Lake Chelan for grown-ups

Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider discovers the sophisticated side of Washington’s summer playground, where sandcastles and jet skis are making way for (really good) wine

Lake Chelan view from Vin du Lac winery in Washington

A peaceful view of Lake Chelan from the sunny terrace at Vin du Lac winery. This Northwest hot spot is home to 15 local wineries harvesting grapes from the Columbia Valley.

José Mandojana

Pork sliders from Cafe Manson in Lake Chelan, WA

Chow down on a Lake Chelan, WA favorite: slow-braised pork sliders from Erik Cannella and Adrianne Young's renowned restaurant Cafe Manson on Green Avenue.

José Mandojana

Take a boat tour of Lake Chelan, WA

Shop the Sunshine Farm Market for cheese and hor d'oeuvres then saunter down to the water for an afternoon ride around Lake Chelan, WA aboard The Tour Boat.

José Mandojana

Hang gliding over Lake Chalen, WA

Take flight from the infamous butte hang-gliding launch site overlooking the Lake Chalen waterfront to get a glimpse of Washington's northwest landscape.

José Mandojana

Getting to Lake Chelan

  • Map to Lake Chelan from Seattle, WA

    The lake is about 31/2 hours from Seattle: Take I-90 east to Cle Elum, then State 970 to U.S. 97 to the city of Chelan.

Shrieking tots hold their own against humming motorboats on the south end of Washington’s Lake Chelan, a summery hot spot with waterfront resorts, backcountry hiking trails, and families who return year after year.

But this time, the tots aren’t mine—and the distant din bouncing off the Chelan Butte and across the water to the sunny patio at Vin du Lac winery pairs rather well with my glass of cold, crisp Pinot Gris.

The first winery opened its doors here only 10 years ago, but the swaths of vineyards that have since infiltrated the orchards around the lakeshore are almost shocking. Serious winemakers have discovered Chelan’s “lake effect”—its ability to retain heat and lengthen the growing season in this otherwise chilly region. And, well, they’re excited.

As am I. Now home to about 15 wineries— most with outdoor tasting decks and a mix of locally grown varieties and wines made from Columbia Valley grapes (vintners are planting as fast as they can here, but demand still out-strips supply)—Lake Chelan offers a new, more sophisticated way to visit.

In between hilltop strolls and afternoon dips, I try glass after glass of aromatic Alsatian whites: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris. That chilly-region bit applies only three seasons a year; in August, temps push 90º—which makes these icy, well-crafted whites as refreshing as the lemonade the kids are drinking.

Wine tasting at Lake Chelan

Where to eat

Things to do

Spa

Places to stay at Lake Chelan

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