chelan region

The History of the Chelan Region

Sure, everyone comes to visit Lake Chelan for the breathtaking natural beauty of the lake, for the watersports—oh, and did we already we mention the world-class parasailing?

But beyond all that, the story of the Chelan region reads like a mini-history of America, from the earliest Native American inhabitants to the settlers who arrived in the 19th century, all the way through the winemakers and artisans who help make modern-day Chelan so special.

You can learn all this history and more through the fascinating exhibits and permanent collections at the Chelan Museum, a historic structure operated by the Lake Chelan Historical Society.

Lake Chelan’s Earliest Inhabitants

It’s believed that the region’s first human inhabitants arrived around 10,000 years ago. (North America has had human inhabitants for at least 16,000 years; it’s possible they migrated from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge.)

Interestingly, scientists believe Lake Chelan itself was formed by glacial activity around 10,000 years ago as well. Is it possible that even then, the natural beauty and bounty of the region was drawing humans to its shores?

Those first native inhabitants were likely offshoots of the Wenatchi Tribe; it’s possible they gained the “Chelan” name as a result of Alexander Ross, an explorer employed by the Pacific Fur Company. He reported that the native inhabitants referred to the nearby river as the “Tsill-ane,” or “deep water,” and that it was connected with the nearby lake.

Caucasian Settlers Change the Human Landscape

The West Coast experienced a flood of settlers from the East. Many of the first waves came in search of valuable animal pelts; then in the middle of the 19th century, the California Gold Rush inspired many thousands more. In some regions of the West, indigenous tribes—many of them weakened by exposure to previously unknown diseases like smallpox—were simply driven away by the new settlers.

In the Chelan region, The Yakima Treaty of 1855 had consolidated several unaffiliated tribes together, removing their claim to millions of acres of land in exchange for a small reservation, cash, and other incentives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this agreement turned sour quickly, and a series of wars, massacres, and skirmishes marked the region until the remaining native tribes were finally relocated to the Colville Reservation and a few small allotments on Lake Chelan itself.

Shaping Modern-Day Chelan

The end of the 19th century brought many changes to the region: A new influx of settlers, many brought by the arrival of reliable railroad service. Agriculture—fed by the area’s plentiful irrigation water—flourished, and Don Morse, one of Chelan’s most beloved figures of the 20th century and the namesake of our beloved park was for many years an apple farmer. These days, a flourishing wine industry carries on the tradition of local and artisan foods and traditions, a nod to the richness and bounty of this gem hidden right in the middle of Washington State.

If you’re interested in learning more about Chelan’s history, check out the Chelan Museum where you can interact with fascinating relics of the past! When you’re done playing on the lake, do yourself a favor and pay the Historical Society a visit; it’s one history lesson you won’t regret!

Lake Chelan activities

Lake Chelan Activities Beyond Watersports

If you’re one of our many friends and repeat visitors in Chelan, you know how big we are on anything and everything having to do with water: parasailing, jet skiing and boating but also water sports, longer boating tours around the lake and boat design.

But from time to time, even we have to admit that dry land looks pretty good, too. Fortunately, Chelan and the surrounding area hosts a ton of relaxing, beautiful and just plain fun outdoor activities for guests of every age.

Here are a few of our favorite places and things to do around town. If you’re with youngsters, don’t forget to check out our family fun roundup from a few weeks back!

Lake Chelan Activities Beyond Watersports

Electric Bike Tours

The zippy little two-wheelers at Chelan Electric Bikes are a blast! You can cruise at up to 20 miles per hour using either pedal power, the small electric motor, or a combination of both. The company also offers highly rated tours of local wineries, several of which we pointed out in our “local wineries” blog from a few weeks ago.

Farmer’s Market

One of the most beloved (and most delicious) weekly events of the summer is the Chelan Farmer’s Market, open every Thursday evening from 4 – 7 pm. You’ll see gorgeous produce and locally produced cheese from over 20 vendors, hear live music and catch food and cooking demos to boot. Unlike some other farmers markets, Chelan’s has a strict policy that all vendors and produce must be local. Come by and get a taste of what makes life in Chelan so magnificent!

Don Morse Memorial Park

A 40-acre extravaganza right on the lakeshore, Don Morse Park is named for one of the country’s most beloved fixtures, an orchardist and civic leader with a fascinating life story. The park he inspired offers prime swimming, boating, and sunbathing access, plus a host of amenities. You’ll find a newly resurfaced beach volleyball court, tennis, and basketball courts, a skatepark, and even an 18-hole green-grass putting course.

Beebe Bridge

A “hidden gem” of a park located some four miles east of Chelan, Beebe Bridge Park offers swimming, picnicking, tennis and more on a beautiful perch overlooking the Columbia River. Of course, the centerpiece is a stunning view of the bridge itself, an impressive, nearly 100-year-old two-lane steel span. If you’re motoring through town, Beebe Bridge Park offers RV hookups on a first-come-first-served basis.

Chelan Riverwalk Park

No description of Chelan would be complete without a mention of this gorgeous walking park winding around the eastern end of Lake Chelan. Featuring a picnic area, boat launch, and a walking trail, you can enjoy stunning views of the lake through all the seasons, but especially during the golden light of the last half of summer.

We hope you find these resources both tempting and useful, and most of all – we hope to see you here in Chelan sometime soon!

Lake Chelan watersports

A Brief History of Lake Chelan Watersports

Though you might not know it from a look at their sleek, highly engineered exteriors and cutting-edge composite construction materials, many of the devices and watercraft we rent, sell and maintain here at Chelan Parasail & Watersports have deep roots in native cultures from all around the world. Let’s take a brief survey of some of these fascinating craft; we bet you’ll be surprised how far back into history these crafts reach!

Lake Chelan Watersports


A symbol of the Pacific Northwest (and other regions of the north), the name of this streamlined, hydrodynamic watercraft derives from the language of Greenland, which gave it the name qajaq. The earliest known examples were made of seal or other animal skins stitched together over a frame of wood or whale bones, depending on what construction materials were close at hand. Kayaks are believed to have been used for at least the last 4,000 years; the oldest surviving example dates from 1577.

Today, kayaks are typically made of highly engineered materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber or PVC. Come rent one of ours for a truly historic perspective of the lake!

Paddle Boards

These simple little watercraft have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years or so. While they combine elements of surfboards and kayaks, they’re in a class by themselves. Paddle boards are easy to learn and use, and capable of quite decent speeds when piloted by a strong and committed paddler.

As with kayaks, it’s tempting to imagine that paddle boards are a modern-day invention, but that’s not entirely accurate. A 1781 engraving by John Webber, the ship’s artist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his Pacific voyage of 1778, clearly shows a paddle boarder or surf rider in the lower left.

More recently, paddle boarding in the United States can be traced to one Thomas Edward Blake, who built replicas of ancient Hawaiian boards back in the 1920s. Gradually streamlining and improving the design, Blake more or less single-handedly popularized this style of wave riding. A resurgence in popularity in the 1980s cemented the paddleboard’s place in the watersports pantheon. Today, they’re more popular than ever, especially on beautiful Lake Chelan. And, yes, before you have a chance to ask – we rent paddle boards too!


Another modern-looking waterborne funmaker, wakeboards—originally known as “skurfs” for their combination of water skiing and surfing elements—have been around since the 1970s. Like so many of the devices we use for fun out on the water, the first examples were hand-carved from wood down in Australia and New Zealand.

Though they caught on in a big way with the sporting/exhibition community in the 1980s through early stars like Tony Finn and Howard Jacobs, the introduction of modern, lightweight materials like carbon fiber and foam made wakeboards accessible to the general public.

If you haven’t gotten out on one yet, don’t wait! Wakeboards are a lot of fun during these last hot days of summer. And, you guessed it: we’ve got them. Come on by and try one for yourself!

We hope this has shed an interesting light on your favorite Lake Chelan watersport. What’s your favorite watersport and why?

Omak Rodeo and Stampede

Omak Rodeo and Stampede

In today’s hyper-connected and fast-paced world—are you reading this on a phone or a tablet? Have you shared it on Facebook or Instagram yet?—it’s easy to feel like there’s no time to actually enjoy life as it’s happening in real time.

That’s one of the reasons we love living on beautiful Lake Chelan—when you’re sitting by the deep and clean waters, or enjoying the stunning view from a few hundred feet in the air, there’s simply no way to be any place but the here-and-now.

That’s one of the reasons we love and look forward each and every year to the Omak Rodeo and Stampede, it’s a real-life, one-of-a-kind event that reminds us of the thrill and excitement of enjoying life in the moment. Taking place the second week in August since 1933, the rodeo is a true taste of the frontier culture that dominated and defined life here in Central Washington since the arrival of white settlers in the second half of the 19th century.

A Little History: Omak, Omak Rodeo and Stampede, and Family Fun

The brainchild of two Okanogan County stockmen, Tim Bernard and Leo Moomaw (who, let’s face it, was perhaps born to be a cattle rancher), the rodeo was conceived as a blatant ploy to drum up interest in sleepy downtown Omak (a small town about an hour’s drive from Chelan).

Bernard and Moomaw managed to secure appearances by many of the leading lights of the pre-War rodeo scene—Stub Bathlemay, Floyd Cook, Bert Evans—names that may be lost to history for many of us, but still maintain a hold on the imagination and memories of the rodeo scene.

Be aware that in those pre-television—never mind pre-Internet days—public life in large part revolved around these grand events and social gatherings. In addition to the standard rodeo events—bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback riding and team roping—this year’s event features a Native American encampment and pow wow, a carnival, parade and kids’ events.

A Taste for (Old-Fashioned) Thrills

Perhaps the most-anticipated event of this jam-packed weekend is the terrifying-sounding “Suicide Race,” which is run much as it was in its debut back in 1935: Horses and their riders ascend a steep bluff overlooking the Okanogan River; then race down a seemingly impossible sheer face, cross the river, and then dash to the finish line.

If you’re already planning on visiting the Chelan region in August, we can’t recommend the Omak Rodeo and Stampede highly enough. This year’s event is August 10-13; be sure to buy your tickets in advance.

If you have any interest in Western, rodeo and cattle culture, or Washington State history, the Omak Rodeo and Stampede is a must-see event, and a beloved and powerful reminder of the United States’ frontier heritage. And if you find yourself dry, dusty and tuckered out after all the excitement, you know where you can go for some cool, clean relaxation.