LAKE CHELAN — The lure of the lake — being in, on, above or near it — has for decades drawn warm-weather fun-and-sun seekers to Chelan, the small Central Washington town at Lake Chelan’s southeastern tip. Accordingly, the town swelled with tourists in the summer, then snoozed its way through the offseason.
That’s not the case these days. Chelan began waking from its offseason slumber back in the late 1990s when vineyards and wineries took root where orchards once stood.
Wine tourism now brings visitors earlier in the spring and later in the fall. New eateries, tasting rooms and coffee shops continue to sprout. There’s a festival or celebration every season.
Still, the pace slows in the winter. Some restaurants, tasting rooms and businesses operate on reduced hours or by appointment only. A late-night spot it’s not. But for a winter getaway, there are several reasons to head to Lake Chelan, including:
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The area’s brisk and bright days are enticing greater numbers of winter-sports enthusiasts to the hillsides surrounding the lake, usually snow-covered beginning in December.
Nine miles from Chelan, Echo Ridge Nordic Ski Area has 25 miles of groomed ridge-top cross-country ski trails (beginner to advanced), and a 2.4-mile loop snowshoe trail. Sno-Park permits not valid here. Day-use passes are required and can be purchased at the trailheads: adults, $10; free for 17 and younger. More info: lakechelannordic.org. Purchase season passes at the Chelan Ranger District Station, 428 W. Woodin Ave. (509-682-4900 or www.fs.usda.gov/okawen) or Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, 102 E. Johnson Ave.
There’s also downhill skiing and tubing at the nearby Echo Valley Family Ski Area. Rental equipment is available on site. For conditions, rental and rates info: EchoValley.org.
The area’s six Sno-Parks — with trails ranging from 40 to 102 miles — are regularly groomed from the week before Christmas until mid-March. Sno-Park permits are required. For maps and permit requirements/purchase: parks.wa.gov/winter.
Outdoor gallery walk
For a less strenuous outing, pick up a free copy of the Outdoor Gallery brochure and map (available at the chamber of commerce), then take a self-guided walking tour of the town’s 28 sculptures and murals.
Thanksgiving weekend features Fall Barrel Tasting at the area’s 24 wineries, Nov. 28-30. Santa’s arrival and Chelan’s tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 28 starts Chelan’s monthlong Small Town Christmas celebration. Nov. 29, Santa arrives in nearby Manson to start its Winter Festival and Village of Lights celebration.
Lake Chelan Winterfest, Jan. 16-25, fills two weekends with outdoor winter fun for adults and kids, including wine walks, ale tastings, bonfires, music and ice sculpting. Info: lakechelanwinterfest.com.
The first two weekends in February the focus at local wineries is Red Wine and Chocolate. Info: lakechelan.com/events.
Theater worth a visit
Celebrating its 100th year, the Ruby Theatre, with its original tin ceilings and horseshoe balcony, is one of the oldest continuously operating single-screen movie houses in the Northwest. It’s a great place to warm up on a winter’s day. Movies are shown using new digital projectors but check out the circa-1960s ticket machine — it was made in a Chelan High School shop class. Free movies Saturday afternoons in December are part of holiday festivities. Open Friday-Tuesday in winter. 135 E. Woodin Ave.; 509-682-5016 or rubytheatre.com.
Sip local brews, spirits
In 2012 Lake Chelan Brewing Co. began producing an amber, a blonde, IPA and a stout. All are available in the brewery’s deli/pub in Manson, or grab a growler to go. 50 Wapato Way; 509-687-4444 or LakeChelanMicroBrewery.com.
Across the lake, Blue Spirits Distilling is producing a variety of distilled beverages including vodkas flavored with espresso, cucumber, black pepper and mango. Open by appointment only at 324 Minneapolis Beach Road; 206-310-3945 or BlueSpiritsDistilling.com.
3 places to eat
• You’ll find lots of temptations at Maki Sushi Kazoku, but don’t miss their Maki Signature Rolls, such as the “Mexico,” with spicy tuna, avocado, cilantro and red bell pepper rolled in sesame seeds ($10). 127 E. Johnson Ave.; 509-682-3355 or chelansushi.com.
• Housed in the stately old former post-office building, Andante is the place for hearty Italian-style food served in elegant surroundings. The dress code is casual and the atmosphere relaxed. Entrees $20-$25. Try the Italian Meatloaf stuffed with three cheeses and served with penne pasta ($22). Winter hours: Wednesday-Sunday, open at 5 p.m. 113 S. Emerson. St.; 509-888-4855 or andantechelan.com.
• At Orchard Wood Ovens, thin-crust pizzas to eat in or take out are baked in an oven fueled with local apple and cherry wood. Try their Smoked Chili Oil — you’ll want to take a bottle home ($10). Open weekends, 70 Wapato Way, Manson; 509-687-3707 or orchardwoodovens.com.
3 shops worth a stop
• Owner Libby Manthey calls her Riverwalk Books, celebrating its 20th year, an “emporium of wonderment.” It’s an apt description for the place with 12,000 titles and a loft stocked with toys and games. 116 E. Woodin Ave.; 509-682-8901 or riverwalkbooks.com.
• If it’s kitchen or culinary it’s likely for sale in the apple-themed Culinary Apple. They even ship gift boxes of fresh apples. 109 E. Woodin Ave.; 509-682-3618 or culinaryapple.com.
• Besides selling outdoor clothing and gear, Lake Chelan Sports rents cross-country skis and snowshoes, from half-days to three days. 132 E. Woodin Ave.; 509-682-2629 or lakechelansports.com.
3 places to stay
There are plenty of choices — hotels, timeshares, private homes, cabins and condos — from Lakeside on the south shore to Manson on the north shore. Many are walking distance to Chelan’s historic downtown; none are more than a few miles away.
• The 93-unit Lakeside Lodge and Suites, minutes from downtown Chelan and near Lakeside Park, is ranked by TripAdvisor reviewers as the area’s No. 1 hotel. Its spacious standard rooms and suites have great lake views. Rates begin at $99 and include a hot breakfast. It’s also pet-friendly. Check for Web specials. 2312 W. Woodin Ave.; 509-682-4396 or lakesidelodgeandsuites.com.
• Mountain View Lodge and Resort in Manson offers large standard rooms (with microwave and fridge) or kitchenette suites. The heated, covered cooking pavilion, equipped with gas grills and refrigerators, is open year-round, as is the hot tub. Rates $99-$209. 25 Wapato Point Parkway; 509-687-9505 or MVLResort.com.
• The new Guesthouse at Nefarious offers sweeping views over vineyard and lake. The two-bedroom, 1.5-bath loft home is adjacent to the Nefarious Cellars production facility and tasting room. While the tasting room is closed in winter, renters have the place almost to themselves. Rates $225-$425. 495 S. Lakeshore Road; 509-682-9505 or guesthouseatnefarious.com.
Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center, 509-682-3503 or lakechelan.com
Kirkland-based freelancer Jackie Smith is married to an “Old Goat.” She blogs at travelnwrite.com.