Lake Chelan, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - North Central Washington -

From the Salish Indian word for “deep notch”, Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States with a maximum depth of almost 1500 feet. Lake Chelan is long and narrow, stretching more than 50 miles in length with an average width of one mile. This north-central Washington lake nestled within the North Cascades National Park is a beautiful stretch of blue water and green shores, with a Cascade Mountains backdrop so perfect it almost seems painted. The lake’s superb location and diverse aquatic offerings have made it a premier destination for vacationers of all kinds.

Lake Chelan is a glacier-fed lake located within an 80-mile long glacial valley. It took millions of years to form as tectonic plates shifted and the Cascade Mountains rose up. Glaciers formed as the mountain tops eroded, and today you will spot many of their remnants – cascading waterfalls and babbling creeks that flow into Lake Chelan. General belief holds that Native Americans inhabited this area for thousands of years before the arrival of white settlers and explorers in the 1800s. In the 1880s, even more setttlers came west in search of precious treasures to be found in the local mines. In the 1890s, settlers began to build homes at Lake Chelan, diverting waters to irrigate their fruit orchards. Today, the lake is known to be richer in amazing vistas and stunning scenery than it ever was in gold and silver.

The Chelan County Public Utility District has controlled water levels on Lake Chelan since 1955. Several dams were built at the southeastern tip of the lake, where water flows into the Chelan River, between 1892 and 1927 to provide flood control, water supply, hydroelectric power, and navigation along the Chelan River. The District draws down the water level in the winter to prevent flooding from melting snow in the spring.

If you can drag your eyes away from the cascading falls and towering mountains, you’ll find that Lake Chelan offers myriad activities to fill your day. Boating and other water sports are among the most popular, and you’ll often find young people (and the young at heart) diving off docks and splashing in the refreshing waters. For a slightly more sophisticated afternoon, consider renting a boat and setting off on a mission of exploration. Power boats and jet skis are available for adrenaline junkies, parasailing is a favorite among serious athletes, and for the rest of us, there are canoes, kayaks, tubes, paddle boats, and pontoon boats. If spending the day on the water sounds like your cup of tea, don’t hesitate: Lake Chelan is large and is best explored by boat, so head to a marina and get your boating day started. Guided boat tours into the Lake Chelan wilderness are also available.

If fishing is your game, Lake Chelan will not disappoint. Known for its world-class fishing, the lake holds the record for Washington State Record Lake Trout — weighing in at a whopping 35 pounds, 7 ounces — as well as the personal records of many avid anglers. Each year, 100,000 Chinook salmon (king salmon), 60,000 rainbow trout, and 600,000 Kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon) are released into the waters to join the burbot (freshwater lingcod), cutthroat trout, mackinaw (lake trout), and smallmouth bass that make their home here. Come catch your personal best!
(Update: A new state record for a Mackinaw trout was broken on February 4, 2013 at a whopping 35 pounds, 10 ounces!)

If hiking is a hobby, look no further than Lake Chelan. Both day hikes and overnight varieties are available, and you are guaranteed some of the most amazing sights you will ever see. Many of the trails do double-time as running paths, dog paths, and even cross-country-skiing trails in the winter. Explore mountain summits and ridges, be amazed by birds-eye views of Lake Chelan, search for serenity amongst flowering trees and bushes, and drink in the fresh, alpine fir-scented air.

If you want to get out into nature, but your family isn’t ready for a hike, consider taking a horseback ride or the ever-popular horse & wagon (buggy) tours. You’ll visit the Courtney cabin at the Stehekin landing, travel over old farmland and logging roads, and listen as an educated guide schools you on local history. The wagon ride is always a favorite with the youngest family members.

When you’ve stretched your legs and tickled your itch for nature photography, head back to Lake Chelan’s inviting shores to indulge in some waterside picnicking and swimming. The lake’s campgrounds are perfect for such afternoons, offering bathrooms, floating docks, picnic areas, and designated swimming areas.

In winter, Lake Chelan transforms into a winter wonderland of powdery white snow and trails galore. Test your skiing skills with miles of cross-country trails or get your heart racing at the Lake Chelan Ski club, which offers both downhill skiing and high speed tubing. For a bit of unique fun, rent a snowmobile and head out to any one of the area’s several snowmobile areas. Offering miles of trails designed just for snowmobiling and scenic viewing, you’ll find yourself lost in the beauty and tranquility of this stunning valley draped in snow.

Lake Chelan is a four-season playground, packed with enough outdoor activities to fill up your year. Of course, your day can be as full or as free as you choose, and you may soon find yourself waking up late and turning in early, a glass of wine your only company as you watch a brilliant lake sunset.

Things to do at Lake Chelan

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Parasailing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lake Chelan

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Burbot
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Mackinaw Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Trout

Lake Chelan Photo Gallery

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Lake Chelan Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Chelan County Public Utility District

Surface Area: 33,335 acres

Shoreline Length: 110 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,098 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,079 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,100 feet

Average Depth: 474 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,486 feet

Water Volume: 1,040,000 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 10.6 years

Lake Area-Population: 10,000

Drainage Area: 924 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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