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Rainbow Loop Trail

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

June 25th, 2005

7.2 miles
1130 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:27

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Chelan, Washington, take the ferry to Stehekin. Take the Stehekin Shuttle up the road to the upper trailhead for the Rainbow Loop Trail.   View Driving Map

The friendly shuttle bus driver dropped us off at the trailhead around 12pm. After spending a few minutes getting ready, we started up the forested trail. The sun was out, but we were partly shaded much of the first part of the hike. The trail climbs steadily, and there's not much to see at this point so you just put your head down and go.

First view peeking through the trees

There are brief glimpses through the trees of the valley below, and the Stehekin River running through it. As we neared the halfway point of our hike, we saw a deer (buck). Other than that, we only saw birds and lizards. Though there are black bears and mountain lions in the area. One of the passengers on our shuttle mentioned seeing a mountain lion; the bus driver said that some people in Stehekin go their whole lives without seeing one, so if you do see one, consider yourself lucky (in some sense, anyway).

Early along the trail

We had the trail almost all to ourselves. Shortly after seeing the buck, we met two hikers coming the opposite direction. They had been at the pastry shop with us, so must have started around the same time as us. I asked how far it was to the creek, and they said just a few minutes. They also said they'd seen a bear on their way up. We weren't so lucky.

Shortly, we came to an intersection. The left fork takes you higher up the mountain; we took the right fork which continues on the loop trail. Very soon after that, we came to the creek. We crossed the creek on a footbridge, then scrambled down some rocks on the other side to a spot next to the creek to have lunch. We enjoyed the sounds of the water and ate our sandwiches (made by the lodge, though the pastry shop is a better choice).

Rainbow Creek and bridge

After shooing away the couple dozen bees that had gathered around my sweaty pack, we continued on the trail, which started heads back toward the road. If you have to choose only one half of the trail, chooser the lower half. As we continued on the trail, views started opening up. First, we could see the mountains on the other side of the valley. Then, we reached a high point where we could see Buckner's apple orchard directly below us. Finally, a bit further along the trail, we came to the best view of all. The orchard was still visible, as were the mountains, and Lake Chelan itself was visible to our left. It's a beautiful sight, and well worth the hike to see it.

Buckner's Orchard from afar

A closer look at Buckner's Orchard

After we admired the view, we continued on the trail, which now starts a steep descent. As we re-entered the forest, we encountered a group of 4 bikers coming up (bicycles aren't allowed, but we weren't sure enough of that at the time to mention it to them). Those were the only people we saw on the trail, other than the first two hikers we'd seen earlier.

A better view of Buckner's Orchard and the Stehekin River

Lake Chelan from the same spot as the last picture

At almost the exact point that I could make out the road beyond the trees, I saw the shuttle go by. I didn't think we'd be able to make it anywhere near in time to take it, but in fact we just missed the shuttle by 2 or 3 minutes. If you can do the hike in about 3 1/2 hours (easy to do if you don't stop for lunch and pictures like I do), then you can save yourself some extra hiking. As it was, we had to walk back to the lodge (an extra 2.6 miles) ourselves.

Ducks on the lake

Ducks on Lake Chelan

It's not a bad walk, though. 15 or 20 minutes down the road, we reached the pastry shop. There, we enjoyed an ice cream break. It would only take us another 45 minutes to get to the lodge. Along the way, we had views of geese near the lake shore, and a nice view of the lake in general.

Still more ducks on Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan

Believe it or not, this is someone's front lawn

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