15+ Epic Things to Do in Leavenworth, WA (During Fall & Winter)
Few areas of the United States are as gorgeous as the Pacific Northwest for verdant forests, moody beaches and charming towns. Washington State lies at the true heart of this beauty and Leavenworth might just be the poster child of that very image. Famous for looking more like a Bavarian village than an American one, this little enchanting town is the perfect escape for anyone seeking a weekend getaway from Seattle or a little winter sparkle during the holidays.
There are so many things to do in small town Leavenworth throughout the seasons. I however visited in late fall just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and the festive lights were already on. Leavenworth is also an amazing place to visit in the winter for Christmas lights, encounters with reindeer and Santa himself as well as a range of winter sports.
As Leavenworth sits in the Cascades Range weather here can be pretty unpredictable in the fall and winter and the days are short. Make sure that you check the road conditions before setting out and carry snow chains or socks if necessary.
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WHERE TO STAY
No other property even comes close to the fabulous, wellness-focused stay offered by the adults-only PostHotel.
With fine, luxury suites with the most gorgeous mountain views, the highlight of the property really has to be their wellness area which includes nap rooms, saunas and steam rooms, plunge pool and saltwater pool and indoor and outdoor spas including a hot tub.
There’s also a full-service spa offering all the treatments you might imagine.
At $500 a night, this stay isn’t cheap but it is absolutely worth it. I mean where else could you be sipping a glass of local Washington wine in an outdoor spa with nature and the Wenatchee River flowing around you?
Icicle Village Resort
For great accommodation and a spa experience for less, this wonderful resort is a great alternative.
Rooms are large, cosy and comfortable and the resort also has many great facilities to keep you occupied when it gets dark. There’s a mini-golf range, outdoor pool, hot tub and lovely spa where you can get a massage to help you relax after a long day of exploring.
For larger groups or families you can also rent small self-catering apartments.
Located right in downtown Leavenworth, the Bavarian Lodge is a great, budget-friendly option.
They have large, comfortable, king suites, guest parking, a cosy, on-site pub and all rates include breakfast.
The best part is definitely the two outdoor hot tubs and the heated pool- perfect for an evening soak after a whole day of exploring.
For all the Bavarian mountain chalet feels, this is definitely a spot you’ll want to pay attention to.
This is a beautiful property, especially in the winter when the mountains around it get covered in snow.
Rooms here are super cosy and very well decorated with all the cabin feels. Some rooms also have a fireplace.
The hotel also has indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center and racket ball and table tennis facilities.
Rates also include use of cross country ski equipment. I mean…what else would you need for the perfect winter stay?
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Healthy and plant-based eating isn’t obvious in Leavenworth but there definitely are healthy options if you know where to find them.
Watershed Cafe – The best option for delicious farm-to-table, high quality, veggie friendly, local cuisine.
Their ever-changing menu comes with an array of surprises from salads to roasted vegetables and other meat and fish dishes from local and sustainable sources. If visiting for the day you simply have to try it.
Rein Haus – One of the most popular German-style eateries in the downtown area of Leavenworth, Rein Haus serves classic German fare like bratwurst, giant pretzels, schnitzel and of course a lot of great beer.
There are however a number of plant-based friendly options like falafel pitas, salads, roasted sprouts and a veggie burger and veggiewurst.
During the colder months, their outdoor patio or beer garden has tables with small gas fires where you can fully enjoy the Christmas lights, crisp-cold air while keeping warm at the same time. It’s all very hygge.
Icicle Brewing Company – For some of the best local craft beer head right here. With so many local beers on tap you’ll need more than just one night to try them all.
Using local ingredients and water from the Icicle river- hence the name, this craft beer is as local as you’ll get. Order a pint and something to eat off their festive menu when visiting in December and enjoy the atmosphere right on Front Street.
München Haus– One of the best places in town for a bratwurst or veggiewurst.
Heading out to explore more of Washington? Explore this itinerary for 2 Days in Olympic National Park: A Guide for First-Timers
TOP THINGS TO DO IN LEAVENWORTH
Walk down Front Street and Explore the town
No matter what time of year it is, walking around and exploring the town is an absolute must.
Leavenworth is small and completely walkable and you’ll be able to get your bearings in no time. The focal point of Leavenworth and its Bavarian heart is Front street and you just can’t miss walking along this quaint little street admiring all the boutiques, bars and restaurants housed in typical Southern German architecture.
Once you’ve explored all the wonderful offerings on Front Street at your own pace make sure to also check out the blocks around it as they are also filled with cute cafes and chalet-style architecture.
Check out the lights and Festive Decorations in Front Street Park
When wandering down Front Street, you’ll spot Front Street Park in no time at all. During the holiday season, the entire park is lit up by thousands of colorful lights- the trees, lamp posts and Chrismtasy ornaments. The best time to come to the park is after dark when you can fully appreciate the lights and the Holiday charm they give off.
There’s also a beautiful gazebo in the center of the park, which, in the evenings plays classical music or during the holiday season- Christmas music.
During the fall and winter it can be a little too chilly to sit outside for too long, but that’s a great excuse to run into The Danish Bakery just opposite to grab a hot chocolate or just about anything with pumpkin spice mix in.
Visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum
While you’re at Front Street Park you can also wander into the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, a one of a kind showcase museum.
This unique, Bavarian style museum houses thousands of both modern and antique nutcrackers. The nutcrackers on show today are actually the former collection of couple George and Arlene Wagner who had been collecting nutcrackers their whole lives.
Visiting the museum is a lovely way to learn about the town’s history, get in the Christmas mood and it’s also a great place for kids.
Take a Sleigh Ride
There’s little that gets the Christmas spirit on faster than a sleigh ride through the snow. Unfortunately, you’ll have to settle for a horse-pulled sleigh rather than a reindeer one but this is a fabulous activity for the whole family.
Leavenworth Sleigh Rides can offer one-horse open sleighs for up to 6 people as well as Santa sleighs for up to 16 people. Each sleigh ride takes about 45 minutes and includes a cup of warm apple cider on return.
Another place to experience sleigh rides or a horseback ride is Eagle Creek Ranch. You can check out rates and book here. Currently, due to social distancing measures, all rides are private and can’t be combined with another party.
Note that horseback riding here is only available in the summer months from April.
Go for a Walk on Blackbird Island
Cross the cute little bridge across from the PostHotel and you’ll find yourself on Blackbird Island in the middle of the Wenatchee River. The island has two short and easy loop trails through the forested park and is a great way to immerse yourself in the local nature as well as getting you moving after all those pretzels. Blackbird island is just a short walk from downtown Leavenworth.
If you keep going you’ll get to Enchantment Park to the south and Waterfront Park in the north. As it’s flat it’s also a great place for a quick morning run.
Visit the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
Just outside Leavenworth town you’ll find the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, a fun place for all the family. When visiting in winter, or before Christmas make sure to get your tickets well in advance as this is an especially busy time.
You’ll be able to meet Santa from the second week of November until the Holidays and get your photos with him as well as meet and pet the reindeer.
Your entry to the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm also includes hot chocolate and other seasonal drinks around a cosy fire.
The Reindeer Farm is open all year round, just note that you’ll need to make reservations in advance. You can do that through their website here.
I don’t normally visit and support farms and zoos unless it’s for rehabilitation and rescue but the animals here genuinely seemed healthy and happy. It’s a great place to go if you’ve never come close to a reindeer before.
All visits cost $25 per person.
November- February – prime holiday season, make sure to book ahead, well in advance. Chance to meet Santa in November & December.
March– Closed for improvements
April– The best time to come and meet baby reindeer. Tickets are limited at this time to avoid crowds.
May-October– Come to see the reindeer with their summer coats and their growing antlers covered in soft velvet.
Ski on Leavenworth Ski Hill
One of the best ways to make the most of Leavenworth’s snow is to head to Leavenworth Ski Hill.
It’s a pretty easy run, and if you’re an experiences skier or snowboarder you’ll get bored quickly but it’s perfect for beginners or those looking for a bit of fun.
Tickets can be purchased for the day and they are available for Nordic, Alpine or tubing. Seasons passes are also available if you plan to come a few times during the winter. To find out about tickets click here.
While the ski center doesn’t rent out gear, there are plenty of stores in Leavenworth that rent gear including Arlberg Sports Haus, Der Sportsmann and Plain Hardware.
Lessons are available at the ski center just make sure to book them in advance.
If you haven’t skied before and are tempted to give it a try, this is one of the best places for it as the slopes are really mellow.
There’s also an area for tubing which is great for non-skiers and children.
Nordic Ski at Plain Hardware & Plain Valley
Leavenworth is packed full of amazing snowy, winter activities for everyone. If you’re visiting in the winter and you’re a fan of Nordic or Cross-country skiing, Plain Valley is the perfect place for it.
Just 15 miles from Leavenworth, Plain Valley has over 14 miles of cross-country ski trails for both beginners and advanced skiers.
A day pass will cost you $20 and you’ll be able to rent gear at Plain Valley. Apart from cross-country skis Plain Valley Ski Trails also rent out snowshoes so you can go snowshoeing rather than skiing if you prefer.
Lessons are also available just make sure to book online here at least 24 hours in advance.
Take Walk through Waterfront Park
For some of the best views of Wanatchee River, head to Waterfront Park for a lovely stroll in nature.
From here you can see the river and beautiful native forests all around you. The park has a wild, national forest feel to it rather than a well-groomed city park and you’ll be able to encounter many types of flora and fauna here.
Fall is the best time of year for a wander around Leavenworth’s parks for some amazing fall foliage colours that light up the landscape on both sides of the Wanatchee River.
Sample the Local Washington Wines
It’s not just California that has great wines- Washington and Oregon produce their fine share too.
We sampled quite a few after being in Washington for a whole month and if you’re a wine fan, I highly encourage you to take some time and go on a wine tasting here in Leavenworth.
Yakima and Walla Walla are Washington’s main wine-growing areas but you’ll be surprised to discover a few very close to Leavenworth.
Luckily, to sample the best of Washington’s wines you won’t need to drive all the way out to the wineries. Instead, head to a tasting room in Leavenworth to find your favourite.
The Wine Cellar is a great starting point where you can find six tasting rooms under the one roof. The wines come from Washington’s finest wineries like Basel Cellars and Obelisco Estate Winery to name a couple.
If you’re not a fan of wine, they also make great cocktails and have some local cider to try too.
Another winery and tasting room worth visiting is Icicle Ridge Winery.
Go Snowmobiling through the Backcountry
Washington and Leavenworth in particular is one of the best places in the United States for snowmobiling.
Its the perfect way to get into the backcountry, get some wind in your hair and to enjoy the outdoors.
There are three main places to rent a snowmobile. These outfitters also offer the services of a guide that will help you to find the best trails and exactly the terrain you’re looking for.
Head to either Leavenworth Snowmobile Rentals, CJ Rentals or Leavenworth Snowmobile Tours who all offer similar rental equipment and service.
If you’re in Leavenworth for more than just a day ( which I highly recommend) there are so many things to do in the Cascade Mountains just outside Leavenworth. Most of them are just a short drive, or drive and hike away.
Visit Lake Wenatchee State Park
If you visit Lake Wenatchee State Park on a weekday in the fall or the winter, you’ll most probably have it all to yourself. When visiting in the fall we saw a grand total of one couple as we explored the area.
The State Park offers access to Lake Wanatchee, the river of the same name and the surrounding mountains. There are many hiking trails in the area and activities such as horse riding and swimming, although those are limited to the summer season. The mountains are simply gorgeous, especially if they are covered in snow and the lake is so still, it’s one of the most peaceful places I’ve visited in Washington.
On a bright and sunny day you can even bring a picnic with you and have it right by the lake- just remember to bring all the layers.
In the winter, with snow, it’s possible to go snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and even sledding and tubing. If you just prefer to hike, one of the best yet most challenging hike is to Dirtyface Peak from which the views are pretty darn impressive. This 9 miles trail is pretty challenging but pays off in the end, not to mention all the climbing keeps you warm in the winter temperatures too.
About an hour’s drive south you’ll come to the pretty town of Ellensburg which again seems like it’s a world away from both Seattle and Leavenworth.
Ellensburg has some really beautiful, old Victorian buildings, quirky cafes and boutiques and it’s worth exploring for a couple of hours, especially if you’re heading south or around to Snoqualmie.
Our favorite things to do in Ellensburg are to walk around downtown checking out the lovely, historical buildings followed by brunch at The Early Bird– one of the best eats in Ellensburg.
Hike up to Colchuck Lake
One of the best hikes in the Leavenworth area, a side trip to Colchuck Lake is intense but worth it. With a hard and steady ascent of 4 miles, its no walk in the park but you do get rewarded as you arrive.
The views of turquoise Lake Colchuck are something else, especially on a sunny day when you can get a reflection of Colchuck Peak in the water.
If it’s not too cold I recommend packing a little picnic you can have by the lake while admiring the view. If you’re visiting in winter make sure to check ahead of time of the trail is open- with too much snow and ice it can be dangerous.
Note that in order to park at the trailhead you’ll need to secure a Northwest Forest Pass for $5 ahead of time. Click here to get the pass. Where it says destination you need to enter ‘Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests’.
Hike to Snow Lakes
If it’s not too snowy on your trip to Leavenworth and if you like hiking in cold weather, the hike to Snow Lakes is one of the best in the area for a full day hike.
The trailhead is a bit closer to Leavenworth than the Colchuck Lake trailhead but this one is longer and just as difficult.
The 12 mile trail gains 6500 feet in elevation and leads you through to a number of different lakes in the area including Perfection Lake and Colchuk Lake before heading into the Upper Enchantments. While the trail goes all the way to Isolation Lake, you can just hike to Snow Lakes and turn back.
This is definitely a hike for the whole day and is best done in early fall rather than in plain winter and you’ll have to set off pretty early to make the most of the shorter daylight hours.
Be aware that parts of the trail are very slippery when wet or with snow and ice. Always carry a headlamp with you incase you need to finish the hike in darkness.
You’ll need a day-use permit which is self-issued at the trailhead. To park you need the same pass mentioned above or a valid Recreation Pass.
Are you ready to tackle all these amazing things to do in Leavenworth WA? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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