One of the few places out of state we visited this year was Stehekin, Washington which is part of the North Cascades National Park complex. This is a remote town nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains and a lake, and the only ways to get there are either by foot or boat making it a perfect place for a socially distanced COVID vacation. Instead of hiking in, we opted for the Lady Express ferry from nearby Chelan.
Because of the pandemic and also the fact that North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks in the country, Mrs. Lite and I had no problems getting a nice room with an excellent view for our stay.
Lodging choices are limited in Stehekin. We stayed at North Cascades Lodge, which offers a variety of room types including cabins, motel-style rooms, and a lake house. We chose a cabin (one of the ones with a kitchen), which is a bit of a misnomer since it’s three “cabin” rooms side by side under the same roof with sharing walls.
As is the case with most national park lodging, the rooms are basic with no frills; what you’re paying for is location. Overall, the room was fine with a comfortable bed, but the walls between units are a little thin. During part of our stay, we were the only occupied room, but on other days we could hear a family with kids on one side and a couple getting their freak on on the other side. If there’s a way to request one of the end cabins instead of the middle one, I’d try for that.
The kitchen was fully stocked with all the necessary plates and cutlery, and the included free coffee, Seattle’s Best, was incredibly good.
In the back of the cabin is a deck that overlooks the lake and mountains, but this area offers no privacy from your neighbors since there’s no barrier other than a small railing that separates the three deck areas.
The bathroom was small but clean, and the shower had plenty of heat and good water pressure. The sink is a little small for washing clothes, so we ended up using the much larger kitchen sink to launder our stuff and used the chairs on the rear deck to hang them to dry.
Food & beverages:
If you plan on getting a room with a kitchen to do some cooking, consider buying your groceries in Chelan before you board the ferry. There is a little general store at the lodge, but choices are limited and what food they do have is marked up in price by 2-3x. Much to our pleasant surprise, what is not marked up is beer and wine. They offered a respectable selection of your standard domestic beers as well as Moose Drool, Alaskan Amber, and Torpedo IPA, all for $2 per bottle.
Also onsite is a restaurant which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We picked up meals from here several times during our stay, and overall the food was very good. The New York strip in particular was excellent, and each dinner comes with a freshly baked baguette which was one of the best things ever. Prices are a little high, but it’s about what you would expect in a remote national park restaurant.
A little over a mile north of the lodge on Stehekin Valley Road is an outdoor market called Stehekin Garden that sells locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. We got some broccolini, zucchini, cucumber, and red pears from here to accompany our dinner foodstuffs. There’s also a bakery further north called Stehekin Pastry Company that has good reviews, but we never ate there so I can’t comment on the food.
There’s no cell phone service anywhere in Stehekin, so come prepared for that. There’s also no wifi in any of the rooms. I read somewhere that limited slow wifi is available somewhere around the restaurant or general store, but I never checked. It was refreshing being completely disconnected for most of the week.
If you want to get around Stehekin faster than you can walk, there’s a nearby bicycle rental place where you can pay by either the hour or the day. Even if you don’t want to ride the entire length of the Stehekin Valley Road, it’s worth getting a bike for a few hours to see Rainbow Falls a few miles up the road.
Being in the mountains, Stehekin is close to several hiking trails of varying degrees of length and difficulty. Here’s a detailed list. The one that Mrs Lite and I enjoyed the most was Purple Pass, which starts behind the visitor center. We didn’t go the entire way to the top, but the views even a few miles in are superb.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at North Cascades Lodge. It would have been great even during normal times, but given the unique circumstances of this year, it was the perfect temporary escape from real life.