Summer in the Stehekin Valley, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14235A, Lodge


  •  Hike Washington’s remote Stehekin Valley
  •  Explore breathtaking gorges, waterfalls, and subalpine basins
  •  Relax at night in cozy tent cabins


  • Boat trip to Stehekin landing
  • Accommodations and all meals
  • All transportation in the valley


DatesJul 13–19, 2014
StaffBill Gifford

Trip Overview

The Trip

The Stehekin Valley -- “The Way Through” in the language of the Skagit tribe -- provided the area’s earliest inhabitants with a passage through the North Cascade Mountains.  To reach this remote place, you’ll need to travel along glacier-carved Lake Chelan, a 55-mile-long, 1450-foot-deep inland fjord.  Lake Chelan, meaning “Deep Water,” is the largest natural lake in Washington State and the second deepest in the country.  (From ridgetop to lake bottom, this is the deepest gorge in the U.S.)  The mountainous region surrounding the Stehekin Valley and the north end of Lake Chelan is so outstanding that it merits three wilderness areas, two national recreation areas, and a national park.

The valley is accessible only by foot, boat, or floatplane, which keeps it both peaceful and barely developed. From the small village of Stehekin, at the upper end of Lake Chelan, a partly paved and partly gravel road runs into the heart of the North Cascades, providing access to many hiking trails. The road was built to support limited early mining activity and doesn’t connect to any other road. As a result, the only vehicles you’ll see here belong to the Park Service and the valley’s few permanent residents. 

A mid-week free day affords participants an opportunity to take advantage of other recreational activities in the area, which include horseback rides, kayaking, raft trips, fishing, and bike riding. The cost of these is not included in the trip price. The little village of Stehekin boasts espresso and homemade pastries, hiking maps, books, and a post office, as well as historic buildings that we can visit.

In the evenings, we will gather at the main lodge, where our meals will be served. The fjord horses, raised by the Courtney family, are released to graze, enhancing the scenery as twilight arrives in the valley.  Each evening’s dinner is topped off with a choice of as many as eight kinds of home-baked pie. 

All meals, accomodations, and transportation up the lake and within the valley to our day hikes are included in the trip price.

Please let the leaders know if you have any medical problems, allergies, or dietary restrictions that should be noted ahead of time.  This trip is open to all generations, families with children over age 8, couples, and singles alike.


The trip begins in the morning on Sunday, July 13 at the Field’s Point boat landing near the town of Chelan. Trip leaders will be at the dock to check in participants and distribute boat tickets. Our boat will leave at 9:30 a.m. Your fare is included in the price of the trip. After the three-hour ride up Lake Chelan on the Lady of the Lake II, we will arrive at Stehekin, where we will have about 90 minutes to look around before taking a bus up to the ranch.  Lunch is available on the boat or at Stehekin landing. 

Each day we will take a shuttle bus to a different trailhead for a day hike. Our hikes can include trips to 320-foot Rainbow Falls, the impressive chasm of Agnes Gorge, or the Lakeshore Trail along Lake Chelan. Hikes will be moderately easy (4-8 miles) or more strenuous at the group’s pleasure. Trails in the area range from flat or gently rolling terrain to long and steep. All hikes are optional.

The last meal at the ranch will be breakfast on the last trip day, and bag lunches will be available for the trip out. We will take the boat back down the lake, arriving back at Field’s Point around 2 p.m. It is about a 3.5-hour drive to either Seattle or Spokane.

Breakfast is served between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. After breakfast we will pack bag lunches before heading out for the day. Anyone who wishes to stay at the ranch for the day may do so -- lunch will be available.  We will generally return from our day’s activities between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. Dinner is served between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m.



Getting There

Chelan, Washington is equidistant from Seattle and Spokane (3.5 hours by car). You should plan to stay overnight in the Chelan area the night before the trip. The trip leaders and Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce (800-4-CHELAN) can help with travel and lodging information. In addition, trip leaders will disseminate information about other participants who are interested in participating in carpools from the Seattle area.

Accommodations and Food

We will stay in rustic tent cabins at the Courtney family’s Stehekin Valley Ranch, which is located nine miles up-valley from the lake, near the Stehekin River.  Lanterns light the cabins, which vary in size, sleeping two, three, or four people. Showers and flush toilets, as well as a washing machine, are in the main building.

Meals are cooked and served buffet-style in the dining hall, which also serves as a local restaurant. The food is homemade, generous, and delicious -- the pies alone make the long journey to Stehekin worthwhile. Trip members will not have any cooking chores. Vegetarian and special diets can be accommodated if you let the trip leaders know in advance.

Trip Difficulty

No experience is required for this trip, and the goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves. Trails in the area range from easy and moderate (4-8 miles) to more arduous, but with more rewarding views (10-12 miles). We will tailor our hikes to people’s desires. If asked, we can arrange two hikes of varying difficulty in one day. You should be in good physical condition; the principal criteria for acceptance on this trip are physical and cardiovascular fitness and an open attitude toward moderately challenging group hikes. A regular fitness program, including hiking with some degree of hill climbing, is beneficial.

Equipment and Clothing

Each cabin has beds, with pillows and blankets, sheets and towels. Daytime temperatures usually range from the low 60s to the high 80s.  Bring a good day pack, hiking gear, quality broken-in hiking boots, raingear, and clothing that can be layered to maintain your comfort.  Don’t forget sunscreen and bug repellant.  The leaders will provide an equipment list to registered trip members.



  • Green Trails maps: “McGregor Mountain # 81” and “Stehekin # 80”
  • Trails Illustrated 1:100,000 topo map (metric) “North Cascades National Park Complex.”  An excellent map of the area, available from Trails Illustrated, Box 4357, Evergreen, CO 80437, (800-962-1643.


  • Darvill, Fred T., A Guide to the Enchanted Valley.
  • McConnell, Grant, Stehekin: A Valley in Time.
  • Spring, Ira and Harvey Manning, 101 Hikes in the North Cascades.

The Green Trails maps, Trails Illustrated maps, and some books are usually available in Stehekin and at the Ranch. Additional maps, books and other materials about the natural history and resources of the area are available at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Stehekin and through the Pacific Northwest National Parks and Forests Association.


Your volunteer leaders have a long-term dedication to the Sierra Club mission: “to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth.” We hope to impart to you some of our love for this area and for the work of the Sierra Club. We believe that the Sierra Club’s outings program provides an excellent opportunity for members to enjoy the fruits of past conservation victories and to learn about current concerns. While on this trip, please feel free to share the local conservation issues from your area.

We will discuss the Wilderness Act and its relevance to the area we’ll be hiking. Spending time in a true wilderness setting, we’ll gain insight into the value of wilderness, along with a better basis for discussing issues such as access to wild lands by extractive industries.

In addition, Leave No Trace ethics will be used and emphasized on our trip. Our goal will be to alter the wilderness as little as possible, preserving it for the next group.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from North Cascades National Park.



Bill Gifford has been leading Sierra Club lodge and backpack trips in the Northwest since 1976, including trips to Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Eagle Cap, Hells Canyon, the North Cascades, the Sky Lakes, Glacier Peak, the Three Sisters and the Strawberry Mountains, including multiple trips to Stehekin. Trees and wildflowers are his particular area of expertise, which he enjoys sharing with other hikers.

Assistant Leader:

Marilyn Gifford has been an active hiker since she married Bill and has led many base camp and backpack trips for Sierra Club. She enjoys bringing a group of fellow hikers together and introducing them to the wonderful trails in the Northwest.

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