Skip to Content

Can You Swim and Fish in Lake Chelan, Washington?

We’ve all seen breathtaking postcards of scenic locations. They can feature the crashing waves against the cliffs of Acadia National Park, a sunset over the Grand Canyon, or a humpback whale flipping backward in the Pacific Ocean. You may wonder if these sites are genuine until you see them in person.

Lake Chelan is that kind of image. It is tranquil and remote, with stunning scenery.

Let’s take a closer look at this picturesque destination in Washington state and why you should plan a getaway to swim, fish, and relax at Lake Chelan.

About Lake Chelan, Washington

Lake Chelan is in central Washington state. The north end provides the gateway to North Cascades National Park. Chelan, meaning “Deep Water,” is a word from the Salish indigenous people of the Northwest.

The lake is slightly over 50 miles long and has a maximum depth of 1,486 feet. The watershed of the lake covers about 924 square miles. Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States. About 65% of the water flowing into Lake Chelan comes from the Stehekin River.

Because the lake is remote, there aren’t many residents. About 4,000 people live in the town of Chelan.

Is Lake Chelan Fresh Water?

Other than the Stehekin River, a few freshwater tributaries feed into Lake Chelan. Railroad Creek is the second major tributary, and rain and snowfall also fill the lake. Lake Chelan has some of the most transparent, bluest water in Washington state. Because it’s an ultra-oligotrophic lake, there is low algae production.

Oligotrophic means there’s very little phosphorus and nitrogen that would cause algae to grow.

Vineyard planted alongside Lake Chelan.
Whether you’re looking to kayak, horseride, relax on a boat, or sip local wine, there is something for everyone at Lake Chelan.

There are a few reasons Lake Chelan is a popular destination. First, it’s remote. Even getting to the town of Stehekin on the north end of the lake requires travel by ferry, horseback, private boat, or private airplane. You can also hike there, but no roads lead to Stehekin. The allure of the all-natural environment draws yearly visitors.

Second, Lake Chelan is deep. This presents excellent opportunities for boaters and kayakers. Finally, it’s breathtaking. From the crystal clear water and towering peaks of the North Cascades to the luscious greenery of the surrounding forests, Lake Chelan is a paradise.

Pro Tip: Want to head to the west coast to see Lake Chelan but don’t have a car? We uncovered How Cheap is it to Take a Train Across America?

Can You Swim at Lake Chelan?

You can swim in Lake Chelan, but remember that these waters are glacier-fed. Even if the temperatures outside are warm, the water will always be colder. Lake Chelan State Park has a beach area, picnic sites, and a calm lagoon.

Despite the frigid waters, it’s worth it to dip your toes in Lake Chelan.

Three women doing yoga together next to Lake Chelan
Connect to your inner zen while relaxing beside Lake Chelan.

Can You Fish at Lake Chelan WA?

Lake Chelan is home to world-class fishing. According to the Lake Chelan website, “Each year, stocking programs release 100,000 Cutthroat and 500,000 Kokanee (landlocked Salmon) fingerlings into Lake Chelan.” Ensure you have the proper license requirements and know the limits.

Typically, a catch will weigh anywhere from 6-10 pounds. The Chinook (King) Salmon and Lake Trout (Mackinaw) are the largest species of fish found in Lake Chelan.

What Is the Temperature of Lake Chelan Water? 

The air temperature may reach the 90s during the summer, but the water temperature will be far from that high. The area boasts 300 days of sunshine during the year, but the water temperature rarely gets above 70 degrees.

Even on a 90-degree day, the water may still be below 60 degrees. Because the tributaries that feed into Lake Chelan are glacier-fed, the water remains cool year-round.

Woman and man in helicopter flying over Lake Chelan
Get to Lake Chelan by either ferry, horseback, private boat, or private airplane.

What Creatures Are in Lake Chelan? 

Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are some of the most common land animals around Lake Chelan because of the heavily-forested area. Bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears prowl the surrounding mountains.

Within the lake, you’ll find Lake Trout, Chinook Salmon, smallmouth and largemouth bass, Rainbow Trout, Kokanee, and numerous other fish species.

Pro Tip: Whether you’re in Washington, Oregon, or California, keep an eye out for The Most Dangerous Creatures on the Pacific Coast.

Is Lake Chelan, Washington, Worth Visiting? 

Lake Chelan, Washington, is one of the most stunning areas of the Pacific Northwest. When you arrive, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard. It’s breathtaking. Because of its remoteness, you’ll reconnect with nature like never before.

Enjoy a day on the water, bask in the beauty of the mountains, relax on the shore, and relish a moment of tranquility. Lake Chelan is one place you don’t want to pass up.

Have you ever visited Lake Chelan, Washington? If so, will you be going back soon? Tell us in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: