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Chelan Butte Road State Wildlife Area

This ten-mile, mostly dirt road climbs 2,400 feet up through ponderosa pine stands and shrub/steppe habitat to the radio tower at the top of Chelan Butte. The scenery is spectacular as you climb above Lake Chelan, and at the top there is a broad vista overlooking the Columbia River, Waterville Plateau, the Enchantments above Leavenworth, and uplake into the North Cascades National Park. In spring, hillsides in full bloom with balsamroot, lupine, shooting stars, phlox and abundant other wildflowers are an added attraction.

The best birding is in the lower three miles after the pavement changes to dirt, and is best done on foot. These lower elevations include wild grass meadows, and draws with elderberry, serviceberry, wild rose and other shrubs and forbs.

Access and Logistics

From the South: Coming from Wenatchee on Hwy 197A, turn right (south) across from the Lakeside Lodge as you enter Chelan, and go up the Chelan Butte Road.

From the North: Coming through Chelan, head south out of town on Hwy 197A. After you pass the Three Fingers and Lakeside School, turn left (south) across from the Lakeside Lodge, to go up the Chelan Butte Road.

Logistics: Chelan Butte Road changes from pavement to dirt 2.1 miles from Hwy 197A. There are slightly broadened pull-offs around this area where you can park, as well as two other sites on the right a few tenths of a mile further on the right. At this point you are on private land, but you enter the State Wildlife Area in another mile. At all places the terrain is wide open, and easily birded from the road. A scope can be worthwhile.

In winter the road is usually packed snow and ice, and can be very muddy with ruts during meltwater run-off. Four wheel drive is necessary then, and high undercarriage clearance is helpful at all times. In summer, any standard vehicle can make the climb except the last mile to the top, where the road is typically rocky and has sheer drop-offs as you near the top. There are places to turn around about one mile below the summit and at the summit.

No services are available along this road. However, gas, food, and lodging can all be found in Chelan. Cell phone service is sporadic along the route.

Major Habitats along Route
  • Ponderosa pine woodland
  • Shrub-steppe, dominated by sagebrush, bitterbrush, grasses and forbs

Birds and Seasons to Visit

Seasons: Because there is no watersource other than snowmelt or the rare rain, spring is the best season. Winter accessibility can be difficult and late summer/early fall is hot and dry.

Birds: Raptors are everpresent, feeding on the rodents and birds. Both eagles can be seen, along with harrier, merlin, and rough-legged, red-tail, coopers, and sharp-shinned hawks, as well as kestrels. Woodpeckers thrive on the numerous dead snags, and include white-headed as well as the more common hairy, downy, red-naped sapsucker and flickers. All three nuthatches also enjoy the aging trees and snags. Early spring brings ruby-crowned Kinglets competing for mates. Spring also brings migrating warblers, as well as resident nesters - Nashville, Townsends, orange-Crowned and yellow-rumped warblers, Say’s phoebe and western wood pewee, warbling vireo, Cassin’s, purple, and house finches. Lazuli buntings sing boldly from bush tops, black-headed grosbeaks abound, and spotted towhees are always busy in the underbrush. Western tanagers, western meadowlarks, western and mountain bluebirds and Bullock’s orioles frequently flash their bright colors. The steep clay banks alongside the road house a breeding colony of rough-winged swallows; violet-green and barn swallows are also common. Western and eastern kingbirds are numerous. Sparrow populations include white-crowned, golden-crowned, song, chipping, vesper, and lark sparrows.

For those who do brave the winter conditions, raptors, woodpeckers, the three nuthatches and two chickadees, along with Steller’s jay, magpies, ravens, California quail, and chukar are most commonly seen. Red crossbills, pine grosbeaks, pine siskins, Pacific wren, and northern shrike are also occasionally found.

Side Trips

Lake Chelan State Park. Follow Hwy 97A south, turning right at Pat and Mike’s service station to continue along the lakeshore on South Shore Drive. The state park is on the right, 6.5 miles beyond the turn. This 127-acre park has 6,000 feet of shoreline and beach, and both deciduous and evergreen woods with trails. Because this is a very popular camping park, the best seasons for birding are early spring, winter, and late fall. The park is closed in winter, but can be entered on foot after parking at the base of First Creek Road (turn left immediately after the park entrance, then right onto First Creek Road.) The park is an excellent place to find waterfowl and shorebirds, raptors, woodpeckers, owls, and passerines.


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