How does a weekend trip to Bavaria, the Free State south of Germany, sound? Well, realistically, it might be easier to settle for a weekend car ride to Leavenworth, a small town in Central Washington that closely resembles a Bavarian getaway.
“There is nothing more unique than a picturesque Bavarian village nestled in the mountains (that resemble the Alps), in Washington State,” said Jessica Stoller, Media Director for the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. “Leavenworth is that place, and a weekend getaway offer festivals, unlimited outdoor recreation, wine tasting, art and theater, shopping, and amazing culinary experiences. Truly something for everyone.”
Located in the Cascade Mountains along the Wenatchee River, Leavenworth is a year-round recreation haven for outdoor enthusiasts. It is located approximately 1,170 feet above sea level in the Wenatchee River Valley. The surrounding Cascade Mountains provide a playground rivaled by other Pacific Northwest destinations.
To start with, there are more than 700 trails for runners, hikers and bikers to explore. The Icicle Ridge Trail via Fourth of July Creek is a 12-mile round trip venture up to 7,020 feet above sea level for spectacular views of the mountain range and valley below. In town, the Waterfront Park Trail is a flat path along the Wenatchee River with benches, interpretive signs and small inlets.
A short distance from town (15 miles southwest) are the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The 18-mile point-to-point hike is not recommended for beginners but is, according to Alltrails.org, “THE backpacking destination in Washington,” because of the granite rock formations carved by glaciers, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek. Permits are required for camping in the area.
“The Enchantment loop should be on every ultra runners bucket list,” said Joel Rhyner of Run Wenatchee, a local running group that puts on races and group runs in the area. “It is 18-20 miles of epic single-track in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Colchuck Lake, Aasgaard Pass and Enchantment lakes area that is one of the most beautiful loop runs in the U.S.”
Every year, Leavenworth hosts the Oktoberfest Marathon and Half Marathon and raises money for cancer research. The USATF-certified marathon course begins near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and includes both paved and dirt trails through the Icicle Canyon and town of Leavenworth. The event takes place in October as part of a 3-week Oktoberfest Celebration.
Runners share many of the trails with the mountain biking enthusiasts in the area. At Stevens Pass Ski Resort approximately 45 minutes from Leavenworth, the ski trails turn into a mountain bike park when the snow melts, and includes adventures for riders of all abilities.
Another popular mountain biking spot near Leavenworth is Devil’s Gulch. The 13-mile descent is perfect for the adrenaline junkie.
In the spring of 2016, a paved Pump Track (only the second one in the US) was built at Enchantment Park in Leavenworth. Cyclists, roller skaters, and skateboarders enjoy the loops and berms of the track without the dirt.
If screaming down single-track is a little too much to handle, there are ample roads for cyclists to experience the scenery of the region. From Leavenworth, riders can head north through endless apple orchards and vineyards to Cashmere for a 30-mile ride on the Fruit Loop.
Other activities include rock climbing in the mountains and kayaking, tubing and stand-up paddleboarding on the Wenatchee River.
“This is a great area for rock climbing/bouldering in the Icicle Canyon,” Rhyner said. “Standup paddleboarding the Icicle River is great fun and you can rent paddleboards at various businesses in town.”
Summer isn’t the only time to visit Leavenworth. The true experience of the town is in the winter when it transforms into a magical winter wonderland. From Thanksgiving until Valentine’s Day, millions of lights reflect off the snow covered streets and village-style buildings while horse-drawn sleighs share the roads.
The proximity to the mountains and the trails means ample cross-country skiing and snowshoeing around Leavenworth. The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club grooms about 26 kilometers of trail for Nordic skiing, and the Leavenworth Ski Hill has a tubing park for the whole family.
After long days playing in the outdoors, a good local food, beverage and cultural scene is crucial for refueling. There is a festival for every season, nightly live music, art in the park, theatre productions and more.
“The best part of recreating or training in our area is that you can enjoy our amazing village after all that hard work,” said Stoller. “We offer over 40 great restaurants, breweries, live music, wine tasting, spas, you name it!”
In keeping with the Bavarian theme, there is no shortage of tasty German beer, sausages, schnitzel, sauerkraut, warm pretzels and desserts. No trip to Leavenworth is complete, though, without a trip to the 20-year old Gingerbread factory for a sweet treat and to see the gingerbread-looking exterior of the house.
Lodging options are the typical bed and breakfasts, inns, lodges, condos and camping (RV and tent).
Whether it’s spring, summer, winter, or fall and the urge hits to go somewhere a little different, Leavenworth has something for everyone under the backdrop of true Pacific Northwest beauty.