Lake Chelan

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Lake Chelan
Stehekin Chelan.JPG
Lake Chelan with Stehekin on the lower left
Lake Chelan is located in Washington (state)
Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan
LocationChelan County, Washington,
United States
Coordinates47°50′28″N 120°02′47″W / 47.84111°N 120.04639°W / 47.84111; -120.04639Coordinates: 47°50′28″N 120°02′47″W / 47.84111°N 120.04639°W / 47.84111; -120.04639
Primary inflowsStehekin River, Railroad Creek
Primary outflowsChelan River
Catchment area924 sq mi (2,390 km2)
Basin countriesUnited States
Max. length50.5 mi (81.3 km)
Surface area52.1 sq mi (135 km2)
Average depth474 ft (144 m)
Max. depth1,486 ft (453 m)
Water volume15,800,000 acre feet (19,500 GL)
Residence time10.6 years
Shore length1109.2 mi (175.7 km)
Surface elevation1,100 ft (340 m)
Settlementssee Cities
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Chelan is a narrow, 50.5-mile (81.3 km) long lake in Chelan County, north-central Washington state, U.S.[1] Before 1927, it was the largest natural lake in the state by any measure. Upon the completion of Lake Chelan Dam in 1927, the elevation of the lake was increased by 21 feet (6.4 m) to its present maximum-capacity elevation of 1,100 feet (340 m).[2] Two communities lie on the southern end of the lake, and a third sits at the far north end, providing a gateway to the North Cascades National Park.


The name Chelan is a Salish Indigenous word, "Tsi - Laan," meaning 'Deep Water'.[3]


On an annual basis, an average of 2,200 cubic feet per second (62 m3/s) flow into the lake.[4] Approximately seventy-five percent of the water that flows into the lake comes from two tributaries.[5] The Stehekin River alone contributes 65% of all water to Lake Chelan, averaging 1,401 cu ft/s (39.7 m3/s) annually.[6] The other major tributary, Railroad Creek, averages 202 cu ft/s (5.7 m3/s) annually.[4] The remaining water is added via a number of smaller tributaries as well as direct rain and snowfall.

With a maximum depth of 1,486 feet (453 m),[4] Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States, and the 26th deepest in the world. At its deepest, the lake bottom is 388 feet (118 m) below sea level.[7] The total watershed of the lake is a modest 924 square miles (2,390 km2)[5][8][9] More than 90% of the watershed is forested land. The remainder of the basin is composed of the lake itself (5.6%) and agriculture (3.5%).[10]



Lake Chelan is composed of two basins. The lower basin, Wapato, is shallower and approximately a fourth the total length of the lake. The upper basin, Lucerne, is much deeper and extends for the remainder of the length of the lake. The two basins are separated by a sill rising to within 122 feet of the surface, at a point known as the narrows, at which the lake is only 0.35 miles (0.56 km) wide.[7] The two basins were created by two independent glaciers that met and then formed the sill when they retreated.[6] First, the Chelan glacier came down from the Stehekin valley and scoured the valley, potentially as far as the Columbia River. Later, the Okanogan lobe came up the Chelan Valley as far as Wapato Point. As the Okanogan lobe retreated, it left huge amounts of debris in the valley originally scoured by the Chelan glacier.[11]

Wapato Basin[edit]

The lower basin, Wapato, is the shallower of the two, with a maximum depth of only 400 feet (120 m). About 600 feet (180 m) of glacial sediment and rockslide deposits rest between the lake bottom and bedrock.[12] This section of the lake is 12 miles (19 km) long, and has an average depth of 190 feet (58 m).[11]

Due to the relatively modest size of this basin, water resides in this basin for only 0.8 years, compared to 10 for Lucerne Basin.[13]

Lucerne Basin[edit]

Lucerne basin, 38 miles (61 km) long with an average depth of 1,148 feet (350 m), is by far the larger of the two basins.[11] It is in this part of the lake that the maximum depth of 1,486 feet (453 m) is found. Lucerne basin contains 92% of the water in Lake Chelan and 74% of the surface area, leaving Wapato with only 8% of the total volume of water and 26% of the surface area.[6][7][12]

The upper basin of Lake Chelan is surrounded by mountainous terrain, resulting in few beaches along the shoreline. Approximately 50 miles (80 km) of the shoreline of this basin are in National Forest lands, and 12 miles (19 km) in National Park lands.[6]


The climate of Lake Chelan's watershed is varied. From the southern end of the lake in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range, to the northern tip of the lake located in the eastern Cascades, the climate of Lake Chelan's watershed is as diverse as the lake is long. The south end's weather is notably dry, with Chelan averaging only 11.4 inches (29 cm) of rain per year, along with 21.8 inches (55 cm) of snow. Stehekin receives an average of 35.5 inches (90 cm) of rain per year, and 122.5 inches (311 cm) of snow. Other than precipitation trends, the climates are remarkably similar. Both locations average around 60 °F (16 °C) for a high, and 40 °F (4 °C) for a low throughout the course of the year.


Due to the isolated nature of Lake Chelan, especially at its northern reaches, there is not a large population that resides along the shore. Chelan, which had 3,918 residents at the 2010 census,[16] is currently the only incorporated city situated along the lake shore. The city is located at the southern terminus of the lake, adjacent to the Lake Chelan Dam and the Chelan River outflow. The census-designated place of Manson, which had 1,418 residents in 2010,[17] is also located at the southern end of the lake. The unincorporated community of Stehekin,[18] with approximately 75 residents,[19] is located at the northern terminus of the lake, adjacent to the Stehekin River inflow. At the mouth of the Railroad Creek sits Lucerne, a small community of private cabins served by commercial boats.[18] Lucerne is also the primary gateway to the community of Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center located 11 miles inland from the lake. With approximately 50 long-term residents, Holden includes one of the few remaining public K-12 two-room schools in the contiguous United States.[20]



Fishing is a popular recreating activity on Lake Chelan. The following fish are or were native to the lake: Bull Trout, Westslope cutthroat trout, Largescale sucker, Longnose sucker, Bridgelip sucker, Northern pikeminnow, Peamouth, Redside shiner, Mountain whitefish, Pygmy whitefish.[21][22]

In addition to these native species, six species have been introduced to the lake, primarily for sport fishing purposes: Yellowstone cutthroat trout, Rainbow trout, Kokanee, Brook trout, Chinook salmon, Lake trout)[21][22]

State records[edit]

There is currently[when?] one state record fish that was pulled from Lake Chelan. In 2013, a 35.63-pound (16.16 kg) Lake Trout was caught, setting the state record.[23]

Protected lands[edit]

At the north end of the lake, surrounding the town of Stehekin, is Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Surrounding much of the lake on either side is Wenatchee National Forest. Two state parks are located on the southern edge, not far from the city of Chelan. These state parks are Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park and Lake Chelan State Park.[24]

In addition to the protected land located directly on the shores of Lake Chelan, Stehekin serves not only as a gateway to the Lake Chelan NRA, but also to the rest of the North Cascades National Park Complex, Stephen Mather Wilderness, and adjacent National Forest Wilderness Areas.[25] Approximately 87% of the Lake Chelan watershed is owned by either federal, state, or local entities, with the rest in private ownership.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "TMDL Case Study: Lake Chelan, Washington". Environmental Protection Agency. January 1994. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  2. ^ a b Kendra, Will; Singleton, Lynn (January 1987). "Morphometry of Lake Chelan" (PDF). Washington State Department of Ecology. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  3. ^ "Native American Legends" (PDF). USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Region. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 11, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  4. ^ a b c "Chelan Watershed Initial Assessment" (PDF). Washington Department of Ecology. May 1985. Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  5. ^ a b Hillman, T.W.; Giorgi, A.E. (February 2000). "Historical Occurrences of Anadromous Salmonids in Lake Chelan, Washington" (PDF). Chelan Public Utilities District. BioAnalysts, Inc. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  6. ^ a b c d Coots, Randy (June 2006). "Lake Chelan Watershed DDT and PCB Total Maximum Daily Load: Water Quality Improvement Report" (PDF). Washington State Department of Ecology. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
  7. ^ a b c "Lake Chelan Wapato Basin Total Phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load" (PDF). State of Washington Department of Ecology. November 2011. Retrieved 2015-01-18.
  8. ^ "Chelan Watershed Initial Assessment" (PDF). Washington Department of Ecology. May 1985. Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  9. ^ "Water Quality Improvement Project: Lake Chelan Area: Multi-Parameter". Department of Ecology - State of Washington. March 2013. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  10. ^ a b "Draft In-Leau Fee Program Prospectus and Compensation Planning Framework for Lower Lake Chelan" (PDF). The Watershed Company. June 2010. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
  11. ^ a b c Chamberlain, William; Singleton, Lynn; Jay, Joe (1985-02-20). "Lake Chelan Project Proposal" (PDF). Washington State Department of Ecology. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
  12. ^ a b "Discover Lake Chelan" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-01-14.
  13. ^ Pelletier, Greg; Owes, Harper (January 1989). "Lake Chelan Water Quality Assessment" (PDF). Washington State Department of Ecology. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
  14. ^ "NowData – NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  15. ^ "NowData – NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
  16. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. "Chelan City, Washington". Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  17. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. "Manson CDP, Washington". Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  18. ^ a b "Shoreline Inventory" (PDF). Chelan County. 2012-04-23. Retrieved 2015-01-19.
  19. ^ Visit Stehekin. "Visit Stehekin, Washington". Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2015-01-13.
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b Nelson, Mark C. (2012-01-20). "What Happened to Bull Trout in Lake Chelan? An Examination of the Historical Evidence" (PDF). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  22. ^ a b Hillman, T.W.; Giorgi, A.E. (February 2000). "Historical Occurrences of Anadromous Salmonids in Lake Chelan, Washington" (PDF). Chelan Public Utilities District. BioAnalysts, Inc. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  23. ^ "Freshwater and Saltwater Records". Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  24. ^ "Lake Chelan Area State Parks Management Plan". Washington State Parks and Recreation Committee. January 2009. Retrieved 2015-01-17.
  25. ^ "Stehekin". National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-01-17.

External links[edit]