Article by Kim Anderson and Zach Lodato.
Photos by Judy and Mark Millette.
Lake Wenatchee is a hidden gem in the kiteboarding world — clear water, strong winds, a decent launch, and gorgeous scenery all make for an excellent alpine-lake kiting experience. The lake, which is a mile wide and six miles long, is an hour’s drive from Wenatchee and a two-hour drive from Seattle. The kiteboarding season starts as early as late April but with the water temperature in the high 40’s at that time, the experience is only tolerable with a drysuit. Later in the summer, the water temp moves into the 70’s and you may only need a shorty wetsuit to be comfortable.
Many of the kiteboarders who need public access to the lake use Lake Wenatchee State Park to launch. This park is divided by the Wenatchee River into two distinct pods. South Park has areas for camping, swimming, and horseback riding while North Park is less-developed, forested, and requires a quarter-mile walk to reach the water.
The South Park (where you can kiteboard) stays fairly empty until the weather warms up in late June or early July, so there aren’t many people to worry about early in the summer. Around July, picnic tables get moved down onto the beach, there are many more visitors, and the designated swimming area is roped off with floats. At this time, the beach slightly farther south provides a decent launch — it’s not quite as sandy as the other beach but fewer people hang out here. On windy weekends, this becomes the kiteboarding launch site, with five or six kites on the beach.
Wind at Lake Wenatchee is common, consistent, and usually blows directly on-shore from the NNW if you’re launching from the State Park. The wind here is also quite predictable –armed with any number of weather apps on your Smartphone, one can follow what’s happening on the west side of the mountains and pretty much guess that if it’s cooler on the west side and warmer on the east side, there will be wind.
To help you monitor the real-time conditions, there is also a wind meter at the beach where you launch, as well as two others on the North Shore. The two meters on the north shore are privately hosted and can be viewed for free online (with webcams!). The South Shore meter, which I have found to be the most accurate, can only be read, with a paid subscription to ikitesurf.com. The wind strength on any given day can be quite variable but on most days in late spring and in early summer the wind blows in the 15 to 25 mph range and is consistent enough to kite.
As you launch be aware that a large stand of trees at the launch creates a sort of ‘pillow’ of wind, so you can’t just get your kite in the air and go for it. Instead, you need to body drag upwind about 75 yards to reach the wind line. Once you reach the wind line, conditions are great. Also the general rule of thumb at Lake Wenatchee is to use your smaller kite — even though the wind may feel light on the beach, it will be stronger off shore. If for example the beach feels like you’ll need your 10-meter kite, put up your 8 meter.
Lake Wenatchee is not a beginner’s paradise. The wind is on-shore, there are a lot of trees directly down wind, you must body drag to get out to the consistent wind, the water is cold and has a slight current, and there are some large snags nearby.
Also you’re likely to have sightseers on the beach and you need to be very careful about avoiding potential collisions with them. If there are too many people on the beach, look for a better spot to launch. In a pinch, you can wade out in the water along the south shore, and get a buddy to launch you from there. It’s a little walking/wading, but you’ll have to body drag that much less to get going. Keep in mind that kiters are newcomers here and we need to demonstrate a lot of caution and an extra measure of common sense. There is a ranger station on the beach watching all the activities and it will only take one bad experience to prohibit kites from using the beach.
Despite some of the challenges of launching and the need for extra measure of caution, kiteboarding at Lake Wenatchee is worth the trip. The winds are strong and steady, the scenery stunning, and water is wonderfully clear. It’s so clean, in fact, you won’t need to rinse down any of your gear.
Access. Drive Highway 2 about 14 miles west of Leavenworth (or 21 miles east of Stevens Pass). At Coles Corner (milemarker 84.8), turn north onto State Highway 207. Follow this 3.7 miles and turn left on Cedar Brae Road (look for signs noting the South Entrance into the State Park). From here follow signage and a twisting road about 0.8 miles to parking areas within the park.
Map. See our topo map showing Lake Wenatchee launch sites.
Best Wind Links. The best link for getting real-time wind conditions and forecasting the winds to come is to subscribe to iwindsurf.com.
Free Wind Predictions. As with all weather, everyone has their secret formulas. Mine is to 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 www.outsideconnection.com. If it’s colder on the coast and warm on the east side of the state, then something’s gotta move…..hence wind. The bottom line is that weather is always a prediction. Be prepared to get skunked occasionally and arrive having a Plan B!
Other Launch Spots. University Beach is a good beach to launch windsurfers, but is dangerous for kiting. People do it but it’s also the place where the most kites have ended up in the trees. Most regulars avoid it.
Other Local Kiting Locations. The wind along the Columbia River near the city of Wenatchee is too gusty for reliable kiting.. Other places on the Columbia River with decent kiting include the Beebee Bridge and Vantage areas. There’s also some good kiting near the Potholes.
Related Articles. 1) Getting Started Kiteboarding by Kim Anderson 2) Lake Wenatchee Windsurfing by Stu Freed (coming soon).