Discover How Wide Washington’s Lake Chelan Is at Its Widest Point

Written by Rob Amend
Published: November 14, 2023
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About Lake Chelan

Washington’s Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States. It was formed by a glaciation process that carved out what is referred to as “overdeepened” basins. This carving-out process resulted in a large lake extending below sea level. So, it’s deep, but how wide is Lake Chelan?

How wide is Lake Chelan>

How Wide Is Lake Chelan: Size of Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan is a long, narrow lake. It is almost 50 miles long but only 1.8 miles across at its widest point. One of its distinguishing features is its astonishing depth, which, at its deepest, is 1,486 feet. Its maximum elevation above sea level is 1,110 feet, which is incredible because the bottom of the lake reaches 436 feet below sea level. Because of the narrow nature of the lake, it only has a surface area of 52.1 square miles.

Where Is Lake Chelan?

Lake Chelan is located in north central Washington in a valley bracketed by the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It is about 25 miles east of Glacier Peak, and the lake serves as a gateway to North Cascades National Park. The lake’s southern end is northwest of the Columbia River and US-97, between the towns of Winesap and Azwell.

How Long Would It Take To Swim Across Lake Chelan?

A swimmer with an average time of 2 mph could cross the lake at its widest point in about 55 minutes. This would be difficult at the lake’s northern end, where the glacier melt initially pours in, but the southern end (also the wider end) is significantly warmer.

How the Size of Lake Chelan Compares To Other Lakes

Lake Chelan in Washington state

Lake Chelan is one of the largest lakes in the United States.

© Kingman

Though there are larger U.S. lakes, Lake Chelan is still one of the 100 largest by surface area. Lake Superior, at 31,700 square miles, dwarfs the 52.1 square miles of Lake Chelan. The two deepest United States lakes, Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe, have surface areas of 20.6 square miles and 191 square miles, respectively. If you want to compare other large lakes in the state, read this A-Z Animals article on the largest lakes in Washington.

Things To Do at Lake Chelan

Speed boat cruising on Lake Chelan in Washington.

The fertile shores of Lake Chelan are perfect for vineyards.

©Michael J Magee/

The southern end of Lake Chelan is the most densely populated region around the lake. The towns of Manson and Chelan are located here and host numerous resorts, inns, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. This is where visitors will find entertainment, theaters, restaurants, golf courses, boat launches, and the 12 Tribes Lake Chelon Casino.

The lake is ideal for boating, fishing, and swimming (in the southern basin). Campgrounds surround the lake’s southern end, and hiking is a favorite pastime in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Wildlife, bird watching, and nature photography are popular around Lake Chelan. Lake Chelan State Park is a great jumping-off point for these adventures.

Finally, Visitors will want to tour the many orchards and wineries around the lake. The region has excellent soil due to glaciation and the nearby volcanoes.

Wildlife Around Lake Chelan

The American Pika lives around Lake Chelah.

© Kaye

The Pacific Northwest has an incredibly diverse wildlife population. In addition to the lake trout, chinook salmon, and smallmouth bass that populate the lake’s waters, the shores and streams are home to American beavers and river otters. Mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goats roam the surrounding forests and hills. Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and American black bears balance the sheep and deer. Mink, weasels, wolverines, and martens thrive here. People have also seen muskrats, porcupines, marmots, and American pikas.

Among the trees and in the skies, observers will see American eagles, grouse, wild turkeys, sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks, osprey, and barred owls. On and around the waters, nature watchers will see great blue herons, mallards, Canada geese, buffleheads, and horned grebes. This is just an overview of the wealth of birding opportunities around Lake Chelan.

Fun Facts About Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan’s deepest waters are below sea level.


  • The deepest portions of Lake Chelan are below sea level.
  • Lake Chelan is divided into two basins. The lower basin is the smaller and shallower of the two and is where you will find the largest communities.
  • Lake Chelan has its own cryptid—Tsilly the dragon! Sightings have been reported since 1812.
  • The lake’s name can be traced to the Salish people’s word for deep water, “Tsi-Laan.”
  • Most (about 87%) of the land in the lake’s watershed is owned by government entities.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Fen Kuntz/

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About the Author

Rob Amend is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily covering meteorology, geology, geography, and animal oddities. He attained a Master's Degree in Library Science in 2000 and served as reference librarian in an urban public library for 22 years. Rob lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, photography, woodworking, listening to classic rock, and watching classic films—his favorite animal is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey.

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