Sunny days, twinkly-lit nights, sausages, beer gardens, and maybe a little smooshing are just a short drive away.
A weekend in the Alps is always a good idea. Of course, the downside is that getting to the Alps requires approximately 12 hours of plane travel and at least a few days off from work (not to mention a hefty price tag).
Luckily, there’s a charming alternative nearby. The Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth is only a two-hour drive from Seattle — although we’d recommend allowing a little extra time because the route is very scenic and you’ll likely want to stop and take a few photos on the way.
Thanks to a wealth of special events and activities, Leavenworth is the ideal winter destination. It may be rainy in Seattle, but Leavenworth is located on the sunny side of Washington so you’ll be treated to incredible views of snow-covered mountains against the backdrop of clear blue skies.
Nestled in the Cascades, the German-style storefronts and architecture will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the Alps. Between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, the village is decked out in over half a million lights.
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But it’s not just Leavenworth’s beauty that makes it such a perfect winter destination. Here are some of the best winter activities and events:
Skiing at Stevens Pass
Beginning the first week of January, take advantage of half-price skiing at Stevens Pass and discounted lodging deals in Leavenworth. Located less than an hour from Stevens Pass, Leavenworth is the ideal basecamp for skiing. If you purchase a Ski & Stay package you’ll enjoy discounted dining, shopping and other activities when you head back to Leavenworth for après-ski fun.
Go to one of the many outdoor beer gardens for a drink, German brats and live music. München Haus Bavarian Grill is a beloved local favorite. Don’t worry about the cold — the fire tables will keep you toasty while you relax. You won’t have trouble finding a beer garden in Leavenworth, but you can’t go wrong with Der Hinterhof Beer Garden, Leavenworth Sausage Garten and Gustav’s Beer Garden & Grill. Be sure to enjoy all the authentic German cuisine like Bavarian sausages, bratwurst and frankfurters. After a few bites, you’ll forget you’re in Washington.
Daily alphorn serenade
How many opportunities do you have to experience an alphorn serenade? For most of us the answer is “not many,” but in Leavenworth it’s a daily occurrence.
Head to the balcony of the charming Enzian Inn for an alphorn performance by the inn’s owner or his son. Dressed in traditional lederhosen and hats, they perch on the balcony and play the traditional European instrument. In fact, the owner of Enzian Inn composed a tune specifically for the morning concerts, which are held at 8:15 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. each day.
Outdoor winter fun
If you don’t want to spend a full day skiing at Stevens Pass, you’re in luck. Just a mile away from the main village is the historic Leavenworth Ski Hill. You can ski, snowboard, snow tube, snowshoe, or all of the above. Don’t miss the ski jump — it’s the only one on the West Coast and it’s where the Olympic trials were held in the 1930s. Night owls will love Nordic trails, which are lit up and open until 10 nightly.
When you’re ready to get off your feet and relax, enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through town with Hans Christian Andersen Carriage Co. And if it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride, the Town of Leavenworth offers horse-drawn sleigh rides that travel through the woods and along the river.
The reindeer farm
If you’re traveling as a family, kids will go wild over the new Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. Not only do they get to meet the reindeer, but they can feed them, pet them and (of course) take a selfie with the beautiful animals.
There are also fun photo opportunities on Santa’s sleigh, and Santa himself makes a few special appearances in December. If you want a meeting with Santa and his reindeer, we recommend booking ahead online — he’s a pretty popular guy, after all.
We wouldn’t attempt to say it five times fast, but Christkindlmarkt is a must if you’re in town on Thanksgiving weekend. This German tradition features an outdoor Christmas market full of Old World food, crafts, gifts and entertainment. Make sure to keep an eye out for a special appearance by Christkind, the traditional German giver of gifts. There’s also a lantern parade, because Leavenworth can never have too many beautiful lights.
Visit Leavenworth on any December weekend and there will be plenty of holiday cheer. The annual Christmas Lighting Festival runs the first three weekends of the month with a Friday afternoon appearance from St. Nikolaus and the famed lighting ceremony on Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Each Saturday and Sunday on the first three weekends in December, you’ll find strolling carolers, hand-bell choirs, costumed Christmas characters, roasted chestnuts and choir concerts. Be sure to visit the glühwein tent to get a taste of this traditional hot spiced wine which can be found in town made locally and imported from Germany. If you’re not in town in December, don’t despair — you can find it in Leavenworth’s wine-tasting shops and restaurants.
If all that Christmas caroling isn’t quite enough to get you in the holiday spirit, The Nutcracker Museum should do the trick. You’ll find 6,000 nutcrackers (yes, you read that correctly), including some from over 500 years ago. After the festival, the town aims to keep the lights on all the way through Valentine’s Day weekend, so there’s plenty of time to bask in the magical glow.
Bavarian Ice Fest
The winter fun and festivals don’t end after the holidays. The Bavarian Ice Fest, held on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, features snow sculptures, live ice carving and fireworks.
If you’re feeling adventurous, join a “smooshing” team. You’ll have 8-foot-long boards strapped to your feet and run down Leavenworth’s main street with your team. It’s something you won’t find in Seattle and you only live once, right?
Nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, on the sunny side of Washington state, is a very charming Bavarian village. Visit Leavenworth for a taste of the Alps.