This romantic road trip offers a journey through the Eastside, over the Cascades, to the popular, Bavarian-style ski village of Leavenworth, Washington, in Chelan County. The county is in Phase 2, so while the town and environs of Leavenworth aren’t actively marketing, they’re still welcoming visitors. And Leavenworth is perhaps the closest any of us here can get to the German Alps during a pandemic.
Start by taking Highway 520 east for the 11-mile drive to Marina Park in Kirkland. There, you can ply Lake Washington’s waters with Duffy Electric Boats NW. No boating license required — the electric watercraft’s speeds don’t require one. Either BYOB (bring your own brunch) to enjoy aboard from one area’s restaurants or try a nearby brunch spot with outdoor seating (such as Hearth at The Heathman). If you prefer art over the aquatic, go on the Downtown Kirkland Art Walk.
From Kirkland, you’ll join winding mountain roads through the small towns of Gold Bar, Index and Skykomish. After about 63 miles, you’ll encounter Stevens Pass Ski Resort, which offers Alpine skiing and ski lessons. The 1,125 acres are open for day or night skiing and riding, with more than 1800 vertical feet on two mountains, and an average 460 inches of snow annually. The ski destination made some changes for this year’s pandemic, such as a reservation system for skiing and riding, mask requirements and cashless transactions. Research options for your specific dates through the Stevens Pass website.
You’ll pass through the four-million-acre Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, and drive about 35 miles to Leavenworth. From Thanksgiving weekend through Valentine’s weekend, Leavenworth is lit up with over a half-million lights, and the romance of the town’s architecture frosted in fresh snow is difficult to best.
Typically, there’s a rush of holiday traffic between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So post-Christmas and midweek might provide a quieter experience for a romantic getaway, with less traffic and more space in Leavenworth’s limited-capacity restaurants.
This past summer and fall, Leavenworth closed the small town’s main street to car traffic — very European — to provide pedestrians with more room to roam. Restaurants added outdoor patios. Once the snow starts falling, the pedestrian-only areas and outdoor dining may need to halt. However, some downtown Leavenworth restaurants offer outdoor, covered seating (even in winter). Restaurants with takeout and 50%-capacity dining rooms round out the COVID-safer dining options.
Visitors exploring Leavenworth will find dozens of shops and boutiques, and the quirky Nutcracker Museum, which celebrates 25 years of action this year. The museum’s glass display shelves, filled with ancient, odd, and beautifully painted nutcrackers, are worth a stop, even if you suspect you’re nutcracker-indifferent.
For dinner, you can order and pay online at München Haus, then sit on wood benches outdoors to enjoy warming soups and excellent sausage, brats, kielbasa and vegan dogs, with a variety of mustards. Couples with a foodie bent may particularly enjoy Yodelin’s soups and bowls, whether by take-away or outdoor seating. For example, the Salish Sea soup features steamed Hama Hama clams, wild salmon bone broth and Pacific Ocean seaweed. Other outdoor dining options include the traditional German meals at Rhein Haus, and artisan pizza at Sulla Vita.
For special occasions, Mozart’s Restaurant serves modern European food and steak, and Watershed Cafe offers contemporary Northwestern fare, with regionally sourced produce and meat. If planning a romantic evening in your Airbnb rental or hotel, Schocolat sells housemade, velvety chocolate and the 8000-square-foot space at The Wine Cellar hosts six local wineries.
One option for a socially distant stay: Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort’s rustic-chic rooms are more akin to self-contained lodges, featuring direct-outdoor room entrances without tight hotel doorways to navigate. While the pool and hot tub are closed due to COVID-19 occupancy restrictions, couples can still explore the 67-acre property’s library, organic gardens and mountain grounds with an art walk.
The next morning, pick up a scone or giant cinnamon roll at the Gingerbread Factory and explore Leavenworth’s surrounding environment in a prime season. Winter (such as January and February) can be an ideal time to visit Leavenworth, with reduced crowds and plenty of socially distant outdoor recreation for various abilities, including nordic skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, fat biking and sledding.
The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club sells day tickets for their extensive winter playland, including Ski Hill. Located just two miles from Leavenworth, Skill Hill offers downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, fat biking, challenging nordic skiing, and a (limited capacity) historic lodge. Some Nordic trails are partially illuminated in evening — for a romantic ski experience — if you choose to stay another night.
Snowshoers and hikers may want to explore the free Waterfront Park, just one block from downtown Leavenworth. The snow-dusted 3-km multiuse trail loops gently along the Wenatchee River.
And if snow sports aren’t your speed, a horse-drawn private sleigh ride might be.
To return to Seattle, you can go back the way you came in — or travel south to join with I-90. And yes, Leavenworth is just as romantic in summer, too.
Note: This route includes a range of climate and topography, so prepare for all types of weather surprises — including snow and ice. Read about pass and road conditions at the Washington State Department of Transportation, and bring chains and other winter necessities. Whenever visiting Washington’s smaller communities, wear your mask and observe social distancing, as there may be limited health resources available for residents and visitors. Make reservations and plan in advance for must-do activities, with backup plans if faced with closures or capacity restrictions. Don’t undertake new risky activities during a pandemic, and stay abreast of new developments where hotels, attractions, restaurants are concerned.
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