Cle Elum Lake, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - North Central Washington -

Also known as:  Lake Cle Elum

Providing much needed water to the dry, fertile soil of north-central Washington, Cle Elum Lake is the largest of four irrigation storage reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin. Originally a small glacial lake, Cle Elum Lake lies seven miles northwest of the community of Cle Elum in Kittitas County. An 80-mile drive through Interstate 90’s Snoqualmie Pass — the lowest east-west pass through the Cascade Mountain range — delivers visitors from Seattle to Cle Elum. The spectacular mountain scenery continues around Lake Cle Elum, which lies at the southern end of Washington’s North Central tourism region. Viewers of the 1990s television series “Northern Exposure,” will recognize the scenery, and neighboring community of Roslyn (known as Cicely), as the filming location for the series.

Lake Cle Elum’s 4,812 acres run along the Cle Elum River in a steep, rocky glacial valley. Cle Elum draws its name from the Kittitas word Clealum, meaning “swift water.” Ancestors of the Kittitas people were early residents of Lake Cle Elum and the Yakima River Valley. Now part of the Yakama Nation, many Kittitas descendants reside on the Yakama Reservation. Drawn to vast grassland and clear rivers, white settlers arrived in the valley in the 1860s and established cattle ranches. Over the decades, farming, mining and logging industries grew up around Lake Cle Elum. Beautiful ranch land, hay and wheat fields can be seen throughout Kittitas County today.

In an effort to irrigate expanding farmland along the Yakima River, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation developed the Yakima Project. Storage dams and reservoirs included in the project are “Bumping Lake, Clear Creek, Tieton, Cle Elum, Kachess, and Keechelus.” Construction of Lake Cle Elum’s dam and four dikes ran from 1931-1933. Yakima River water is now diverted into Cle Elum Lake, providing an average depth of 145 feet and maximum depth of 333 feet. Today, this reservoir irrigates the Yakima River Valley with well over 20 billion cubic feet of water. Cle Elum Dam is located at the south end of the lake, on the Cle Elum River, and operates under the control of the Bureau of Reclamation.

When the Yakima Project was designed, little, or no, consideration was made for the preservation of salmon runs. Over the decades, salmon disappeared from Lake Cle Elum and much of the Yakima basin. Yakama Nation people have fought to reintroduce the species and protect salmon runs. They are having success at Lake Cle Elum where coho salmon were added to surrounding streams in 2008. July 2009 marks the beginning of restocking sockeye salmon in Cle Elum Lake. In the years ahead, steelhead, spring chinook and bull trout will also be added to Cle Elum Lake.

Pine-covered slopes surrounding Lake Cle Elum offer spectacular scenery but rough, rocky shorelines reduce accessibility. An unpaved boat launch, with parking, is available along SR 903 on the southeastern shore of the lake. When irrigation demands increase in mid-summer, water levels drop, making boat-launching facilities unusable. Cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, burbot and kokanee salmon can be found in Lake Cle Elum. Catch-and-release policies may apply, so it is important to review Washington’s fishing regulations before your visit.

A good portion of Lake Cle Elum and Cle Elum River lies within Wenatchee Mountains National Forest. The Forest is managed in combination with the Okanogan National Forest. In total, the two forests provide over 3,000 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain bikes and motorcycles. Some trails lie in lowlands and vary in level of ability as well as “barrier-free” accessibility. Access to the Pacific-Crest Hiking Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, is located within the forests. Campgrounds in the Cle Elum Lake area have been designed to accommodate tents, campers, trailers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Activities include picnicking, photography, berry picking, fishing, rafting, kayaking, hunting, hiking, birding and wildlife viewing.

Salmon la Sac campground, located 19 miles north of Lake Cle Elum, is the site of a popular four-mile kayaking run. An annual event for more than 40 years, the Washington Kayak Club’s “Bottoms Up” competition attracts kayakers from across the nation to Salmon la Sac and Cle Elum.

Another site well worth exploring, Iron Horse State Park lies four miles south of Lake Cle Elum. Park activities include camping, mountain climbing, fishing, mountain biking and winter snowmobiling. The 100-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail passes through the park, following a railroad bed from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the mighty Columbia River. The trail is open to “hikers, bikers, equestrians and horse-drawn wagons in summer, and to snowmobiles, dog sleds and cross-country skiers in winter.”

Mount Rainier National Park is a 70-mile drive southwest of Cle Elum Lake. At 14,410 feet, Mt. Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range. With mountain views guaranteed to impress, the park offers scenic drives, camping, hiking, mountain climbing, ice climbing, fishing, boating and bicycling. During the winter, Mt. Rainier is one of many sites for skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and sledding and snowmobiling in designated areas.

Beautiful resorts and new developments include vacation rentals and real estate properties within minutes of Lake Cle Elum. Mountain and riverside accommodations offer a bit of pampering after a day of wilderness hiking, shooting rapids or fishing Cle Elum Lake. Whether you choose to sit by the fire in a cozy cabin or immerse yourself in the amenities of a luxury rental, fine dining, spa treatments, golf courses, and fitness centers are just around the corner. Come to Lake Cle Elum for the wild adventures and stay for the peaceful solitude.

Things to do at Cle Elum Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Mountain Climbing
  • Ice Climbing
  • Biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Dog Sledding
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Cle Elum Lake

  • Bull Trout
  • Burbot
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Steelhead Trout
  • Trout

Cle Elum Lake Photo Gallery

Cle Elum Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 4,812 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,240 feet

Average Depth: 145 feet

Maximum Depth: 333 feet

Water Volume: 436,900 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1933

Drainage Area: 260 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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