It’s just a two-hour drive from Seattle, but upon arriving in Leavenworth, visitors immediately feel as though they’ve been transported to a charming small town in Germany or Austria (minus the 14-hour flight). The Bavarian village is best known for its activities during Oktoberfest and the holiday season. It’s been featured on national news and TV outlets as a “must-visit” location during Christmastime. But the months of January, February and March are equally magical — and it’s significantly less crowded and even more budget friendly, which is a major bonus in our book.
“A lot of people who come to Leavenworth in the wintertime come because they want that snow globe experience,” says Kevin Rieke, a multigeneration business owner of The Wood & Hat Shop and Würlygigz Although the village certainly delivers during the holiday season, there’s actually more snow January through March. The town keeps the Christmas lights on through at least Valentine’s Day, so the aesthetics continue to sparkle.
From a practical standpoint, it’s also much less crowded starting in January. Hotel rooms are more affordable and the restaurants remain open. For such a small town, Leavenworth manages to offer something appealing for everyone, from families to adventure-seeking millennials. Whether you’re looking for a chance to wind down and recharge with some spa time or seeking an energizing outdoor adventure (or a combination of the two), you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
For visitors craving outdoor time, Leavenworth offers activities including backcountry skiing, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. And for the first time this year, there’s a portable outdoor ice skating rink that’s perfect for families and anyone who wants to glide on the ice. Located in the heart of downtown, skate rentals are available and Rieke compares it to the scene at Rockefeller Center — families and first-time skaters having fun skating in circles.
If the holidays have left you exhausted and ready for some pampering and downtime, a stay at the newly opened Posthotel is in order. Located along the river with stunning mountain views, this adults-only hotel and spa was designed for the purpose of relaxation. The spa uses European treatments and offerings include personalized facials, massages and body treatments. There’s also a sauna, a saltwater pool and top-notch dining available within the resort. If you want to mix things up a bit, there are bike, snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals available.
Although of course hotels need to be booked in advance, Rieke says that many visitors arrive without a set itinerary. After parking, he recommends heading straight to the Chamber of Commerce where you can ask questions and get information to form an activity list that fits your interests.
“Guest Services will ask what you like to do, what type of food you like to eat, where you’re staying, and how long you’re staying,” he says. “They really know how to craft a perfect itinerary, and there’s something for everybody.” The desk workers will also let you know of any special events during your stay, like a concert.
Although the majority of Leavenworth’s big festivals take place during the Christmas season (and, of course, Oktoberfest), there is one big post-holiday festival that’s perfect for families visiting. Bavarian IceFest, which occurs every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, is a family-friendly festival that’s far less crowded than many festivals. The activities include live ice carving, a snow sculpting competition, and games including Frisbee sweep and Smooshing. There’s also a huge fireworks show Sunday evening.
And as long as there’s snow on the ground, sleigh rides are offered. Another activity that kids (and the young at heart) love is visiting a reindeer farm that’s located right outside town. Seeing real reindeer in person is definitely a bucket list activity that you can’t find just anywhere. Be sure to stop in Würlygigz; kids will love the interactive game and toy shop that offers a castle to play in and the opportunity to build your own toys.
As Rieke says, Leavenworth is far more than just a mountain town — it’s a mountain town with a theme and a magical quality to it. “At least once a week someone proposes here,” he adds.
So if you’re craving a post-holiday trip but don’t want to get on a plane, Leavenworth is just what the doctor ordered. “The town is actually even prettier post-holiday,” Rieke says. “We keep the lights on through Valentine’s weekend for this whole magical wintertime experience, so you’re going to get the lights and the snow experience.”
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.