Washington State

Family Travel: A rustic retreat at Holden Village

I had honestly never heard of Holden Village until reader Liz Sheffield let me in on Washington’s amazing North Cascades secret. Tucked along the north banks of Lake Chelan, Holden Village is a unique and in-the-know option for a family vacation. Today we chat with writer Liz Sheffield about her experiences at Holden Village (all photos are also courtesy of Liz Sheffield).

1. Who went on your trip? How did you hear about Holden Village, near Lake Chelan?

My husband, Brad, and I took our two sons, Henry (5) and Eli (1) to Holden Village. In search of a remote and reasonable get-away, Holden was the perfect place for us. I booked our four-night stay via the Holden Village website. Although we were an individual family, some people do come as part of a larger group.

I first went to Holden Village with my friend and her family in 1982 when we were in the seventh grade. As an only child, I loved taking this trip with my friend’s large family. Her parents were brave souls, hauling five teenage girls in their station wagon from Portland to the tip of Lake Chelan. I wanted to share the experience of Holden with my husband and sons, as well as to expose my sons to a faith-based community given that we don’t regularly attend church.

2. It’s only accessible by boat, correct? How did you decide what to bring with you, for such a remote experience?

Yes, the only way to get to Holden is via a boat called the Lady of the Lake. We got on the boat in Chelan, and it was about a 3.5 hour trip. In the future we would take the boat from Field’s Point Landing (about a 2 hour trip). Once we arrived in Lucerne (Holden’s port), we rode a school bus up eleven miles of dirt roads and switchbacks, to get to Holden.

Kids Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades
Kids Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

Given the trek, I recommend consolidating items in your bags. We brought clothes (there’s a coin laundry if you need it), toiletries, one sippy cup and re-usable water bottles as well as a few books. In order to reduce its footprint, Holden offers a cloth diaper service for guests which we utilized — saving both the environment and room in our suitcases! Holden operates off its own hydroelectric plant, so saving energy is top of mind. (I left my hair dryer at home, and I survived.)

The rooms are furnished with bedding and towels. At my request, Holden was happy to provide a pack n’ play in our room, and upon arrival we found a few “loaner” jogging strollers that we used. Backpackers will find that some hiking equipment is also available to check-out. If you forget something basic, it’s likely they sell it at the small store in the village.

3. What was your room like at Holden? How about the natural surroundings? What was your favorite part about staying in this area of Washington State?

Most guests, like us, stay in one of the lodges (see 2011 rates at the Holden site). These rustic lodges are the dormitories where miners lived when Holden was a mining camp (1896-1957). Each floor has two bathrooms (men’s and women’s) that guests share. In our room we had a double and a single bed, as well as the pack n’ play for our youngest. The front porch of each lodge has seating and it’s common to find people sitting in Adirondacks, connecting over a cup of coffee, tea or a discrete bottle of wine.

Waking up each morning to the sound of the village bell, I felt grateful to be in such a beautiful location. The view from our window (and every other place in the village) is of the amazing Cascade Mountain range.

4. What did your family do for fun at Holden? Were there any kid-specific activities?

Holden offers part-time childcare programming for guests on weekdays. Both of our sons participated in this program (9-12 noon), giving my husband and I time to connect. Our younger son enjoyed finger painting and playing with blocks in the nursery while our older son took a hike to the mining museum and played on the playground. Parents are expected to volunteer for at least one morning shift during the week; I had such a great time in the nursery with my younger son and the other toddlers that I volunteered twice. It was great to see our five-year-old son make friends and enjoy the freedom of being in a remote community. One of his new friends was at Holden for the entire summer (his mother was on staff), the new friend willingly shared a light saber with my son and they had a blast running around on the lawn in front of our lodge.

Hiking one of the many trails around Holden Village
Hiking one of the many trails around Holden Village

Holden has a pottery studio as well as several looms for weaving. If you’re interested in learning how to throw pots or weave, it’s best to make you’re your visit is between Monday – Friday, as most scheduled activities take place during the week rather than on the weekend. There’s also a library and a bowling alley, where bowlers re-set their pins by hand. We also watched an outdoor showing of The Sound of Music one evening. There’s a playground with a climbing structure, swings, basketball hoops and a zip line (my older son’s favorite activity). One of the lodges has a sand box out back as well as a hot tub. A nearby river offers up the perfect bank from which we threw rocks on a daily basis. The variety of trails (difficult, easy, short and long) makes hiking another family-friendly option.

5. Was it hard to live without Internet, cell, TV?

Living without the e-world was one of the best things about our five days at Holden. I was surprised by how easily I fell into not needing to constantly check my e-mail or Facebook. The same was true of being without access to a phone. It was great to have time to just connect as a family and with the new friends we made, without being interrupted by phone calls or e-mail messages. For anyone worried about the “what ifs,” there is a phone number at which people can be reached in case of an emergency.

6. What did you think of the food at Holden?

When I first went to Holden as a teenager, my friend and I begged her parents to stop at the first McDonald’s we could find after a week of “healthy food”. On this trip, my husband and I thought the food was fabulous. Much of the produce is grown in the village and there is delicious homemade bread at every meal (which I survived on as a teen)! Meals are served family-style, so kids can load up on what they like and bread and butter are always available for snacks. Holden also has an ice cream parlor that is open in the afternoon and evening. It’s the perfect treat on a warm, summer day.

7. Is Holden an overtly religious experience?

The mission of Holden Village is “to welcome all people into the wilderness”; given that the village is owned and operated by the Lutheran Church, religion plays a part in that experience. Each night guests are expected to attend the Vespers service which includes a brief sermon and singing. Guests can also attend optional Bible study classes and other, non-religious educational programs offered throughout the day. My husband attended a seminar about bugs, and the week before we arrived, there had been several talks about architecture. As non-Lutherans with a very liberal approach to spirituality, my husband and I felt completely comfortable. We found it to be a welcome and open environment for people from all faiths and of all ages.

8. Anything else you’d want to add about your family camp experience at Holden?

The sense of community at Holden is remarkable. Each day when the school bus leaves to take departing guests back to the port, people gather to wave and say farewell. The day we left, I sat on the bus, crying and waving through the clouds of dust that the wheels kicked up. It was harder than I’d expected to leave the freedom and the quiet that we’d found tucked away in a remote corner of the Cascades.

Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades
Playing at Holden Village in the North Cascades

What did you think, readers? Have you ever gone on a similar family retreat or family camp? If staying in Holden’s lodge isn’t your style, also consider the Holden Bed and Breakfast.

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.

One Comment