National Park Road Trip 2011: The Lodges of North Cascades National Park
Editor's note: With Olympic National Park in their rearview mirror, David and Kay Scott have moved on to North Cascades National Park to check out the lodging possibilities there for their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.
Greetings from Chelan, Washington, where we spent the night after returning from a two-night stay in the Stehekin area of North Cascades National Park.
Stehekin is actually in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, but this NRA along with Ross Lake National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park are administered as a group frequently referred to as North Cascades National Park Complex. Regulations in the national park portion of the complex are more stringent, but a hiker would likely be unable to differentiate among the three units.
Considering that more than 90 percent of the park and recreational areas is designated wilderness that receives even more protection makes describing the complex even more complex.
Following a three-night stay with friends in Tacoma, we traveled east across the mountains on I-90 to connect with U.S. 2, and, eventually, U.S. 97 that leads to the picturesque lakeside town of Chelan. This area of the state is particularly popular with residents of coastal Washington who visit periodically because of a desire to remember what sunshine looks like.
The most scenic drive through the park is north of here on Washington Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) that bisects a strip of Ross Lake NRA separating the north and south units of North Cascades National Park. This road also provides access to the park visitor center near the town of Newhalem and to Ross Lake Resort, one of the park’s two lodging facilities.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time this summer to visit both lodges, so we took the route to Chelan in order to visit Stehekin Landing Resort, the park’s other lodging facility.
Stehekin, where the lodge is located, and Chelan lie at opposite ends of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan, a natural lake that fills a long valley carved by glaciers. The lake was later deepened in 1927 by the construction of Lake Chelan Dam and today, at a depth of nearly 1,500 feet, is the third deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe).
No roads lead to Stehekin, so travelers must utilize a boat or floatplane if they wish to visit Stehekin Landing Resort at the north end of the lake. Two classes of boat service are available; the faster Lady Express requires 2 ½ hours and costs $59 round trip. The slower and larger Lady of the Lake II requires four hours and costs $39 round trip.
Day trippers can maximize their time in Stehekin by taking the fast boat north and returning on the slower boat. A floatplane trip requires about 30 minutes and costs $158 round trip.
Stehekin Landing Resort is perhaps best described as a conglomeration of buildings that provide guests with 28 guest rooms and a dining facility. The resort includes rooms above a store, A-frame buildings, a motel-style building, several cabins with kitchens, and an entire house.
The complex is quite compact. In fact, the entirety of Stehekin is compact. The resort’s least-expensive guest rooms are relatively small and cost $112 per night. These rooms do not have a lake view, but are near a comfortable lounge that offers great views of the lake.
Larger and more modern rooms with a view of the lake run from $150 to $175 depending on size. An entire house on the lake can also be rented. A restaurant and small store are part of the lodging complex.
Following a night at Stehekin Landing Resort we took a bus nine miles north for a stay at Stehekin Valley Ranch. Although the ranch is privately owned and on private land surrounded by the national park, we typically spend a night or two at each of the two properties during visits to Stehekin.
In part, staying several nights stems from the time and expense required to just get to Stehekin. Another reason is we enjoy the food and fellow guests and management at Stehekin Valley Ranch.
The ranch offers three styles of cabins with and without bathrooms. We won’t elaborate on this Stehekin facility since it isn’t really in the national park, but we recommend you consider including a stay at the ranch with a trip to Stehekin.
During this trip we bypassed Ross Lake Resort, the park’s second lodging facility, because we didn’t have time for a stay in this other area of the park. Visiting Ross Lake Resort also requires a boat trip. In fact, it requires two boat trips, including one in a speed boat that delivers guests directly to one of the 13 floating cabins near the shore of Ross Lake.
Yes, the cabins actually float just off the shoreline of Ross Lake. This unusual national park lodge offers several types of cabins and each has a kitchen. There is no food service, so guests must bring all of the food they plan to consume. Views from the front of each cabin are spectacular.
Today we head east across Washington and through Idaho toward Montana’s Glacier National Park. While there we will visit each of the park’s eight lodges, one of which is north of the border in Glacier’s sister national park, Waterton Lakes. During our stays we will presenting evening programs in four of the lodges. This beautiful and wild park will be the subject of several future articles.