At one of Washington's favorite spots for fun and sun, rented watercraft are a great way to enjoy Lake Chelan.
LAKE CHELAN — Here are three games you can play on a half-day outing aboard a rented motorboat as you explore this fjordlike lake, one of Washington’s favorite spots for sun fun:
• Barbie’s Dream House: Which classic lakefront cottage — or which varnished log-cabin mini-mansion — will be yours after you win “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
• Baa, Baa Big Sheep: Which soaring lakeside promontory dotted with Ponderosa pines and Glacier Peak pumice is most likely to have at its tiptop a bighorn sheep silhouetted against a clear blue sky? (Bring binoculars for scoring.)
• Driftwood Dodge’em : Kind of self-explanatory. Whoever rams a floating log loses.
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My wife and I had plenty of time for all three recently when we rented a 17 ½-foot Bayliner runabout from an outfit called Jet Skis Ahoy and motored 21 miles up Lake Chelan and back.
Lake Chelan in summer is all about fun on the water, and you can take it by degrees: Swim from a sandy beach at a public park, paddle a kayak or paddleboard, or rent a personal watercraft — Jet Ski is the commonly used term, though it’s a trademark — and zoom around like a mad hornet (hornets get mad when wet, presumably). Or go the whole banana and rent a motorboat.
If a teenager or two are part of your retinue, towing them around on water skis, wakeboards or tubes will likely keep your crowd pleased. You can stick to the calmer lower lake, called Wapato Basin, where you’ll have plenty of fun-loving company.
Or you can do as we did, pack a picnic and go exploring beyond the resorts, putt-putting past the checkerboard slopes of apple orchards and vineyards to where shore-hugging vacation homes thin and it’s pretty much just you and the 1,400-foot-deep lake. (Favorite factoid: Mountain-ringed Chelan, from a Salish word meaning “deep water,” reaches almost 400 feet lower than sea level.)
Beyond Manson, on the unbuilt eastern shore of the 50-mile lake, look for landmarks such as 5,400-foot Red Butte, Fourth of July Mountain and Poison Creek. To the west: Devils Backbone and 7,200-foot Stormy Mountain.
Setting a target
Our loosely defined goal was Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park, on the western shore, with a small-boat marina. (It’s the lake’s northernmost point reachable by highway.)
“You can get to Twenty-five Mile in about an hour, and you can get there and back on a tank of gas,” said Jeremy Shull, who checked us out at the boat-rental counter.
Another option some day-trippers prefer, he said, is on the isolated eastern shore about four miles farther north at Deer Point, a National Forest campground for boaters, though we’d read that the lake can get rough north of Twenty-five Mile Creek (which, incidentally, is only about 20 miles up the lake).
On the advice of the rental outfit, we chose the morning for our half-day outing rather than the often wind-buffeted afternoon.
Leaving the dock at 9:20 a.m. on a July weekday, we were the only ones out on the sun-glittered water. Pretty nice.
At 9:27 a.m., we had our first Jet Ski sighting. At 9:37 came the first rollicking rider on a tube towed by another boat. Oh, well, so much for solitude. It’s Lake Chelan, not Walden Pond.
An experienced boater, I soon got the hang of the controls on the runabout, rated for up to seven passengers and powered by a four-cylinder inboard Mercury with 135 horsepower. The speedometer didn’t work, but I found that throttling up to about 2,800 rpms on the tachometer put the boat on a comfortable, mile-eating plane. We were glad for the canvas top that provided shade.
We found that with great speed came great responsibility: keeping eyes closely peeled for floating logs, of which there were some potentially-boat-chomping whoppers. We got through safely, but boating newbies, beware.
Into the wild
Just over an hour into our cruise, craggy North Cascades peaks still streaked with snow came into view ahead in Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park. Soon came Twenty-Five Mile Creek. With plenty of fuel and time remaining, we struck out for the wild eastern shore and Deer Point.
But the warnings of rough water in the upper lake were well-founded. We’d gone barely a mile farther before steep speed-bumps of water set our boat bouncing so hard that we had to slow or risk losing teeth. We traded the fast bouncing for equally uncomfortable slow rolling, with the occasional threat of a steep wave burying the bow. Twenty-Five Mile Creek looked like a good picnic stop after all. We turned back.
It was still early, so our picnic was more brunch than lunch at one of the vacant berths in the state park marina. There’s no charge for docking between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. (overnight fees start at $12), so it was just right for an early lunch. A family with toddlers played on a raft in shallow water, and a gaggle of teens in swimsuits wandered the sunny dock.
We sat in the boat’s bow seats, munched crackers and cheese and took in the view across the lake of basalt pinnacles resembling mini versions of Liberty Bell Mountain, the North Cascades Highway landmark some 40 miles to the northwest.
I applied binoculars to ridgelines right and left, but the fabled bighorn sheep were in hiding.
On our return to the lake’s south end, by the town of Chelan, we dawdled and watched amateur Jet Skiers zip and leap and fall flailing from their craft. Careful to heed the many no-wake zones marked by buoys, we idled in for a close-up view of young swimmers lounging on a float in front of the landmark, 111-year-old Campbell’s Resort, or bouncing on a floating trampoline.
Sticky from sunscreen and with the day warming quickly into the mid-80s, we decided it was time to head for shore and freshen up with something wet and cool at the veranda pub at Campbell’s.
Big lake, hot sun, good fun. It’s an old formula. On Lake Chelan, it still holds water.
Brian J. Cantwell is the Times’ Outdoors editor: 206-748-5724 or firstname.lastname@example.org