The Chelan Lakeshore Trail to Stehekin won me over as a favorite backpacking route the moment I stepped off the ferry dock and onto the trail. This 19 mile trail follows Lake Chelan from Prince Creek to Stehekin, Washington with panoramic views of the lake both from the shoreline and from well above. With many different camp options the route options are extensive, but the route I completed for my first backpacking trip of this trail might be hard to beat.
In this Backpacking Guide of the Chelan Lakeshore Trail, I have included information on how to get to the trail, obtain permits, optimum times to complete the trail, my route, alternative routes, and a packing list!
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Table of Contents
Date Completed: May 12-14, 2023
Length: 18.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,050 ft
Trail Type: One-Way
Time: Multi Day
Difficulty: Moderate (Backpacking)
Dogs Allowed: Yes!
The Chelan Lakeshore Trail is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Yakama, Okanagan, Chelan tribes and the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
Chelan Lakeshore Permits and Passes
Chelan Lakeshore is a fantastic early-season backpacking trip, but it does require some extra planning. The information below covers how to get to the trailhead.
The only way to access the trail is by ferry. There are two main “start” points for accessing this trail: Chelan and Field’s Point. The ferry can pick you up at either location.
Luckily, there are large parking lots where you can leave your car overnight in Chelan and Field’s Point Landing. There is a fee for leaving your car parked in both locations.
The Chelan Dock is located south of downtown Chelan, WA and requires an $11 per night fee for cars, $66 for a week. The Field’s Point Landing located north of Chelan and the first ferry stop from Chelan to Stehekin has an overnight parking fee of $7 per night, $35 for a week.
I parked at Field’s Point Landing when I completed this trail.
As stated, accessing this trailhead requires the use of a ferry. The ferry drops eager hikers off at Prince Creek Trailhead, 17.0 miles south of Stehekin, WA.
There are two ferry options for travelers trying to get to Prince Creek, Lady of the Lake and Stehekin Ferry. Both are fantastic options that have pick-up and drop-off options in Field’s Point Landing, Prince Creek and Stehekin. Lady of the Lake is the only Ferry that begins and ends its route in Chelan if that is where you would like to leave your car. When choosing a ferry service there are, in my opinion, two significant considerations: the schedule and pets.
Stehekin Ferry begins its journey in Stehekin, leaving the dock at 10:40am and ends its journey in Field’s Landing at 12:25pm. Which means that your first day on the trail won’t begin until about 2:00 pm.
The Lady of the Lake, which leaves from Chelan every day, leaves from Chelan at 8:30am. If you’re leaving from Field’s Point, the Lady of the Lake arrives around 9:45 am and docks at Prince Creek at 11:00am. This provides an additional 3 hours of hiking time the first day.
When booking your ferries, be sure to book your return trip ahead of time to ensure passage home the day you would like to leave Stehekin. The Lady of the Lake has multiple schedules and ferries so be sure to choose the one that will best meet your needs the day of your trip. Also keep in mind that the famous Stehekin Bakery is 2.0 miles from the dock. So you will need plenty of time to explore the area once you reach Stehekin after finishing the trail!
This backpacking trail allows dogs on leash, but getting your dog to the trail takes a little more planning than just packing up your pups gear.
Both ferry options require that all dogs be crated during the duration of the ferry ride. The only ferry option available for bringing your four-legged friend backpacking is Lady of the Lake…unless you want to carry a dog crate with you on your trip.
Be sure to book your dog’s ferry passage both ways!
Backpacking the Chelan Lakeshore Trail offers plenty of camping spots along the way that are first come, first serve. Even on busy summer nights, there are plenty of spaces for overnight hikers at some of the larger sites like Moore Point and Flick Creek.
North Cascades requires reservations for all backcountry sites except for Flick Creek which is the only campsite along the Chelan Lakeshore Trail that is in the North Cascades.
If you want to stay overnight in Stehekin, Lakeview Campground is your best choice as it is close to the end of the trail. During peak season, June – September, the campsites will need to be reserved at recreation.gov for $20 a night. During the non-peak season, the sites are first come, first serve and free.
Making a Reservation
To make your reservation, head to recreation.gov and search “Lakeview Campground (Stehekin)”. The availability calendar will appear and if it is filled with light green “FF”, the campground is currently first come, first serve.
Enter your check in and check out dates and the calendar view will update for what is currently available. This page will also show if the sites are first come, first serve or if they need to be reserved with a fee.
This campsite is also used for Purple Creek Pass, a breathtaking trail that looks out across Lake Chelan and the surrounding North Cascade Mountains.
Chelan Lakeshore Trailhead
There are two places that the ferries can drop eager hikers off at; Prince Creek and Moore Point.
Prince Creek is the most common drop off point for those wanting to do a backpacking trip and Moore Point is for those looking for a beautiful and unique day hike.
Hikers starting at Prince Creek will begin around 11:00 am if they boarded the Lady of the Lake Ferry and 1:50 pm if they took the Stehekin Ferry. Moore Point is only accessible via the Lady of the Lake and hikers can expect to begin hiking at 12:15pm.
Best Time to Hike the Chelan Lakeshore Trail
This backpacking trip is fantastic for early season backpacking and can be completed as early as April! Chelan has a pretty arid climate, so snow tends to melt quickly leaving behind a dry trail in late spring.
Spring: In the early spring season is when you will see many wildflowers blooming, have stream crossings, and miss some of the extreme heat that will hit Chelan mid-summer. This time ranges from late April to the end of May when permit season begins for Lakeview Campground.
Summer: Summer is an extremely popular time to do this trail because it is when people have time off and want to enjoy the summer heat in Washington. This is a time to keep in mind that there is no shade on this trail and some of the streams that are plentiful in spring dry up. Carrying more water is best. Jumping into Lake Chelan in the high heat of the day while backpacking cannot be beat.
Fall: Fall in the North Cascades is a magical time because leaves are changing color and the coolness in the area is refreshing. Larches are starting to turn and there are many larch hikes in the area. Permit season on this trail ends in September.
Hiking Chelan Lakeshore Trail
Backpacking the Chelan Lakeshore Trail feels like the perfect “welcome to summer” trip. With picturesque views the entirety of the trail, this backpacking trip is nothing short of magnificent. There are so many options for completing this trail. I will be sharing the details on how I completed the trail in three days and two nights and I will include some alternative routes that are very popular as well.
Prince Creek to Meadow Creek
1,800 ft gain
Day 1 is just the start of an epic adventure. The ferry from Fields Point Landing to Prince Creek was exciting and filled with other eager backpackers waiting to hit the trail. The check in process with the ferry was easy and I only needed to provide my first and last name. The ferry ride was an hour and forty-five minutes to Prince Creek.
If I had more days to complete this trail, I would have set up my tent right at Prince Creek. The campsite was beautiful with direct access to the lake and the ferry dock. There were picnic tables and a privy.
The lakeshore trail immediately stuns with blooming wildflowers and a sapphire blue lake. Turning every corner was a chorus of “wow” and “so beautiful”. The elevation gain begins shortly after with a steep series of switchbacks. The aerial view of the lake was breathtaking and in the high heat of the day we were definitely out of breath. Every opportunity for shade was welcomed.
There are two major inclines on the first day that account for roughly 1,800ft of elevation gain. A majority of the trail is a set of rolling hills along the perimeter of the lake. I found the first day to be the most challenging, not because the hiking was challenging, but because the hiking was done at the hottest time of the day and there is no way to avoid that.
Cascade Creek is a heavy flowing creek that will either require expert balance to cross a narrow, moss covered log or require you to get your feet and most of your calves wet. I opted to switch out my hiking boots for my sandals with little hesitation. The cold snowmelt runoff felt divine. The creek was fast moving and definitely required concentration as to not lose my footing.
I took my time filling my water bottle here to filter some cold, refreshing runoff water.
The hike from Cascade Creek to Cascade Creek Camp was about 100 ft and then an additional 1.3 miles to Meadow Creek Camp. The hike from Cascade Creek to Meadow Creek was mellow. The promise of a relaxing evening at camp kept tired feet moving one after another.
Camping at Meadow Creek
Meadow Creek had a three sided shelter and a number of campsites to choose from that varied in size along the main trail. There was a small pit toilet with a single wall that shielded users from being seen by people in the shelter, but not from people at the campsites or people on the trail.
Each campsite has makeshift fire pits and logs that were arranged around the fire pits for seating. There was enough space and trees between each campsite that made each site feel somewhat secluded from the rest. There are no bear lockers at this campsite, so campers should be using bear canisters or bear bags for proper food storage.
Water could be gathered from the nearby creek, but access to the lake was limited and as one group of campers would state, “required hefty bushwacking”. However, after a long, hot day on the trail, resting at camp felt nice.
Meadow Creek to Flick Creek
Stats: 7.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1690 ft
Flick Creek is a coveted campsite 3.5 miles south of Stehekin so we decided to leave Meadow Creek early the next morning to lock down a spot at camp and beat the heat of the day. Immediately after leaving camp, we came across a pile of animal bones which was pretty neat. Other than birds and lizards, that was the only other animal we saw on the trail.
Immediately after leaving camp we started an ascent. While more gradual than some of the initial climbs from the previous day, it sure was a wake up call to our tired legs. The chill air of the morning along with the provided shade of the mountains was welcomed in contrast with the previous day’s heat.
Then there was a long descent for roughly a mile before reaching another ascent. For the next three miles, there is gradual elevation gain. The trail weaves through the mountains providing excellent views of the shimmering lake. Upon reaching a roaring Fish Creek, there is a turnoff for Moore Point.
Moore Point is a very popular stopping point for Day 1 hikers and is also a ferry drop off point for people wanting to shorten their trip.
Opting not to go to Moore Point, we crossed the bridge over Fish Creek and continued hiking an additional 3.2 miles to Flick Creek Camp. The hike required another long trek up a mountain but was shortly followed with the longest descent of the trail to reach the shoreline. Up until this point, most of the trail averaged 1,300 ft above the lake.
Camping at Flick Creek:
Flick Creek is by far one of the best backcountry campsites I have ever camped at. Flick Creek is the only backcountry site in North Cascades NP that does not require reservations with the national park service. There are rumors that that could be changing.
Flick Creek has a dock, shelter, picnic table, privy, bear safe food lockers, and roughly four campsites. The lake provided lots of water for filtering and was roughly 45 degrees.
We reached Flick Creek around 12:30 pm and were the first people to set up camp. Most of the people that were there were just resting before making the last trek to Stehekin. This gave us plenty of time to swim in the lake, play cards, and relax. More campers began showing up around 5pm.
Flick Creek to Stehekin
7.1 miles (with walking to the Stehekin Pastry Company)
680 ft gain
The morning at Flick Creek was early and slow. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dragging my feet to leave our beautiful campsite. From Flick Creek to Stehekin there were about 4.0 miles left of trail to reach the ferry dock, but it was an additional 3.6 miles to get to the coveted Stehekin Pastry Company.
The hike was leisurely and we took our time. The entirety of the remainder of the trail was a collection of trails with plus and then minus 100 to 200 ft of elevation gain. The lake was placid and we saw more people on the trail than the previous two days as everyone tried to make it to Stehekin. Some people were coming from Moore Point.
Before long, the views of Lakeview Campground were in sight. This is one of the campsites in Stehekin the trail hikers can reserve. We made our way past the Ranger Station which is slated to open over Memorial Day weekend and then went down to the dock.
The energy was wonderful. Everyone was cheery and happy to have completed the trail. There was a restroom, giftshop, and restaurant readily available for hikers. We dropped our backpacks off with the large collection of other packs and started the last stretch of our journey to Stehekin Pastry Co. We opted to walk, but there are bikes available and also a bus service. Since we brought our dog, Meatball, walking was our best option.
The walk was relatively easy without our heavy packs on and once we reached the pastry company it was time to relax and enjoy some delicious food. In addition to pastries, they had soup, sandwiches, pizza, and ice cream. They had everything a hiker could want to refuel. We opted for coffee and pastries to start and before long, we ordered a sandwich. We stayed there for well over an hour before making our way back to the dock.
On our way back we stopped at “The Garden” where a man named Karl has an organic farm and sells a variety of cheeses, honey, candles, and soaps. We purchased some honey! It is definitely worth a stop and he mentioned that he is currently working on setting up a credit card machine. For now he only takes cash.
Back at the dock, we had an hour to rest our feet and decompress. We purchased some beers from the store and waited to board the ferry. Many people who hiked into Stehekin the previous day took the Lady Express back, so we had plenty of space on the Lady on the way home. The ferry ride went by quickly and before long we found ourselves stopping in a McDonalds Drive-Thru ordering chicken nuggets to get us through our three hour drive back home to Seattle.
The great thing about this trail is that there are so many options for completing the trail based on the time that you have available and how difficult you want the trip to be. Below is a map of the Lakeshore Trail as reference!
Four Day Routes
Alt Option 1:
Prince Creek to Meadow Creek to Flick Creek to Stehekin
Alt Option 2:
Prince Creek to Cascade Creek to Flick Creek to Stehekin
Alt Option 3:
Cascade Creek to Moore Point to Flick Creek to Stehekin
Three Day Routes
Alt Option 1:
Cascade Creek to Flick Creek to Stehekin
Alt Option 2:
Moore Point to Flick Creek to Stehekin
Alt Option 3:
Prince Creek to Moore Point to Stehekin
Two Day Route
Alt Option 1:
Moore Point to Stehekin
What to Pack
This list is based on the 2 night, 3 day trip backpacking Chelan Lakeshore Trail. Curreate this list accordingly depending on how long you’re taking to complete this trail, the time of year, and your needs.
For more details on what to pack, check out my Backpacking Essentials for assistance in choosing gear that you might need.
Any asterisked items (*) are optional but recommended.
Athletic Shorts, Leggings, or Pants
Pairs of Socks
Helpful Insight to Chelan Lakeshore:
- You will need to bring bear safe food storage on this trail. That can be a bear can or a hanging bag.
- There are rattlesnakes on this trail. Always be watching and listening for them, but remember if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.
- Some sections of the trail have little water access in late summer. Always bring something to filter your water and take advantage of opportunities to filter water.
- When going to the bathroom outside, always be 200 ft from water sources.
- Use the red light option on your headlamps if you’re entering camp late at night so as to not disturb other campers.
- Pack lots of sunscreen! The trail is mostly exposed so lots of sunscreen and/or a sun shirt is necessary.
- Bring some cash! While most of Stehekin takes cards, some of the community does not and you wouldn’t want to miss out!
Completing Chelan Lakeshore Trail
This trail quickly became one of my favorite backpacking routes in Washington. More people than not who were completing this trail were doing it for the second, third, or fourth time. For anyone looking to complete an early summer season backpacking trip, this is the trail to complete.