If you’ve ever played the game “where would I go during the zombie apocalypse” you know how daunting it is to find a suitable home for the day when the brain eaters eventually take over the world.
It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. After all, a lot will be riding on finding the perfect off-the-grid location. Ideally your hideaway needs to be isolated yet close to home, fairly remote yet stocked with amenities, and if you’re going to wait out the end of the world, it certainly helps to do so in a beautiful setting.
Everyone knows staying in the city is just asking for trouble, and so I often find myself playing this game when I’m outdoors. Tiny islands in the San Juans are good candidates. So are alpine campsites near a hot springs.
But by far, my top choice for a swift zombie getaway is the village of Stehekin at the far end of Lake Chelan. While it’s unlikely I’ll ever need to actually flee the zombie hordes, it’s nice to imagine what it would be like to “leave it all behind” and move to the tiny town at the end of the lake.
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Trust me, after a weekend in this idyllic setting you’ll be wishing for a government experiment gone wrong — just for an excuse to move there with me.
Zombie Requirement No. 1: Isolation
The most notable feature of Stehekin is the lack of roads in or out. Its location, nestled against the rugged North Cascades National Park at the end of a 55-mile lake, means there are three ways to get there: Fly, float or hike. While perfect for keeping zombies at bay, it’s almost as good for keeping out the masses.
For most people, a visit entails a ride on The Lady of the Lake — Chelan’s ferry service. Bears and mountain goats are frequently spotted among a landscape that transitions from brownish hills and apple orchards to increasingly grand snow-capped features around Stehekin. The effect of floating into the North Cascades gives one the impression that you’re sailing downhill.
When you arrive in Stehekin, you’ll be at the confluence of four protected areas: North Cascades National Park, Wenatchee National Forest, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.
And that brings me to my next big requirement for waiting out the end of the world: keeping yourself busy.
Zombie Requirement No. 2: Recreation
If your flight to the wilderness takes place in winter, you’ll find ample skiing and snowshoeing. But summer is when Stehekin really explodes with opportunity.
Backpackers can find enough trails to stay entertained for an entire summer — especially exploring high alpine lakes that gradually thaw as the hot summer takes hold. If water sports are your speed, try your hand at whitewater rafting or sea kayaking on the emerald waters of Lake Chelan, the nation’s third deepest lake.
Fly-fishing is legendary and horseback trails abound throughout the valley. Mushroom hunters and foragers will find the forest littered with natures’ edibles. And because the main sights lie along a flat shady road, biking is the ideal way to cruise from place to place.
Zombie Requirement No. 3: Small, close-knit community
To call Stehekin a “town” is a bit of a stretch. Fewer than 100 people permanently live in the community (although this number swells in the summer).
At the ferry terminal, you’ll find a terrific National Park Service office, a few hotels and the bright red National Park Service buses waiting to shuttle visitors along the 11-mile valley road (the few vehicles in Stehekin had to be barged up the lake).
The region was settled by homesteaders until the early 1900s and has grown slowly ever since. The folksy-rugged-independent spirit should serve you well during the apocalypse. In fact, most of the town’s electricity comes from a hydro generator on Company Creek. There’s no grocery store, but there is a quaint one-room schoolhouse to live out your “Little House on the Prairie” fantasies.
On my first visit to Stehekin, a family friend offered me his truck for the weekend. “When you get off the ferry, just find the yellow truck. The keys will be in the ignition,” he told me.
I ended up driving a mile out of town before I realized I was in the wrong truck. The fact that no one cared was startling. The fact that there were two trucks with keys in the ignition was remarkably refreshing.
Zombie Requirement No. 4: A good bakery
Those from the Northwest can go a long time without a lot of things. But good coffee isn’t one of them. Two miles from the ferry landing is not something you’d expect to find: a thriving cultural hub in the form of a cozy bakery plopped in the middle of the forest.
The Stehekin Pastry Co. (stehekinpastry.com)will go a long way toward keeping your homesickness at bay when you go into hiding. It’s also a good place to load up on mind-blowing cinnamon buns, fresh garden salads and “from scratch” soups before a long foray into the mountains.
Seattle freelancer Jeff Layton has traveled to more than 75 countries as a journalist, photographer and tour leader. He blogs at www.MarriedToAdventure.com.