💸PRICE: medium priced, expect to pay between $2 and $10 for a baked good or breakfast plate

No trip up to Stehekin would be complete without a stop at the famous bakery. Head there in the morning for a freshly baked croissant or roll (the mushroom pesto option is fire), a cup of coffee and a cozy mountain atmosphere. Other things on offer include day-old baked goods that are the perfect snack for hiking adventures, refreshing ice cream, and lots of indoor and outdoor seating.


Located near the ferry and national park visitor center, this small store has a somewhat standard array of snacks and camping goods to choose from. You can also pay to use their showers and laundry as well as Wi-Fi ($5 a day as of summer 2023).


🕝HOURS: open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, reservations are required for dinner if not staying at one of their facilities

💸PRICE: meals are included if you book a stay at the ranch, otherwise expect to pay between $26 and $32 per plate

If you want to combine rugged natural adventure with fine dining then head to the luxurious Stehekin Valley Ranch for dinner. Located roughly 9 miles from town, this historic ranch is surrounded by Cascade mountains and offers stunning vistas and lots of outdoor opportunities. Do note that reservations for dinner are required if not staying on the ranch itself (see above for information on lodging), alcohol is not served but you can bring your own, and transportation to and from the ranch is available ($10 per adult and $5 per child).


🕝HOURS: open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, check the website for seasonal hours and closures

💸PRICE: moderately priced, expect to pay between $18 and $22 for a regular entree

Head to this centrally located restaurant for standard American fare, including hamburgers, sandwiches and tacos. Located right next to the ferry terminal and just a short walk from the visitor center, the Lodge at Stehekin Restaurant is a good spot to grab a bite before heading back down the lake.

\\ Top Things to Do in Stehekin

Due to its location within the North Cascades National Park complex, the main activities in Stehekin include hiking, backpacking, and boating/swimming/fishing. Below is a breakdown of some of the best things to do and the top places to head to during your visit:


This might be a bit of a controversial take, but hear me out: there really is not much of a point in visiting Stehekin unless you are looking to hike (even if it is just a short one up to Rainbow Falls or along one of the in-town nature trails). Besides the bakery and the few historic buildings, the town doesn’t have much to offer the non-hiker.

But, with that being said, thanks to the town’s central location within various natural areas (the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, North Cascades National Park, the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area), there is a huge array of hiking opportunities to choose from. Below are a few great options:

| Rainbow Falls: a very short hike up to a large waterfall || This is one of the most popular things to do in Stehekin so try to beat the crowds by arriving early in the morning or later in the day. The waterfall — which measures 312 feet in height — is pretty no matter the time of year, but expect wildflowers in late spring and fall colors beginning in late September.

| Rainbow Loop Trail: 8.7 miles, 2,293 ft. gain || This hike can be made into a fun loop if you are okay with walking along the road (don’t worry, there are very few cars. It offers good views of Lake Chelan, the Stehekin River and Buckner Orchard as well as the surrounding mountains. // LEARN MORE

| McGregor Mountain Trail: 10.7 miles, 4,524 ft. gain || A tough out-and-back route that includes a long gradual climb up to the peak. Do note that this trail does require some route finding and scrambling skills — especially in the last 1,000 feet. Hike starts at the High Bridge Campground. // LEARN MORE

| Boulder Creek Trail: 18.9 mile loop, 8,908 ft. gain || This longer hike starts at the Rainbow Loop Trailhead and heads up the Boulder Creek trail. Eventually, it loops back around and ends at the national park visitor center. The trail offers a more remote hiking experience as well as nice views of the surrounding mountains and water features.

| Rainbow Lake: 18.9 miles, 7,185 ft. gain || This very scenic and less popular trail starts at the Rainbow Loop Trailhead near town before heading up the Rainbow Creek Trail. Eventually, the route splits off and heads out along the Rainbow Lake Trail. This remote trail ends at the very scenic Rainbow Lake (stunning!) and offers numerous backcountry camping options.

One important thing to keep in mind when hiking around Stehekin is to always stay wildlife-aware. Bears, mountain lions, wolves and various rodents and birds all call the region home. Be a good steward of the land by giving wildlife plenty of space if you come upon them, not feeding any animal you may meet along the way (including those cute chipmunks), and always paying attention to your surroundings while out in remote areas (look for fresh skat or tracks).

➳ Check out AllTrails to find even more hiking trails and routes in and around Stehekin.


Stehekin is a great place to either start or end a backpacking adventure. Some of the most popular areas to backpack from Stehekin include starting from High Bridge Campground (via a short bus ride) and then backpacking up either the PCT, the Upper Stehekin Valley Trail, or the Rainbow Creek Trail.

I highly recommend looking at either AllTrails or Gaia GPS when planning your trip to Stehekin for this is a great way to understand the numerous trail options that crisscross the mountains in and around the valley.

When I visited Stehekin, I decided to take on a larger loop that started at the Rainbow Creek Trailhead, headed up to Rainbow Lake and over an unnamed pass before dropping down to the PCT and then back out to Bridge Creek Campground. In total, this loop covered 27 miles, climbed just over 9,000 feet and gave me access to some stunning mountain scenery — including lakes, dense forests and flower-filled alpine meadows (check it out). While my route/trip did not include the last bit of road that was required to make it back to Stehekin proper (I luckily was able to catch a ride back before it got too dark out), if you are planning to do the loop yourself, then make sure to catch the last bus of the day or plan on spending the night at the Bridge Creek Campground.

❔GOOD TO KNOW: due to Stehekin being right on the edge of North Cascades National Park you will need to make a backcountry camping reservation ahead of time on the park website (and then don’t forget to grab your backcountry permit from the visitor center before setting out on the trail).


A trip to Stehekin is not complete without at least one swim session in Lake Chelan. While the water is frigid, it feels absolutely amazing on a hot summer day. While swimming is easy and free, another option includes heading out on either kayaks or paddleboards (both of which will need to be brought with you or rented at one of the outfitters/lodges). Boating and fishing are also great options, though these will require either having a friend with a boat or renting one for the day.

If exploring the lake isn’t really what you are looking for, then you also have the option to kayak on the nearby Stehekin River. A great way to do this is to book a day tour through Stehekin Valley Ranch ($65 /adult). This trip includes a run down the river, a visit to the town’s old hotel (now underwater) as well as a quick trip out onto the lake to see some nearby native pictographs.

Other adventure opportunities include biking around town and up into parts of the park, mountaineering on some of the nearby peaks, and stargazing at night (the night sky is beautiful as there is very little light pollution).



If you only have one day to check out Stehekin, then I suggest reserving a Lady Liberty round-trip ferry ticket. This option means leaving the town of Chelan at 8AM, docking in Stehekin for 6 hours and then returning to Chelan at 5PM.

During your 6 hour layover in town, you should first head to the bakery for a freshly baked pastry and coffee, and then make your way up to Rainbow Falls (a short but pretty hike to a large waterfall). Then if you have more time, consider biking up the road to take in views of the surrounding mountains and the Stehekin River, wandering around the National Park visitor center or hopping in the lake for a quick swim.

💬INSIDER TIP: if you only have a day in Stehekin, I would highly recommend renting a bike in order to make the most of your time.


To start your Stehekin adventure, take the early ferry up the lake from Chelan (the Express leaves at 8:30AM and takes 2.5 hours to reach Stehekin), then spend the day hiking around the surrounding area (see suggested hikes above), grab dinner at one of the restaurants or eat the food you packed in with you.

On Day 2, head to the bakery first thing in the morning and then either check out Rainbow Falls, stop in at the visitor center, or swim in the lake before taking either the Express ferry back down to Chelan (2.5 hour ride that leaves Stehekin at 12:30PM) or the Lady of the Lake ferry (4 hour ride, leaves town at 2PM).


If you are lucky enough to be able to spend 3 days in Stehekin, then I highly recommend spending one night of your trip camping in the backcountry. There are lots of backcountry campsites available within a relatively short hike from town (see above for more information and/or visit the national park website).

On Day 1, try to catch the earliest ferry up to Stehekin from Chelan (8AM). Once docked, head to the national park visitor center to learn a bit about the area and pick up your wilderness camping permit. Then start making your way to whatever trail and campsite you have chosen to explore.

💬 INSIDER TIP: highly recommend stopping off at the bakery to pick up some freshly baked goods or a few day-olds, both of which make for a tasty hiking snack.

Day 2 will likely consist of you packing up camp and heading back down to Stehekin from whichever epic campsite you chose to spend the night at. Depending on where you camped, this could take up all of your day. But if you do have some extra time, consider visiting some of the historic sites located around town (including the old school or Buckner Orchard) or just relaxing along the bank of Lake Chelan. End the day with dinner at The Lodge at Stehekin Restaurant.

For your final day, try to wake up nice and early to beat the crowds at the popular Rainbow Falls. Then grab a coffee and breakfast sandwich at the bakery, visit The Garden, and make one last stop at the general store or visitor center before hopping on the ferry and heading back to Chelan.

Stehekin is a wonderful place to visit if you are looking to explore a different side of North Cascades National Park, spend a few days in the woods (with very little service or amenities) or if you are just someone who likes to ride ferries (guilty).

The pretty lakeside town had been on my long list of places to visit ever since I heard that it was a) one of the few towns that you couldn’t reach via car, b) had a kickass bakery and c) was close to some epic hiking opportunities. And after spending one long summer weekend there, I am already planning a trip back that will hopefully include even more outdoor adventuring.



Madalyne Loree

Solo female adventurer creating in-depth travel guides to inspire you to have your own grand, sustainable adventures.