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Guide to Chelan, USA

Tuesday 4 February, 2014
Heading north east into the big wide yonder behind launch - perfect flatland flying. Photo: Stefan Mitrovich

Heading north east into the big wide yonder behind launch – perfect flatland flying. Photo: Stefan Mitrovich

Unlimited big routes across the flatlands, with mountain flying available too.


The fine Chelan soil is pulled into thermals peppering the landscape with dust devils to mark the way. Throw in multiple spacious launches and landings and you have one of the USA’s free flying heavens.

Chelan Butte is in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, nestled between Lake Chelan and the Columbia River. It’s a transition area offering a wide variety of landscapes in different directions.

East over the Columbia River brings flatlands, which spread south and east to the boundaries of the state. North takes you along the foothills towards Canada, west towards the Cascade Mountains and spectacular views. Snow-capped volcanoes are visible from the air. The top of the Butte is wide open and works in all directions.

The flatlands offer nearly unlimited routes with great landing options almost everywhere. Farmers are welcoming as long as we respect their crops, and much of the land is publicly owned. With small towns throughout the area hitching is easy, although typically pilots arrange a retrieve driver.

Chelan is a popular summer destination because of Lake Chelan, a pristine, glacier-fed lake. Golden hillsides and pine-lined shores skirt the lake, and the surrounding mountains rise dramatically 2,500 m up out of the deep blue water.

As a vacation town, Chelan offers all the amenities needed for a great holiday. Luckily the town is still relatively small so the prices are reasonable. Along with numerous water sports and great swimming areas at the lake, the nearby North Cascades National Forest offers brilliant camping, hiking, climbing, biking and of course flying.

The main launch is south facing and starts working around 11 am. The terrain drops away steeply for 600 m, then spreads into rolling fields that continue to the river 915 m below. This generates big, powerful thermals that are channelled right up to the Between The Rock launch, so named due to the large rock outcrops either side. There’s plenty of room, but watch your heading until you’re clear.

March to October, with the best XC conditions in June to August.

Cloudbase: 2,700 – 3,300 m over the Butte, but higher in the flats
Launches:  1,158 m
Main landings: Chelan Falls Park 244 m

Same as paragliders

Brilliant everywhere! Most days the surface flow will direct you north east across the flats towards the town of Mansfield, and beyond. Long distances, out and returns and triangles. It’s all about covering ground.

Dust devils on launch! Be very watchful once hooked in. Watch the movement in the bushes and pick your launch cycles well. No airspace until near Spokane, 160 km east, but watch out for military jets flying low and very fast!

Lots of decent and clean motels in Chelan for around $100. Plus nice campgrounds and fancy resorts on the lake side. Visit www.cometothelake.com for more info, camping is under ‘101 Things to do’.

Aerial Paragliding

“I love Chelan! It’s mountain access to expansive flatlands. Strong lift and high cloudbases with light enough winds to make huge triangles or downwind runs of over 200 km.” Nick Greece – editor USHPA magazine

Yes! It’s a great family location. Water sports in the lake and outdoor activities galore in the Cascades.

What rainy days? If it’s not flyable in summer it’ll just be too windy, but you’ll still have the sunshine. Go swimming or play in the mountains.

www.paragliding.us has a weather page. Look for Wenatchee which has some local wind data.

Fly to Wenatchee, about 30 minutes drive away, if you can, although Seattle is just over three hours drive and usually the easiest option. There are buses and trains, but it would require 2-3 changes, the times are infrequent, and they don’t go to Chelan on the weekends. You need a vehicle to get around in Chelan.

Aerial Paragliding
Northwest Paragliding Club
Stefan Mitrovich

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