Leavenworth, Washington isn’t your average weekend getaway. The town is decorated in the style of Bavaria, so visiting feels like being transported to another world. As you walk the downtown streets, you’ll hear yodeling, pass locals wearing lederhosen, and marvel at the Bavarian-themed shops and restaurants.
At the same time, Leavenworth is in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. It’s an outdoor lover’s dream with an endless list of adventures that begin just outside town. Plus, Leavenworth hosts family-friendly festivals throughout the year that attract visitors from all over Washington and beyond.
There’s a lifetime of things to do in Leavenworth. I’ll highlight my 16 favorite activities for every season.
1. Go for a Walk through Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park is a great way to acquaint yourself with the small-town charm of Leavenworth. The park lines the cool waters of the Wenatchee River just behind Main Street.
You can stroll along the flat path and learn about the history of Leavenworth from a series of interpretive signs. On hot summer days, there are rocky beaches along the river that offer opportunities for a cold dip.
If you visit Leavenworth in the fall, keep an eye out for salmon making their way up the river on their way into the mountains.
2. Explore the Nutcracker Museum
It’s easy to wander up and down Leavenworth’s main drag just gawking at the intricate wooden facades of the buildings and watching locals go by in traditional Bavarian clothes. But if you want to be even more impressed, stop in at the Nutcracker Museum.
This unique museum is home to more than 9,000 nutcrackers from around the world. There are thousands of classic wooden nutcrackers, but also more exotic ivory, steel, and porcelain nutcrackers lining the displays. Some of the figurines are hundreds of years old.
3. Hike to Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the Cascade Mountains, and it’s just outside of Leavenworth. The drive from town to the trailhead takes about 30 minutes and winds you through the rugged beauty of Icicle Creek Canyon.
The hike to Colchuck Lake climbs nearly 2,300 feet over 4 miles, so it’s not for the faint of heart. However, the views of this crystal-blue lake are well worth it. In the fall, the lake is surrounded by golden larches that really accentuate the blue of the lake and the white of the surrounding rock. You might even see a furry mountain goat scrambling along the shore.
Give yourself about six hours for this hike. I also recommend going early—this is a very popular hike and the trailhead parking lot fills up most weekends.
4. Celebrate Spring with Maifest
Maifest is a traditional Bavarian festival to celebrate the spring, and it’s one of the best events to explore Leavenworth’s borrowed culture. During this month-long festival, the town comes alive with yodeling, alphorns, accordions, dances, polka, and live chainsaw carving. There are events scheduled most weekends in May each year.
In between performances, the city organizes birding tours, bike rides, and even a 5K race. The month of May is usually cool and sunny in Leavenworth, so it’s a great time to visit.
5. Rock Climb in Icicle Creek Canyon
Among rock climbers, the Leavenworth area is known for having some of the best rock in Washington. The walls of Icicle Creek Canyon, just outside town, offer climbs for every ability level. The dry weather in Leavenworth also enables the climbing season to run from April to October, much longer than in the rest of the state.
If you’re new to climbing, Northwest Mountain School offers guided climbing trips daily. You can also sign up for a course if you’re interested in learning how to climb or want to improve your skills.
6. Raft the Wenatchee River
The Wenatchee River is an incredible whitewater rafting destination, offering everything from relatively calm Class I rapids to raging Class IV falls. The range of difficulty on different parts of the river means that there are rafting opportunities for complete beginners and experienced river-runners alike.
There are multiple guiding companies in Leavenworth that offer daily rafting trips in the summer. Some of the most established guide outfits include Leavenworth Outdoor Center, Blue Sky Outfitters, and Osprey Rafting Company.
7. Paddle around Lake Wenatchee
Lake Wenatchee State Park is a beautiful setting in the heart of the Cascades. You can relax on the beach and watch the clouds go by or go for a cooling swim.
If you want to get out on the water, the park store located on the south side of the lake offers daily SUP and kayak rentals. The lake is nearly five miles long, so it makes for a fun all-day outing to paddle from one end to the other and back.
8. Relax at a Beer Garden
Leavenworth is home to not one, but two sausage and beer gardens—and they’re conveniently located just across the main square from one another. Leavenworth Sausage Garten is the more famous of the two, but I prefer the intimate atmosphere of München Haus.
Whichever restaurant you choose, you can enjoy local and imported German beers, homemade sausages and pretzels, and a topping bar with endless options. Of course, you can add all the sauerkraut you want to your food.
If you want even more beer options, be sure to check out Stein. This bar has more than 55 taps that are constantly rotating with an eclectic mix of Northwest IPAs, imported German lagers, and everything in between.
9. Check out the Peshastin Pinnacles
Peshastin Pinnacles State Park is a geological marvel located just east of Leavenworth. Sharp sandstone pillars jut up into the sky, surrounded by yellow grasses and the lust greenery of the Wenatchee Valley.
A short loop trail takes you through the park and lets you get up close to the pillars. Look up and you’ll likely spot some rock climbers working their way up the sandstone.
10. See a Show at the Summer Theater
Leavenworth’s Summer Theater offers an opportunity to enjoy a stunning performance under the stars. Throughout the summer, this outdoor theater located at the base of the ski hill holds shows starting at 8pm. By the end of the first act, the sun has set and the stage is lit mainly by the night sky.
There are shows almost every night in July and August, plus weekend shows in June and September. If you get the chance, get tickets to The Sound of Music. It’s the theater’s longest-running show and the musical, set in Austria in the 1930s, blends seamlessly with Leavenworth’s Bavarian theme.
11. Visit during Oktoberfest
Leavenworth has one of the largest and most festive Oktoberfest celebrations anywhere in the world outside of Germany. The town is buzzing through the entire month of October with traditional dances, packed beer and food halls, live music, and more. There’s also a Kinderplatz area for children with a bouncy house, ferris wheel, and games.
The festivities last late into the evening, with the main stage and beer hall open until midnight. There’s plenty of beer flowing—both local beers and German imports—throughout each weekend.
Tickets for Oktoberfest go on sale in late July each year, and they typically sell out. So, if you’re thinking about visiting Leavenworth in the fall, be sure to start planning early.
12. Take in the Views on Horseback
Leavenworth’s roots as a ranching town still run deep once you get away from the main street. There are multiple ranches that now offer tours on horseback to visitors. Options include Eagle Creek Ranch, Icicle Outfitters, and Wild at Heart Horse Rides.
All three of these ranches offer beginner-friendly rides that take you up into the pine forest surrounding Leavenworth. It’s a really neat way to explore the area around town and get away from the bustle during a busy festival weekend.
13. Visit the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
Leavenworth has an enormous Christmas festival every year complete with Santa and his reindeer. During the rest of the year, you can go visit Santa’s reindeer at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm.
This is a family-run farm just a mile from town where you can meet, pet, and even feed live reindeer. The farm is home to one of the largest domesticated reindeer herds in the lower 48.
Advanced reservations are required for a tour of the farm. If you visit from April to June, you can typically see baby reindeer—the newest members of the herd.
14. Go Skiing at Stevens Pass
Stevens Pass is a world-class ski resort located just 40 minutes—and 3,000 vertical feet—up the road from Leavenworth. It offers some of the steepest ski terrain in Washington, but there’s also plenty of beginner-friendly terrain for newer skiers and riders.
If you’re looking for a ski adventure closer to town, Leavenworth has its own small ski hill. The Leavenworth Ski Hill offers a handful of short but sweet runs from a single chairlift. Lift tickets cost only $26 per day, so this is an inexpensive option for anyone trying out skiing for the first time.
15. Cross-country Ski through Plain Valley
The Leavenworth area is a mecca for Nordic skiing. In town, the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club maintains four different cross-country ski trail networks. You can ski along Icicle Creek, through the Leavenworth golf course, along the base of the ski hill, or at the old Peshastin mill site.
If you want to cover more mileage, head up to Plain Valley. This is a large trail system that’s groomed daily for Nordic skiers.
You can rent everything you need to go cross-country skiing at the Leavenworth Ski Hill or at the Plain Valley lodge.
16. Visit during the Holiday Lights Festival
December in Leavenworth is something you simply have to see to believe. The whole town is decked out in Christmas lights and decorations. It’s usually lightly snowing, too, making it feel like you’ve walked into a real-life snow globe.
There are tons of festivities beyond the decorations. The main square hosts Christmas carolers and holiday choirs. Kids can visit Santa and his reindeer. There are huge gingerbread houses on display, hot cocoa tables, and gift wrapping stations spread throughout town.
There are no tickets required to enter the festival, but keep in mind that Leavenworth’s Christmastown is extremely popular. Hotels in town are typically booked throughout December.
Getting to Leavenworth
Leavenworth is located on Highway 2, which runs from Everett to Wenatchee. The only way to get there is by car. Leavenworth doesn’t have train or bus service. You can take the train or fly to Wenatchee, which is about 30 minutes east of Leavenworth.
Where to Stay in Leavenworth
Leavenworth has dozens of hotels, but the popularity of the town means that they often book up months in advance. Many of the hotels have Bavarian-themed exteriors and entrances, but the rooms are decidedly modern. Many of the hotels in town even have spas so you can fully relax during your trip.
If you’re not able to find a place to stay in Leavenworth, there are a few towns further east. Peshastin is only four miles from Leavenworth and has a few hotels. Cashmere is much larger and offers more options. Wenatchee is about 30 minutes away and has plenty of hotels.
There’s also camping in the area around Leavenworth, which can be really pleasant in the summer and fall. Lake Wenatchee State Park has a large campsite, and there are numerous smaller campsites if you drive up Icicle Creek. Note that most campsites in this area don’t open until early June.
Leavenworth is one of Washington’s most popular tourist destinations for good reason. Visiting feels like stepping into another world thanks to the town’s Bavarian theme.
Just outside town, there are tons of recreation opportunities like hiking, climbing, rafting, and paddling. Plus, Leavenworth hosts festivals and celebrations almost every weekend of the year to make your visit feel extra special.