There are many overnight options in Stehekin ranging from the luxurious cabins at the Silver Bay Inn, to “glamping” in tented camps at the Stehekin Ranch 20 minutes away from the boat launch. There are also a few privately-owned “log cabin” options which include a van as transportation, but these were all way beyond my budget constraints. The National Park Lodge seemed to be the “Goldilocks” of accommodations, offering the convenience of being within walking distance of the boat dock, the Golden West Visitor Center, the Lodge General Store and Lodge Restaurant. Hard to believe it was the most economical option outside of camping. At $134 per night, it was still a BIG splurge, but I had a birthday coming up, so it was my annual treat to myself. 😉
The lodge offers the option of a restaurant serving nightly specials and specialties. We both opted for the house specialty of Bacon-wrapped Meatloaf over Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Wine was available, but unfortunately “the hikers drank all the beer.” They were waiting for the next shipment…such is life by boat delivery. The evening entertainment was an excellent talk by the Ranger on “Fire and Ice,” the impact of climate change on the glaciers and forest fires of North Cascades National Park.
The weather forecast called for rain the entire second day of our visit to Stehekin, but what a pleasant surprise to not only awake to blue skies, but also a dusting of snow on the Cascades! The morning air was brisk and breathtaking, cold enough to feel like fall, but still warm with sunshine on my shoulders as I sat and watched the clouds part over the rugged mountaintops.
In deciding how to spend our morning (the return boat boards at 2:00pm,) exploring to “The End of the Road” was at the top of both of our wish lists. Having heard tales from other visitors of the Stehekin River “running red” with Kokanee salmon spawning at the Harlequin Bridge, we set out to find this on foot the day prior. But it proved to be too far, given our late afternoon start. I also wanted to see the High Bridge trail head, the point where one reaches Stehekin from Cascades Pass on the northern end of the park, and intersecting trail head for the PCT. There were only two ways to do this; by automobile or park shuttle. The shuttle has a limited schedule at this time of year, only running twice per day. Besides, we wanted the opportunity to stop at will. What we needed was a rental…
When I first learned of the village accessible only by boat, hike, or float plane, I got the impression there were no vehicles here. But that’s far from true. There are many trucks and vans in the village, and in fact, some accommodations come with their own transportation. Bikes can be brought aboard the Lady of the Lake for a fee, or there are bike rentals available. But with limited time, biking does not afford the opportunity to explore as far as we wanted to go. Turns out, there are only two motorized vehicles for rent in all of Stehekin…Polaris Razors.
The Polaris Razor, or souped up ATV, is to the hiker what jet skis are to a sailor. I have vowed in the past to never make eye contact, let alone set foot in one. Yet here I was, trying to convince Don that paying $65 for two hours to rent what I have previously called “a blight on the landscape of humanity” had even me surprised. Exploration is a relentless addiction.
We had two hours to make it to High Bridge and back, with a Razor that would only go 25 mph. But Don “opened the throttle” all the way, and we made it to High Bridge with time for a few extra stops along the way. Kokanee Salmon spawning…check. High Bridge trail head…check. Stehekin’s Wild and Scenic River…Priceless! The plaque reads, “Unrestrained by dams, largely unpolluted, little marked by human development and secluded by high mountains, the Stehekin remains one of America’s prime wild rivers. Born of trickling meltwater from snowfields and glaciers above, and from the abundant rainfall the mountains draw from eastbound clouds, the icy emerald waters tumble and turn 23 miles from the heart of the North Cascades to Lake Chelan.”
The Razor has no windshield, but even at a slow speed of 25 mph, it’s like speedballing autumn-scented pot potpourri infused up the nose, alternating fresh pine and fir with the sweet, musty smell of wet leaves. I can’t imagine a better high!
Sliding in to return the rental with minutes to spare, we retreated to the Lodge game room overlooking the boat dock to await the return of the Lady of the Lake II. Also in the room with us were several PCT hikers, waiting on their resupply boxes to come on the boat. Now within only 88 miles of completion of their incredible 2,650 mile journey begun back in mid-May, they told entertaining stories of memorable moments on the trail.
The ride back “down lake” to Chelan was downwind all the way with the sun lighting up the snow-sprinkled Cascade mountains, as they gave way to the vineyard-covered foothills, now cast with long, end of day shadows as we neared Chelan. As we disembarked, we both agreed the only thing that could have made the trip any better was to stay longer!