Stay in a Cozy Ranch Wagon in the rugged North Cascades

The Stehekin Valley Ranch welcomes guests at the edge of the North Cascades National Park

I recently returned to my home town of Stehekin. The remote mountain village is at the head of fifty-five mile long Lake Chelan in Washington's North Cascade Mountains. Cliff and Kerry Courtney added four new cabins to their lineup of unique lodging units at their Stehekin Valley Ranch. I was curious to take a look because I visit most summers with grandkids.

No roads lead to Stehekin, so fellow photographer and writer, Rich Uhlhorn and I purchased tickets for transportation on the venerable Lady of the Lake II passenger boat. I boarded at Field's Point Landing. Field's Point is located about 30 minutes from the town of Chelan on the South Shore (Hwy 97) and is the first stop passenger ferries make after departing Chelan, and is also the last place you can drive to and catch the boats. We also saved about an hour on the boat and, besides, the best scenery is just beyond the Point..

The Lake Chelan National Recreation Area rests in a glacially carved trough in the Cascades Range. Lake Chelan, one of the nation's deepest, reaching a depth of 1,500 feet, offers boating, fishing, and lakeshore camping. The average width is less than two miles, but Lake Chelan extends deep into the Cascade Mountains (55 miles in length). - National Park Foundation

“The best scenery is just ahead once you board at Field's Point.”

Lake Chelan is glacier-carved and fjord-like, deep and cold. It used to be called The Switzerland of America in tourism brochures. The description still stands, but now it is better known as the Gateway to the North Cascades National Park.

Above - A map illustration from the mid-1950s. Little has changed along the upper reaches of the lake.

This map was an inspiration and wonder to me when I first saw it in 1958. My family was from New Mexico when we purchased the Golden West Lodge complex. Mountains, glaciers, deep long lakes, and forests were foreign to me.

Easing into the deep water to continue the trip to Stehekin the Lady of the Lake II revs its twin diesels to full power. It will take two and one-half hours to reach the head of the lake. The upper reaches of the lake look mostly untouched even though private lakeside cabins are scattered along both shores.

The boat landing at the upper end of Lake Chelan at the mountain village of Stehekin is a hub of activity for visitors and resident at "boat time." There are also public docks for private boats, a restaurant, a small gift shop, and the North Cascades Lodge, which consists of an assortment of cabins and lodging rooms. Nearby is a post office.

The North Cascade National Park's Interpretative Center at the historic Golden West Lodge, where I lived in the late 1950s and through the1960s, is a short walk up a hill from the landing. Check in here if you want information about camping and hiking.

Boat passengers can order lunch on the deck overlooking the Stehekin Landing. The restaurant and lodging accomodations are run under contract with the North Cascades National Park. Guest Services, that also runs concessions at parks such as Mount Ranier, has been making improvements in Stehekin over the last couple of years. Manager, Denise Steinhauer, said she is planning to keep some housekeeping units open in the winter. Accomodations in the winter have been almost non-existent in the Stehekin Valley in recent years.

You have time to get lunch, look around the Landing area, or take a bus trip to the magnificent Rainbow Falls three-miles up the valley road.

The bus also stops at the Stehekin Bakery, a local legend with Pacific Crest Trail hikers. I can't resist the sticky buns and walnut pies. The Stehekin Bakery is now providing baked goods and sandwiches on the passenger boats, so you'll have a chance to pre-sample!

The Stehekin Valley Ranch was opened to the public in 1983 by Cliff and Kerry Courtney. It is on the property that the Courtney family has owned since the early 1950s. In the beginning, the Ranch was mostly a "rustic" campground of tent cabins, outhouses, and a dining room - all outdoors. As the word spread about the "good food and unique lodging," the demand to stay at Stehekin Valley Ranch grew, so then did the Ranch.

The Courtney family history goes way before that when Esther and Ray Courtney bought a 20-acre parcel next to the Stehekin River, raised their family on it, and ran their mountain trip business called Cascade Corrals. Cascade Corrals is still in operation, guiding guests to the high county. Cliff Courtney (right) sits on the porch of the first family log home, built by the first homesteader of the land now known as the Courtney Stehekin Valley Ranch.

The cabins were first used to house road crew workers

In the summers of 2017 and 2018, when the Stehekin Valley road was being paved, they were used to house the road crew workers.They were transported to the Ranch this spring. The rough, plywood shells were transformed into cozy sleeping cabins that resemble gypsy wagons.

They were transported to the Ranch this spring.

The walls of the Ranch Cabins are angled outward, making the little cabins seem bigger. Numerous people helped to transform them from plywood shells to very friendly little sleeping cabins.

We let people create a space they would enjoy

"The fun thing about them is that we let people create a space they would enjoy themselves. Bethany Gerhard is working on Wagon 1, and it is still in progress. Two carpenters from Whidbey Island concentrated on Wagon 2, and Nicky Allison of Manson did the decorating.

They were transported to the Ranch this spring.

Kerry Courtney decorated Wagon 3, and it looks somewhat like a lake cabin on wheels. Linda Davis of Chelan Falls decorated Ranch Wagon 4, and it is in a wild bird theme. Reviews from guests have been fantastic so far," said Cliff Courtney.

Early reports from Bethany Gerhard, Ranch Manager, is also very positive. I was able to scan just two of the cabins at the time of my visit. Now, I have another excuse to visit the ranch so I can capture the other two - as if I every really need one to get back to the Stehekin Valley - especially to take a few of the grandkids along so they can experience time away from cell phones and digital games. They soon find that there isn't much that can compete with a horseback ride on one of the trails, or a meal in the dining hall where there is always a bounty of home-cooked fare like the kind you'd find at a camp in the high mountains.

People are catching onto us

The Stehekin Valley Ranch has a convenient on-line reservation application. I was pleased to see that reservations were being already being confirmed. Rich Uhlhorn and I have been visiting Stehekin on a regular basis under the excuse that we have to report on news of the valley. I think people are beginning to catch onto our real purpose of escaping to a place that seems stuck in time.