Over the past few years, good friends of ours have invited us over to their cabin on the shores of Lake Chelan. Prior to a wedding in 2009 and our friends’ invitation two weeks later, we’d never been here.
In the summer, it is a very popular playground for water sports, rarely raining here as it does in western Washington, about 10 inches per year. Part of the North Cascades National Forest, it is 50 miles long, 1.5 miles at its widest point and almost 1500 feet at its deepest, the largest lake in the state. Increasingly, the area is becoming known for its excellent wines.
The most populous areas are Chelan and Manson at the southeastern end of the lake. Any boat ride toward Stehekin, the northernmost town, will take you past spectacular mountain scenery, one which was carved out many times by glaciers, at one time over 6,000ft under the Cordilleran ice sheet. The scenery is rugged with gneiss, granite and basalt outcroppings lining the shore and composing the mountainsides.
There are many hiking trails around the lake, many of which provide breathtaking views. At higher elevations, you’ll appreciate how much “damage” was done by the glaciers as they carved out huge basins and coulees. One such trail is the one up to Domke Lake. About a half-mile up, there is a splendid view of the lake surrounded by mountains.
Lake Chelan is getting more recognition as a quality wine-growing area. It is unique enough that it has been granted its own AVA, which covers 24,000 acres. The ice age glaciers left behind a sandy and coarse soil with no small amount of quartz and mica that supposedly give wines in this area a distinctiveness. Much is made of the “lake effect” which prolongs the growing season with milder temperatures and greater freedom from frosts. I would generalize to say their wines are dry and lean with wonderful berry flavors.