Find a Soulful Retreat Near Lake Chelan

You're more than a visitor in former mining hamlet Holden Village.

By Tim Appelo July 18, 2017


This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Holden Village was featured in our 12 Best Northwest Vacations package.

Why would 7,000 visitors a year go to remote Holden Village, a former mining hamlet 3,200 feet high in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness above Lake Chelan, and a day’s journey from Seattle via boat and bumpy mountain road? Partly because it looks like a cross between a college and an arts colony, and hasn’t changed much since Courage of Lassie, starring Elizabeth Taylor, was shot there in 1944. 

Abandoned in 1957, Holden was given in 1962 to a non-profit organization that refurbished its 40-odd buildings as a retreat for people looking for an elevating experience in stunning surroundings. You’re not a guest, you’re a villager, staying in the comfortably rustic lodges the miners used, typically two to four to a room (or one family to a room), with a bathroom down the hall, and a shared table in the communal dining hall (three meals a day included).  

“Anyone is welcome,” says Werner Janssen, Holden’s first manager, who wrote a book about the place and also helped create Leavenworth’s Sleeping Lady Resort. An ecumenical retreat run by the Lutheran Church, Holden is more about spirituality than dogma, but there is a nightly 20-minute vespers service, whose past guest organists have included A Prairie Home Companion’s Philip Brunelle. If spiritual talk isn’t your thing, you can use Holden as a base camp for the excursions into the high country, as Everest conqueror Willi Unsoeld did; Holden’s Hike Haus offers tips for good routes (and some equipment, such as fishing poles).

Image Credit: Holden Staff 
Guests arrive via boat

Holden executive directors Chuck and Peg Hoffman are professional artists, and they invite painters, writers, musicians, comedians and scholars for artist residencies and formal talks (some are sold out, so book before you go). Parents get some culture, while kids have fun in Holden’s Narnia children’s program. This summer’s 20 speakers include Washington’s former poet laureate Elizabeth Austen and experts on stars, South Africa, calligraphy and racial justice. In our bitterly divided society, says Janssen, “Holden Village seeks to create a safe place for civil dialogue.”

He adds: “There are few places left in the world that offer an opportunity to leave culture to hear ourselves in the silence of the wilderness.” Despite recent wildfires that threatened the Cascades and American culture, Holden is still there.

Insider Tip: Bring a jacket for 40-degree summer nights, a swimsuit for the sauna and Jacuzzi, and alcohol if you want to consume any. Don’t bring: cellphones (no reception), curling irons (they strain the hydroelectric plant), candles or pets—though outside you may spot a descendant of the chipmunk Liz Taylor wrote a story about. It’s in the 8,500-volume Holden library.

Holden Village $70–$90/night per person;

Check out the rest of our 12 Best Northwest Vacations here.

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