There exists a mystical place, 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 charming mountain hamlet in an inviting way. German food and great bier amongst jagged peaks feel right at home and can be particularly comforting at a time where 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 own 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?
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 1890’s. 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 the map. Years later, the railroad hub shifted to nearby Wenatchee, WA, leaving Leavenworth to wonder about their future.
In the 1960’s 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 around tourism. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the area to hike, raft, mountain bike, ski, sleigh ride, and snowmobile — all while able to conveniently enjoy brats and Bavarian bier 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 more open wilderness. The fir trees get more 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 clear, but the temperature begins to quickly fall to freezing 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 take in the view of a peaceful Winter river scene. The gravel flavored snow accumulated by the plows isn’t too appetizing but I easily 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 great 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 bigger rig to head into town for some 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 accoutrement 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. It’s an awkward time to travel in Washington State, mostly because the different rules governing restaurants change as the coronavirus cases begin to decrease. There are many restaurants in the tight Bavarian nucleus of 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 fantastic Larch Restaurant, serving entrees featuring their handmade pastas. We order ravioli, bucatini and lasagna that are all excellent, accompanied by smokey whiskey concoctions and chianti wine.
In my time strolling the colorful blocks around Front Street, I lock in on J5 coffee for their 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 leave me energized each morning — ready to embrace nature. Over the course of the weekend I’ll wander along the waterfront area in 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 in 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.
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 larger Steven’s pass. And while I’m lucky enough to stay with friends, the area hosts many hotels, B&B’s and Airbnb’s 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 some 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. In fact, the area has such draw that a lottery determines the recipients of the very limited overnight hiking passes issued each year.
By this time, I don’t want to go home, and I extend an extra night by staying at the Sleeping Lady Resort. The setting is peaceful, with red metal roofs of the lodge popping out of the snow amongst young pine trees. The resort offers a lot of services — a conference center and a day spa — and is conveniently nestled next to the nordic trails. I’m able to 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 on a recent article about Snowshoeing at White Pass, WA. The snow is light with a bit of 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’m able to capture breathtaking views of the inspiring “Sleeping Lady” combination of hills and mountain.
The journey is as important as the destination
Energy refreshed and recharged after my time in mountain bliss, I pack 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 close on occasion 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, which is featured in my article about the 10 best day trips from Seattle.
One thing is on my mind as I pull onto my 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 so many fun things to do. Plus, it feels cozy to sip a hot beverage in front of the fire while glancing out at snow-covered fir trees canvassing the surrounding mountains. But the Bavarian hamlet is a go all year long. Summer is actually 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 bier and munching on schnitzel while gazing up at towering mountain vistas.
Map of Leavenworth, Washington
The map below offers my suggestions for a great time in the German-themed city. Red indicates food and drink, blue are places to stay, black transportation, purple are things to do, and green, places to convene with nature.
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 an ubiquitous Subaru or other AWD vehicle. In Summer there is not problem with driving conditions, but 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 and the drive takes about 40 minutes. Amtrak serves Leavenworth from Seattle three times a week 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 great scenery in the Summer (the ride is dark in Winter but still relaxing).
On other days, it’s still possible to book the journey via the Amtrak site, 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 to not 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, there are many lodging options in this resort town.
- Posthotel is a swanky high-end spa retreat (adults only) complete with a view overlooking Blackbird Island and the Wenatchee River.
- Bavarian Lodge in the heart of town is always 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 very 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 a plethora of 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 GoogleMap above (they’re the ones in blue).
Airbnb is active in Leavenworth, WA as well, and if you need ideas check the widget below, with some of my favorites based on Superhost pro tips and location close to the action.