A mystical place exists in the middle of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, where unobstructed nature meets with Bavarian-themed celebration to create a magical balance. This world seems to perfectly ride the line between a tourist nightmare and a charming mountain hamlet invitingly. German food and great beer amongst jagged peaks feel right at home and can be exceptionally comforting at a time when global exploration is severely curtailed. Missing international travel and feeling a little stir-crazy, I was in the mood to break free from the Emerald City. Since my friends Laura and Rick recently relocated to the German-themed town, the inspiration struck to make a Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth.
This article brings to life my Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth — including helpful information for planning your visit
Table of Contents
- Brief history of Leavenworth — why the German theme?
- My weekend getaway
- Wine tasting in Leavenworth
- Food and drink in the Bavarian village
- Nature of the Cascade Mountains
- Winter things to do in Leavenworth, Washington
- Map of Leavenworth, Washington
- Getting to Leavenworth
- Where to stay?
A brief history of Leavenworth — why the German theme?
About two hours North and East of Seattle, Leavenworth first drew notoriety as a hub for the Great Northern Railroad. Crews under the guidance of John Stevens engineered marvels of tunnels and wood trusses that finally pushed through to the Salish Sea in the 1890s. Lumber from the surrounding forests was extracted and sent East on the lucrative new route. Even today, Amtrak runs a thrice-weekly cross-country route between Seattle and Chicago, known as the “Empire Builder” named after James Hill — the industrial tycoon responsible for the railroad expansion that put Leavenworth on the map. Years later, the railroad hub shifted to nearby Wenatchee, WA, leaving Leavenworth to wonder about its future.
In the 1960s some of the townspeople came together to reimagine a new path forward, focused on showcasing the stunning alpen-like beauty of the area through the lens of an authentic Bavarian mountain burg. Over time, momentum grew within the businesses centered around Front Street and the entire town eventually got on board to fully embrace the spirit of Germany.
Today, the economy of this area is almost entirely based on tourism. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the area to hike, raft, mountain bike, ski, sleigh ride, and snowmobile — all while being able to conveniently enjoy brats and Bavarian beer at one of the many German restaurants in the nucleus of the town. No matter the time of year, there are always things to do in Leavenworth, Washington.
I set out to enjoy a Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth — under February skies heavy with precipitation. Follow along below as I enjoy cavorting in the Cascades.
My Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth begins with a last-minute routing decision…
Which option will I use to reach the themed village embedded into the Eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains? My phone shows two route choices of similar 2-hour duration — Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass or US Highway 2 traversing Steven’s Pass on a more provincial path. I decide to go with the latter and work my way out of Seattle — a floating bridge, tollway, highway, and suburban roadway all lead to the quieter-paced rural landscape around Gold Bar, Washington.
US Highway 2 (US2) is relatively open and the scenery begins to change from quirky little logging towns — scattered with pioneer buildings and shoebox java stops — to the more open wilderness. The fir trees get dense as snow begins to appear at the side of the road, accumulating over the Winter as plows swing by with their large blades. The roads are wet and straightforward, but the temperature begins to fall to freezing quickly and a Winter wonderland complete with snow-covered trees materializes before my eyes.
The scenery is so beautiful I pull off the road (in a safe location with a proper shoulder) to view a peaceful Winter river scene. The gravel-flavored snow accumulated by the plows isn’t too appetizing but I quickly jump over the berm and gingerly walk down an icy trail toward the river. The fresh smell of the air — hints of fir mixed in with moss and humid puffs of icy river water — feels excellent in my lungs and I take in the scene as cars and trucks whisk by on the busy US2 above me.
Steven’s Pass, 4,061 feet in elevation, is known for treacherous Winter conditions, but today, the surface of the road is mostly clear and I’m thankful for safe and easy passage. I pass by the festive Wilkommen sign on the outskirts of Leavenworth and it doesn’t take long to find my friends’ home, which sits on property near Icicle Creek — a midsize stream that eventually meets up with the Wenatchee River just before town. The hills are alive with misty mountain air mixed in with patches of snow. There isn’t much time to spare, and we jump in a more giant rig to head into town for wine tasting.
Wine tasting in Leavenworth
While Rick parks, Laura and I wander through the town square — still full of brightly colored holiday lights. The season of lights seems to be extended further into the year than usual, perhaps to add more cheer to counter the dampening effects of covid on the world. Masks are required everywhere in town, even on the streets and we wear our coverings while wandering from shop to shop. One chalet after another is filled with German-themed souvenirs, bratwurst, pretzels, and gingerbread, and we eventually reach our destination: Boudreaux Cellars.
The three wines are a rich red color — produced by a local winery in town using grapes from Eastern Washington. We try a Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet amongst conversation catching up and a few oyster crackers here and there. A giant canoe and other vintage outdoorsy-themed accouterment surround the plush leather couch. A ceiling-tall chalkboard lists all the successful vintages of wines produced over the years since the start in 2003 — winning all kinds of awards and high wine rating scores.
Food and drink in the Bavarian village
It’s time for dinner and the town is abuzz with visitors, many taking a Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth, just like me. There are many restaurants in the tight Bavarian nucleus of the town, and we enjoy dinner together and a stroll past the Leavenworth Festhalle featured in the famous Oktoberfest each Fall. I can imagine a world of pretzels crowded off tables with accumulating steins of pilsner bier.
The weekend holds many treats for me, and I have several opportunities to enjoy the downtown restaurant scene, including the fantastic Larch Restaurant, serving entrees featuring handmade kinds of pasta. We order ravioli, bucatini, and lasagna that are all excellent, accompanied by smokey whiskey concoctions and chianti wine.
While strolling the colorful blocks around Front Street, I lock in on J5 coffee for its excellent pour-over varieties. Then, my sweet tooth encourages me to enjoy a decadent glazed cookie from the Gingerbread factory — which looks entirely too touristy for my taste but tastes great.
Nature of the Cascade Mountains
Sleeping amongst the mountain air is always more peaceful, and I enjoy blissful slumbers that energize me each morning — ready to embrace nature. Over the course of the weekend, I’ll wander along the waterfront area on a snow hike, taking in the dormant Winter scene with cottonwoods rising out of the snow and the bright red rose hips and sticks of the bush adding the only splash of color amongst the bi-toned landscape. As if trying to fit in amongst the color, a red-headed woodpecker works diligently to pound open a hole in a tree steps away from my path.
Driving around the Leavenworth area also proves relaxing, as country roads lined with snow frame scene after scene of the misty mountains weaving through the Cascades. I stop at the end of a country road to gain access to the Icicle River — aptly named because by this time in the day, the snow turns to rain and I’m very wet, albeit basking in the icy Winter beauty of the area.
If you’re interested in engaging deeper connections with the nature spirits, read my article, “How to plan a nature-forward trip to Leavenworth.”
Winter things to do in Leavenworth, Washington
Due to the rain, we don’t go snowmobiling, but tons of Winter options exist for the visitor, including sleigh rides, Nordic skiing, and downhill skiing at the “Leavenworth Ski Hill” or more significant Steven’s pass. And while I’m lucky enough to stay with friends, the area hosts many hotels, B&B and Airbnbs for a cozy Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth.
My hosts suggest I check out Sleeping Lady Resort and the adjacent cross-country trail area for snowshoe action. The stunning area is at the foot of the famed Enchantments — known for pristine alpine lakes surrounded by wildflowers amongst dramatic rocky peaks. The area has such a draw that a lottery determines the recipients of the very limited overnight hiking passes issued each year.
I don’t want to go home by this time, so I extend an extra night by staying at the Sleeping Lady Resort. The setting is peaceful, with the red metal roofs of the lodge popping out of the snow amongst young pine trees. The resort offers many services- a conference center and a day spa- and is conveniently nestled next to the nordic trails. I can walk straight from my room to the snowshoe terrain, buy my $ 12-day permit, and wander off into the foothills glazed with white.
I write more about the specifics of snowshoeing in a recent article about Snowshoeing at White Pass, WA. The snow is light with a crunch as I pack through the forest, lined with moss-covered pine trees. There is a wintry mix of precipitation, but halfway into the five-mile trek, the mist above me clears and I can capture breathtaking views of the inspiring “Sleeping Lady” combination of hills and mountains.
The journey is as important as the destination
Energy refreshed and recharged after my time in mountain bliss, I packed up the car for the return trip home — this time trying the alternative route via Interstate 90. The passes are both heavily snowed, and the roads occasionally close for avalanche prevention. I plan my return carefully to avoid the closures and make it home in about three hours after a quick stop in another one of my favorite places — Roslyn, Washington, featured in my article about the ten best day trips from Seattle.
One thing is on my mind as I pull onto Capitol Hill street in Seattle — Vielen Dank Leavenworth, Vielen Dank!
Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth — if you go
A Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth is perfect in Winter because there are many fun things to do. Plus, it feels cozy to sip a hot beverage before the fire while glancing out at snow-covered fir trees canvassing the surrounding mountains. But the Bavarian village is a go all year long. Summer is the busiest season in the area, with hiking, rafting, and mountain biking among the outdoor favorites.
The town is so well done that it makes me long for my younger years living in Salzburg, Austria, and traveling throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, drinking beer and munching on schnitzel while gazing up at towering mountain vistas.
Map of Leavenworth, Washington
The map below offers suggestions for a great time in the German-themed city.
Getting to Leavenworth
Leavenworth, Washington, is easy enough to reach by car, but pay attention to road conditions in Winter to be sure the passes are open and carry the advised traction devices or ride in a ubiquitous Subaru or other AWD vehicle. In Summer, there is no problem with driving conditions. Still, more visitors flock to the Cascade Mountains to take in the outdoors, potentially causing frustrating congestion in areas around Woodinville, Washington, which is the gateway to US2. Consider looping back to Seattle via Interstate 90.
Other transportation options exist to Leavenworth, including flights from Seattle to Wenatchee Airport (EAT) via Alaska Airlines. Rental cars are available at the airport; the drive takes about 40 minutes. Amtrak serves Leavenworth from Seattle daily on the famous Empire Builder train, which travels between Seattle and Chicago. I’ve taken this train before and the ride occurs at a great time to enjoy dinner and incredible scenery in the Summer (the ride is dark in Winter but still relaxing).
For additional times of day, booking the journey via the Amtrak site is still possible, but the service is provided by Amtrak connectors, which is a bus-like coach. The benefit of the train or coach is a much more relaxed experience getting to and from the mountain area — and there is plenty to do within walking distance of the downtown not to mandate a vehicle on a Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth.
Where to stay on a Seattle weekend getaway to Leavenworth
Although I stayed with my friends, this resort town has many lodging options:
- Posthotel is a swanky high-end spa retreat (adults only) with a view overlooking Blackbird Island and the Wenatchee River.
- Bavarian Lodge in the heart of town is constantly flowing with festive decor appropriate to the time of year — the prolific flower boxes in Summer are out of this world!
- Haus Hanika is a popular Bed and Breakfast overlooking the Wenatchee River about a mile from town.
- Mountain Springs Lodge, 15 miles up the road, provides mountain ambiance and offers many fun activities like sleigh rides and snowmobile tours in Winter — horseback riding and hiking in Summer.
- I enjoyed Sleeping Lady, at the base of the Enchantments — a few miles from town but cut into the side of a mountain with pristine exposure to nature. The appointments are very comfortable in a rustic way and the location is conveniently next to a great nordic center which converts into biking and hiking trails in Summer.
Look for all these locations on the Google Maps above (they’re the ones in blue).
VRBO and Airbnb is active in Leavenworth, WA as well.