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Stehekin, Washington: The Place I Lived Next to and Never Knew About

Living just short of an hour west of the Cascades I spent almost every weekend exploring hikes in the Snoqualmie and Central trails, never considering a trip to the other side. I was happy with my 90 minute drives, so when my group was all packed up and we took off, I sat in the passenger seat preparing myself for the four and a half hour drive to Winthrop.

By: Kennedy Nicholas + Save to a List

The trip started late August back home in Kirkland, Washington. Our last backpacking trip before we all left for school again in the fall. As my group of eight begin to plan our 3 day trip into Stehekin, only accessible through backpacking in or a boat ride from Chelan, we knew there was a strict timeline we had to follow. The hike we planned was more an enjoyable stroll rather than the intense hikes we embarked on earlier in the summer, because of this the trip was extended from 2 to 3 days. We had to be out of the trail by noon on the third day if we were to catch the only ferry to Chelan. 

The drive was far more enjoyable than I thought, since we planned to stay in a motel for a comfortable early morning, the 4.5 hour drive could take all the time it needed to. We traveled up I-90 until Burlington, then switched to the scenic highway 20. Passing the mudslide wreckage, lake Diablo, and endless pastures on the windy mountain roads. Eventually landing us at the cutest motel in Winthrop, spending our last night playing cards and exploring the thematic old western town. 

We reached the trailhead at 8am, after lacing up our boots and making a final check, we ventured off. This particular route took us through a section of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as Rainbow loop trail, but depending on what other groups prefer, there are many different trails that lead into Stehekin. The first day was the shortest with an easy trip of 5 miles with virtually no incline, we set up for the night at the Fireweed campsite. 

The second day was by far the most difficult, clocking in 10 miles, half of which were switchbacks, with a 2,500ft incline. We peaked at a valley in McAlester Mountain where we ate lunch and refilled our water bottles, soaking in the incredible views and sunshine. Finally we started the decline into Bowen campgrounds arriving just before night fall. With more time I would have opted for a day trip up to summit McAlester Mountain and spending the night in the valley, but we did not have the time.

The third day started at 3am, all that was left was 8 miles at an almost constant decline. This part of the hike led us through the left over debris from a forest fire, all the trees were broken and charred, but the underbrush was so lively, the contrast was beautiful. Finally lake Chelan was in view and the jog to the finish line was underway. Finally out of the trail, we headed a half mile town the road to the famous Stehekin Bakery where we indulged on delicious pastries and pizza. Now on the noon bus to the boat launch we explored the post office, farmers markets, and made our way home. 

I highly suggest looking into this trip if you want anything with "more bang for your buck", it is hard enough to be rewarding but easy when you split the trip the way we did. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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