This is a wonderful campground on the banks of the Columbia River east of the Cascades in Washington state that Sharon and I discovered a dozen years ago, and resolved to revisit. Back then we didn’t have an RV and I was still working, so our trips out west were whirlwind tours with no time to stop and savor the beautiful sights we were seeing. This month we finally made if back with our Roadtrek and enough time to enjoy it.
This is a county park, one of a series of 14 parks developed and administered by the Chelan County Public Utilities Department, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s beautifully landscaped and maintained, a huge swath of green lawn on the riverbank. Here the river is basically going through a desert – annual rainfall here is 11.4 inches – but they have this vast system of underground sprinklers and an aggressive lawn maintenance approach that makes for a beautiful setting. the lawn is the most striking feature of the park.
Half the park is soccer fields, tennis courts, picnic pavilions, a swimming area with a roped-off barrier so you aren’t going to go out too far and get swept downstream. The other half is 46 camping spots, maybe 15 of which are right on the water. And it’s all first-come, first-served. It’s $30 a night until Labor Day, when it goes down to $15 for seniors 62 and older. With electricity and water at each site, a dump on the premises, and bathhouses. It’s an amazing bargain, even good enough to get a hardcore boondocker like me to come in out of the wilderness. I have a weakness for long hot showers. I am ashamed to admit I even plugged in while I was there.
Because it’s nowhere near any large population centers, it’s surprisingly underutilized, it was never full when I was there. Because school had already started and with the senior price break, it looked like an AARP convention, everybody there was near my age, and the only vigorous activity was when one of the riverfront spots came open and people scurried around to jump on it. There’s an automated self-registration system that takes cash (warning – no change available) or credit cards, and the only staff you see is the guy whizzing around on a huge riding lawn mover. I would imagine it’s busier in the summer, but we like the shoulder season; it gets pretty hot east of the Cascades in the middle of the summer. The camping section of the park is open April 1 to November 1.
The town of Chelan Falls is right across the river, and Chelan itself is five miles north, with a Safeway, Walmart, and so forth – population is about 4000 so it’s a decent sized place which will have everything you’d need for a long stay here. The area’s main economy seems to be growing apples using Columbia River water for irrigation. There are huge apple warehouses in town.
I loved sitting there watching the river go by – the water is a beautiful clear bluish-green and the current is very swift, I’d guess at least 3-4 miles per hour. Don’t fall in or you’ll have to hitchhike back to the campground. Salmon make it up the river this far, and spawn in the tributaries. Out on the dock you can look down and see silvery flashes on the bottom 15-20 feet below as they roll on their sides to grab a morsel the current is bringing downstream. The ones I saw were a foot to a foot and a half long, and very plentiful. It’s an entirely different ecosystem than I’m used to.
After ten days they kick you out to discourage the understandable impulse to just park here forever, so we did our ten days and headed east. It’s nice to get back to another one of the places we had seen before, and promised ourselves we would return to.