Lake Chelan, a sinewy, 50½-mile-long fjord—Washington's deepest lake—works its way from the town of Chelan, at its south end, to Stehekin, at the far northwest edge. The scenery is unparalleled, the flat blue water encircled by plunging gorges, with a vista of snow-slathered mountains beyond. No roads access the lake except for the shoreline around Chelan, so a floatplane or boat is needed to see the whole thing. Resorts dot the warmer eastern shores. Its northwestern end, at Stehekin, just penetrates North Cascades National Park. South of the lake, 9,511-foot Bonanza Peak is the tallest nonvolcanic peak in Washington.
Long before the first American settlers arrived at the long, narrow lake, what is now the town of Chelan (sha-lan) was the site of a Chelan tribal winter village. The Native Americans would range far and wide on their horses in spring and summer, following the newly sprouting grass from the river bottoms into the mountains; in winter they converged in permanent villages to feast, perform sacred rituals, and wait out the cold weather and snow. During the winter of 1879–80, Chelan served briefly as an army post, but the troops were soon transferred to Fort Spokane. European-American settlers arrived in the 1880s.
Today Chelan serves as the favorite beach resort of western Washingtonians. In summer Lake Chelan is one of the hottest places in Washington, with temperatures often soaring above 100°F. The mountains surrounding the 50½-mile-long fjord-like lake rise from a height of about 4,000 feet near Chelan to 8,000 and 9,000 feet near the town of Stehekin, at the head of the lake.