Article by Stuart Freed. Photos by Mark and Judy Millette.
If you are like me and start to lose focus or daydream of making the perfect ‘bottom turn’ whenever leaves begin rustling in the wind, then you should know about Lake Wenatchee. Prior to moving back to our valley many years ago, I was wearing out my car and my wife’s patience with endless road trips to Hood River to go windsurfing. The Columbia Gorge offers up some of the best wind-sport opportunities in the world but in some respects, Lake Wenatchee is even better.
Why? Well, you won’t have to contend with 2000 of your closest friends to get to your favorite beach at Lake Wenatchee. You won’t have to worry about being hit by a barge at Lake Wenatchee. At the ‘Lake’ you won’t have to worry about the wide range of down-river toxins that may be coursing through your veins after spending hours in the water. You won’t be tempted to drop $100 per plate for dinner at the Lake. Lastly, in nearly the same time spent on the one-way drive to the ‘Gorge’ you could have visited the Lake, sailed, and driven home again.
Addiction Alert: One dose of such fun and scenery can have lifetime repercussions.
The best wind at Lake Wenatchee is, like the Gorge, driven by the hot, dry desert pulling cool, moist air across the Cascade Crest and through the east/west canyon occupied by the lake. Our local wind is best in June and July but the wind continues to be good, though a bit more intermittent, throughout the late summer and into early autumn. You can access Lake Wenatchee wind conditions via iwindsurf.com, a subscription service that gives up-to-date forecast and condition reports for most of the northern hemisphere.
Lake Wenatchee is cold by most people’s standards. A 4mm or 5mm full suit (steamer) is necessary through early July. I am able to use a ‘shorty’ by mid-July but will be back in ‘long pants’ by September. One good thing about needing a wetsuit? The mosquitoes, which can be a real nuisance for much of the summer as you enter or exit the lake, can’t bite through several millimeters of neoprene.
The best public access to the lake for windsurfers is the U of W Beach (also called University Beach). Although privately owned, the University of Washington allows public access to the lake here. There are no amenities at this launch. The closest restrooms are at Lake Wenatchee State Park. Midway Grocery near the turnoff to Fish Lake (a little over 2 miles away) makes a mean mocha! There are no trash cans out here either, so please clean up after yourself and be a good guest. We would hate to lose this wonderful resource.
Kiteboarding is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet and ‘kiters’ do launch from U of W Beach. Usually you can tell who’s who by hair color — windsurfers are the ones with gray hair. This being said, U of W Beach is not an easy launch for kites and many kiters have ended up in the trees here. Launching from the southern parcel of the State Park is a safer launch for kites. See Kim Anderson’s article for more about kiteboarding on the lake.
Some people in Central Washington get frustrated by the amount of wind flowing off the East slopes of the Cascades and across our heated desert lands. Not me. Rather than fighting the elements by, say, mountain biking into the teeth of a dust storm, I go with the flow. On one of those all-too-frequent days when the wind is ripping, I visit Lake Wenatchee, which is superbly oriented to capture and funnel the wind. Suddenly Mother Nature is skimming me across the lake on a 25-mile-per hour thrill ride. I’ve got beautiful green water under my fin, spectacular mountain views in me eyes, and a huge smile on my face
Access. Drive Highway 2 about 14 miles west of Leavenworth (or 21 miles east of Stevens Pass). At Coles Corner (milepost 84.8), turn north onto State Highway 207 and follow this in a northeasterly. Just past milepost 5, take the first left onto North Shore Road and drive about 1.5 miles to where you see where folks are parking on the left to access U of W Beach. This beach is a good launch for windsurfers but is rocky, has no amenities, and is not a good kiteboarding launch. Alternately to launch from Lake Wenatchee State Park, follow Highway 207 about 3.7 miles from Highway 2 and turn left on Cedar Brae Road (look for signs noting the South Entrance into the State Park). Follow signage and a twisting road about 0.8 miles to parking areas within the park.
Map. See our Lake Wenatchee topo map to find launch sites.
Best Wind Links. The best link for getting real-time wind conditions and wind forecasts for the days ahead is to subscribe to iwindsurf. Monitoring the pressure difference between Seattle and Wenatchee is a particularly good way to determine whether the wind will be good. Expect the following winds for the following Seattle-Wenatchee pressure gradients: West 10 will result in 10 mph winds, West 15 will deliver 15mph winds, and West 20 will result in 20 mph winds.
Free Wind Predictions. As with all weather, everyone has their secret formulas. Many people simply look at the different webcams (see below) on the lake and see if there are whitecaps on the water — the more whitecaps, the windier it is! Another way to help predict whether the wind will be kicking up in the afternoon is to check a site like OutsideConnection. If it’s cool on the coast (Seattle) and warm in the city of Wenatchee, then something’s gotta move…..hence wind. Weather forecasts are only a prediction, however, and sometime you’re going to skunked. If you’re driving out to the lake it’s good to have a fallback option.
Other Central Washington Windsurfing Locations. The wind along the Columbia River near the city of Wenatchee is too gusty to offer reliable windsurfing. Other places on the Columbia River with decent windsurfing include the Beebee Bridge and Vantage areas.