Washington’s Slice of Bavaria Dazzles Visitors With Year-Round Fun Activities
Every winter, snow blankets the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth where more than a half-million twinkling lights hang from fairy-tale facades and chalet-style roofs.
Wedged into a valley between Cascade Range peaks, this charming Washington town makes an ideal base for winter recreation and getting outside all year long. Backpacking, hiking, ziplining, snowshoeing and skiing are some of the many outdoor activities in and around this picturesque mountain locale.
Lodging in Leavenworth includes various AAA Diamond rated hotels and inns. Remember to check road conditions and tire/snow chain restrictions for mountain passes in the winter. Consider stopping at one of these scenic and scrumptious stops en route to Leavenworth, or leave the car at home and take Amtrak’s Empire Builder train to Leavenworth’s Icicle Station, about 1.5 miles northeast of downtown. Shuttle service between the station and area hotels is available through the Leavenworth Shuttle.
Skiing and Snow Play
The snowy meadows and hillsides outside Leavenworth hold scenic ski resorts, peaceful cross-country trails and backcountry snowmobile trails.
For downhill skiing, Leavenworth Ski Hill has two downhill ski slopes, each with a rope tow, and a tubing park. Mission Ridge near Wenatchee has more than 36 runs and 2,250 feet of vertical rise. And just 35 miles from Leavenworth, Stevens Pass has 52 runs and 1,800 vertical feet on two mountains.
For cross-country skiers, the nearly 5-mile Icicle River Nordic Trail traverses woods and meadows along the river with gorgeous mountain views. The 3-mile Icicle River Snowshoe Adventure Trail winds through woods and over bridges with the same pretty scenery. The nearly 5-mile Golf Course Trail has exhilarating downhill runs with sweeping curves. For grander adventures north of town, Plain Valley Ski Trails offers about 15 miles of groomed, Nordic trails.
Deeper in the backcountry, snowmobiles zoom along about 150 miles of trail in the lower elevations of the surrounding foothills and mountains, which rise as high as 7,000 feet.
The winter fun in Leavenworth isn’t limited to the ski slopes. Kids of all ages will make furry friends at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, a family operation where visitors can feed, pet and take photos with reindeer. November and December tours typically include cocoa, cider and cookies — and Santa Claus is known to stop by in the days leading up to Christmas. Reservations are required and should be made up to two months in advance of the height of the holiday season.
Or bundle up, throw a blanket over your legs, and take a horse-drawn sleigh ride into the surrounding mountain valleys. Winter is also a prime time to spot migrating bald eagles at nearby parks such as Lake Wenatchee State Park and along the Wenatchee River, which runs through town and provides a dependable source of food for eagles.
Spring, Summer and Fall Fun
Surrounded by the nearly 4-million-acre Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Leavenworth has more than 800 miles of trails and high-flying fun for active thrill-seekers in warmer months.
The Enchantments lives up to its name with alpine peaks, mountain lakes, resilient larches and other natural marvels around every turn. Many hikes through the Upper Enchantments demand brutal ascents of more than 4,000 feet. Although most visitors are day hikers, many opt for overnight backpacking, which requires a permit. These are assigned in a lottery that begins every February.
An easier hike is the 3.9-mile Icicle Gorge Loop, which gains just 150 feet as it follows Icicle Creek along rapids and, in spring, small waterfalls. Shaded by forest, it’s ideal for a hot day, but gorgeous for spring blossoms and fall colors, too. This is a popular, family-friendly hike, so have alternate hikes in mind in case the parking lot is full. Check with local ranger offices for current conditions.
Another quick, quiet getaway is the Blackbird Island hike at Waterfront Park, with wildlife and Cascade views along a mostly flat, 2-mile round-trip walk.
For something more exciting, Leavenworth Ziplines run April through October. The attraction darts from ridge to ridge — taking riders up to 190 feet above Beaver Creek Valley — and includes up to nine ziplines, one double-decker platform and a suspension bridge. Tours range from two to three hours and include small-group options.
Find more thrills at Bike Pump Park in Enchantment Park, where bicyclists of all skill levels can try an exciting new way to ride. It’s one of the few paved tracks of its kind on the West Coast, with banked curves, rollers and berms.
Remember to check road conditions and tire/snow chain restrictions for mountain passes in the winter. And call ahead or go online to confirm the availability of specific attractions and amenities before you hit the road.
–Written by Leslie Forsberg, last updated in September 2022.
–Top Photo by Alamy