Leavenworth has long been a notable town — some love the Bavarian-style architecture added in the 20th century as a tourist draw. However, even the most skeptical may be impressed by the area’s aesthetic appeal, burgeoning foodie culture, youthful shops and gorgeous backdrop — en route there, and back again. 

Stevens Pass Greenway road trip

Stevens Pass Greenway is a National Scenic Byway noted for its impressive views. This trip starts in Monroe on US-2. The stunner first passes through farmland and tiny Skykomish Valley towns with unusual names — Startup, Sultan, Gold Bar, Index. You’ll soon begin to pass dozens of waterfalls ranging from snakelike rivulets to raging fountains. Consider a stop at a major waterfall for a hike — such as Wallace Falls State Park or another Stevens Pass hike. Pause near Index to watch rock climbers on the granite blocks, or Skykomish to enjoy a cup of Sky River Coffee encircled by mountains. 

The road winds upward through moss-trunked cedars and ferns opening into wildflower meadows. Iron Goat Trail features interpretive panels on the area’s railway history, abandoned tunnels and a red caboose. Be sure to look up the full story of the Wellington avalanche disaster, one of the nation’s deadliest rail-related catastrophes.

Continue the ascent to the snow-filled steep gullies and quiet lifts of 4,061-foot Stevens Pass — or quiet until the mountain bike trails reopen June 24. Then, descend to the valley below. Pull off to watch courageous whitewater rafters paddle and battle the churning Skykomish River, swollen with spring snowmelt. Vertical walls of 5,000-foot mountains surround the roadway and river, clouds hanging like halos around frosted tips.

It’s only 35 more miles to Leavenworth. When you hit the city limits, pull over at La Javalina for late-morning breakfast tacos or Argonaut Coffee and Biscuits for a breakfast sandwich. Both offer indoor-outdoor dining, strong coffee and friendly service.   

What to do in Leavenworth

Now closed to auto traffic, the city’s Front Street has transformed into a pedestrian-only zone reminiscent of European passageways. Outdoor dining areas, music performances and wide-eyed visitors intermingle as petunia baskets, fanciful trompe-l’œil building exteriors and Bavarian-style rafters and balconies hang overhead. Parking can be a challenge, so find a streetside spot or a paid lot as soon as possible.

Young pioneers have moved in and set up shop(s) of indoor plants, home goods, clothing boutiques and speakeasy-style underground cocktail bars. Delight in the dozens of independently owned shops, both expected and unexpected, including cactuses, handmade chocolates, hats, handcrafted in-house meats, spices and teas, Russian imports, wooden toys and traditional Christmas décor.

The Nutcracker Museum offers a wholly unique, fascinating and somewhat intense experience, with 7,000 colorful nutcrackers standing at attention over two floors. Most of the wooden, hand-carved nutcrackers hail from Europe, although intricate metal nutcrackers from Southeast Asia, Japan and elsewhere are also on display.

Some newer wooden nutcrackers feature recognizable modern mainstays (Santa, Pinocchio, Darth Vader … and a Lowe’s employee) that can be fun to spot. Some older nutcrackers (the collection includes many from the 1500s-1800s) are more like exaggerated, humorous caricatures, but also include racial and ethnic stereotypes common in their time, so be prepared.

Within an easy walk of downtown, Waterfront Park takes you down to the banks of the Wenatchee River. Placards on the park’s Blackbird Island can help identify the surrounding vegetal smells and sights — black cottonwoods, mullein, nettles, native roses and more. A newer playground welcomes kids. Within the park, Leavenworth Outdoor Center helps put visitors in a kayak, tube, or raft if the icy water beckons.

Guides and outfitters lead visitors on the region’s numerous outdoor excursions, or you can explore on your own — popular summer activities include rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, golfing and zip line tours. Nearby Lake Wenatchee State Park offers a central location for many Central Washington summer activities.

Eating and sleeping in Leavenworth

A sausage or two (or three) is a must-do. German-style restaurants abound, including Mozart’s for escargot and schnitzel and Andreas Keller Restaurant for grilled schnitzel and würste. Dueling sausage restaurants even sit across the street from each other — you can easily eyeball the longtime mainstay Munchen Haus’s brats from the patio of Leavenworth Sausage Garten, with sausages from local favorite Cured by Visconti

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But Leavenworth restaurants also offer culinary diversity. Dig into tacos, burritos and enchiladas at South; artisanal bone broth and generous, delicious rice bowls at Yodelin, pizza at Tumwater Bakery, or seasonal Northwest pasta at Larch. For elevated experiences, try the single-seating, 2.5-hour, five-course menu at Mana, or the locally grown or sourced menu at Watershed Cafe. Wrap up your dining experience with a tasting flight of dreamy ice cream at Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co.

Sleep easiest right in the town, where it’s easy to pop out for a nightcap at the excellent speakeasy Pika Provisions — and benefit from in-town parking. Couples might stay in antique- and Austrian-furnished, handsome rooms in a former church at Pension Anna, while families might benefit from the generously proportioned rooms of Bavarian Lodge. Most lodging includes breakfast.

Extended road trip: Leavenworth to Wenatchee

The following day, continue to explore the town or head further east along Highway 20 into the bountiful orchards and farmlands. Note the rock shark fins jutting out of looming hills at Peshastin Pinnacles State Park, and pull over for a closer look. Peshastin is technically the end of the Greenway but there’s a bit more to see.

In Cashmere, just down the road, tour the Liberty Orchards facility (and get factory seconds) where Aplets and Cotlets are made. Aim for a Monday-Friday visit before 11 a.m., and the busiest season is between July and November. The Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village includes a small outdoor town of authentic and reconstructed buildings with furnished interiors — including a hatmaker, saloon, family cabin, doctor’s office, church, assay office and jail.

If you’re still ready for more road time before turning around to Seattle, continue east to Wenatchee. The new, airy Pybus Public Market runs farmers or craft markets indoors with live music on weekends. About 20 businesses line the exterior, including restaurants, wine, honey and mead, cheese and meat shops and clothing stores. Eat lunch and go for a walk along the Columbia River-adjacent paved paths to spot art.

Returning home can always be a bit of a bummer — but road-trippers will be consoled by returning home on the mountain-flanked byway. It’s perhaps even more beautiful than the drive in, with new opportunities to spot wildlife and waterfalls.

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