Want to go to Germany, but can’t quite make it there yet? Well, you can try a taste of a Bavarian town right here in the United States – in Leavenworth, Washington.
This small town is very unique and special, and it’s not like anywhere else in our nation’s 50 states. You’re going to love it – it’s adorable, hilarious, and intriguing all at once, and there’s so much to do there, too.
I love Leavenworth! I accidentally stumbled upon it – without ever having heard anything about it before – when I was driving to The Gorge Amphitheater from Seattle for a concert. You can imagine my surprise at the time. “What is this?” I thought – and later looked into it more, too late to explore once I arrived at my destination.
Years later, I intentionally visited again and spent the night, and found it to be just as lovely and whimsical as I imagined and hoped that it would be. I keep hoping to go back for Oktoberfest one year – someday, I surely will!
Show Table of Contents
- TL;DR: Best Things To Do In Leavenworth
- Our Pick
- Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington
- 1. Explore Downtown Leavenworth
- 2. Enjoy An Alpenhorn Performance at the Enzian Inn
- 3. Visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum
- 4. Pet Reindeer at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
- 5. Stuff Yourself With German Food
- 6. Drink German and Local Beer at a Beer Garden
- 7. Enjoy a Wine Tasting at a Local Tasting Room
- 8. Learn About Local History at the Greater Leavenworth Museum
- 9. Explore Leavenworth City Parks
- 10. Take One of the Top Leavenworth Hikes
- 11. Go Whitewater Rafting or Take a River Float Trip
- 12. Soak Up the Sun at Lake Wenatchee State Park
- 13. Go Horseback Riding at Eagle Creek Ranch
- 14. Leavenworth Ski Hill
- 15. Oktoberfest
- 16. Christmas Lighting Festival
- 17. Attend the Leavenworth Summer Theater
- Why Is Leavenworth Bavarian Themed?
- When is the best time to visit Leavenworth?
- What are some budget-friendly things to do in Leavenworth?
- What activities are available for families in Leavenworth?
TL;DR: Best Things To Do In Leavenworth
|Most significant landmark||Downtown Leavenworth|
|Best park||Waterfront Park|
|Best free activity||Hiking around Leavenworth|
|Best activity for kids||Reindeer Farm / Nutcracker Museum|
|Best activity for adults||Horseback Riding at Eagle Creek Ranch|
|Best food||Too many to choose from! (Just visit during Oktoberfest)|
|Best place to stay||Enzian Inn|
Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington
1. Explore Downtown Leavenworth
One of the first things that you should do when you get to Leavenworth is to take an orientation walk around downtown Leavenworth. For no cost and for as long as you like, you can stroll along the main strip of town – also known as US Highway 2 – and the streets just off of it.
You’ll love viewing the interesting German-themed architecture, decor, shops, and even people in costume. This place is full of eye candy, and everywhere that you look, you’ll see something new, interesting, and delightful.
Leavenworth started remodeling its buildings in 1965. The first property to change to fit the theme was the Chikamin Hotel, which soon changed its name to Hotel Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria. The rest of the buildings in town followed suit after that, and today, every building you see has decor with a German twist.
The town has come a long way in the last six decades, and the locals are quite proud of what they have accomplished. They want you to look, take pictures, and enjoy it – please do.
If you’d rather be guided than do it on your own, then you might like this Historical Walking Tour as an option. Alternately, you might enjoy this self-guided audio tour instead if you’re feeling more like exploring independently: Leavenworth: Beaches & Bites Self-Guided Audio Tour.
Looking for a great place to stay in downtown Leavenworth? There are plenty of on-theme options that will put you right in the middle of the action.
The Enzian Inn (see below) is one of the best-rated in town, but you will probably also like The Bavarian Lodge, Hotel Pension Anna, or Solstice Suites, all of which will make you feel like you’ve been magically transported to Europe.
2. Enjoy An Alpenhorn Performance at the Enzian Inn
Address: 590 US Hwy 2, Leavenworth, WA 98826
You can get even more in the spirit by attending an Alpenhorn performance at the Enzian Inn.
You’re probably most familiar with the alpenhorn thanks to the old Ricola cough drop commercials from the ’90s (“Riiiiiicolaaaaaaa!”), but they are a legitimate, real instrument that has been played in the Alps for hundreds of years, originally for long-distance communications purposes.
These horns are often as long as eight feet and were traditionally made from a single piece of wood, although modern-day versions can be disassembled into three pieces for easier transport.
At the Enzian Inn in Leavenworth, owner Bob Johnson or his son, Rob, puts on lederhosen every morning and plays one of these immense horns from the balcony of the fourth floor of their hotel to awaken the town and to alert hotel guests that their hotel breakfast is ready.
Chances are that you’ll be able to hear it from your bed in any hotel in town, but it’s absolutely worth getting up early to see it close and live at least one morning of your stay.
3. Visit the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum
Address: 735 Front St, Leavenworth, WA 98826
The 5,000-square-foot Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum is a sight to behold. It houses over 7,000 nutcrackers collected by George and Arlene Wagner.
Mrs. Wagner previously worked as a ballet instructor for many years, and after supervising countless productions of the famous Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, she became enthralled with them. As her collection grew and grew, she decided to share it with the public. The museum opened in 1995, and today, it’s one of the most popular attractions in Leavenworth.
The oldest nutcracker in the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum dates back to sometime between 200 BC to 200 AD, and the biggest, made from a single piece of wood, is four feet tall. You’ll be amazed at the beauty, craftsmanship, and variety of the pieces in this museum, and you’ll leave knowing more about nutcrackers and their history than you ever thought you would ever learn.
At the end of your visit, you’ll almost certainly leave with some sort of nutcracker-related item from the gift shop; it’s easy to see how Mrs. Wagner fell in love with these things.
See Related: Best Museums in the US to Visit
4. Pet Reindeer at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
Address: 10395 Chumstick Hwy, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Another fantastic and popular attraction in Leavenworth that you should not miss is the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. This farm and sanctuary for caribou – also known as reindeer – was founded by Kari and Hans Anderson in 2016. They started with six caribou, and today, their herd has grown to over 20!
Three generations of their family work on the farm every day to take care of the herd and entertain and educate the often over 1,000 visitors that book tours each day.
Caribou are a protected species in the Lower 48, and the caribou on this farm are the domesticated kind, but Leavenworth Reindeer Farm supports the Caribou Conservation Alliance that helps to protect wild caribou around the world. The last wild herd in Washington was relocated elsewhere to keep them safe in 2019, so this farm is the only place you can see and interact with caribou in Washington now.
Tours last about half an hour, and visitors get the opportunity to meet the caribou face-to-face and enter their enclosures to feed them. This offers great photo ops that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
Farm tours must be booked in advance. You can visit all year, but during the summer, tours are often not offered during the afternoon because it’s too hot for the reindeer.
You can meet babies from April to June and from November to December. Plus, in July, you can meet Santa on special tours, too. Whether he lives here or just vacations in Leavenworth, I don’t know; you’ll have to ask him yourself.
See Related: Best Resorts & Hotels With Animals On-Site
5. Stuff Yourself With German Food
You might not think that you like German food, but trust me – you do. Leavenworth is full of it, and you’re going to stuff yourself at some point – or at every point – during your stay.
There are German restaurants, German bakeries, and German beer gardens. You should try them all!
Have the schnitzel at Ludwig’s, then have a brat at the Leavenworth Sausage Garten. Try the beef goulash at Andreas Keller Restaurant. Order a pretzel or five at München Haus – and then have another one at Rhein Haus Leavenworth.
Time for another brat? Head over to Stein. Finish up your day of eating with some bread and pastries from Bavarian Bakery. Then, do it all over again tomorrow!
Of course, if you get tired of German cuisine while you’re in town, there are plenty of other restaurants to try, too, encompassing a variety of different food genres. Visconti’s is great for Italian cuisine. Rudloof’s Pizza serves fantastic pizzas.
Watershed Cafe specializes in farm-to-table Pacific Northwestern cuisine. La Javelina has tasty tacos; Los Camperos is a yummy choice for Mexican food, too. The 59er Diner is a lovely option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
You might even want to check out Leavenworth’s McDonald’s, as it too sticks to the Bavarian theme. You won’t find one that looks like it anywhere else – probably not even in Bavaria!
6. Drink German and Local Beer at a Beer Garden
Of course, many of the restaurants listed above also have and are German beer gardens, so you can sip a tasty brew between pretzels until you’re ready to order more.
Sitting in the outdoor (or indoor) area of any of these spots will really make you feel like you’re in Germany, right here in the United States, more than anywhere else in town. München Haus and Leavenworth Sausage Garten are two of your best options for outdoor seating; Andreas Keller Restaurant is the most authentic indoor space.
Remember, Germans toast to “Prost!” so plan on this five-letter German word suddenly becoming one of your new favorites. No matter where you go to drink your pints and steins, be sure to try a mix of authentic German brews along with local Washington State beers and ciders.
Washington isn’t as well known for its beer as places like Colorado, Wisconsin, or Texas, but it’s slowly working its way into the hearts of beer enthusiasts. Washington’s hard cider really shines, though – which makes sense since The Evergreen State is also our nation’s largest producer of apples.
If you’d like some guidance on your travels through Leavenworth’s taprooms and breweries, you might like this Brewery Walking Tour as a fun option.
Don’t like beer or cider? See the next entry!
7. Enjoy a Wine Tasting at a Local Tasting Room
Not only is Washington the nation’s biggest apple producer, but it’s also one of our biggest producers of wine. It’s second, in fact, after California. Anyone who knows anything about wine will tell you that Washington wine is fantastic.
Why are Washington’s wines so good? Well, the variety and quality are due to the fact that the state is full of microclimates with different temperatures and weather, and the grapes love it! Plus, each variation in elevation and soil type contributes to the unique flavors of the wines produced here. Wine tastings here are certainly worth your time.
In Leavenworth, there are numerous wineries you can visit, and they’ll all welcome you with open arms. Eagle Creek Winery is the oldest in the area and one of the most popular. You’ll also enjoy visits to Icicle Ridge Winery, Boudreaux Cellars, Silvara Vineyards, Stemilt Creek Winery, and Wedge Mountain Winery.
You might also visit Ryan Patrick Vineyards and Kestrel Vinters Leavenworth Tasting Room, or Hard Row to Hoe, where you can even take a boat ride on the adjacent lake after your wine tasting. You’ll love them all.
Perhaps you’d even like to take a wine tour during your stay. This Leavenworth Sip & Stroll: A Historical Wine Tour offers both wine and history and good times with new friends.
8. Learn About Local History at the Greater Leavenworth Museum
Address: 735 Front St, 2nd Floor, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Do you want to learn more about Leavenworth and the surrounding areas? Stop by the Greater Leavenworth Museum! It’s located right above the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, so you can check out both at the same time.
The exhibits are quite informative and cover all aspects of the history of the Upper Wenatchee Valley. You’ll learn about the local Wenatchi Native American culture, Washington agriculture, lumber and logging, local ski history, and the creation of the town’s Bavarian theme. Visitors can also learn about the town’s beloved annual festivals and events.
This museum is a great place to get a good overview of the history of the area that you’re visiting. It’s open every day of the week.
9. Explore Leavenworth City Parks
Leavenworth has four city parks, and they’re all quite nice. Any of them is a nice place to sit and relax on a sunny day, and you’ll usually find quite a few other people enjoying them as well.
Front Street Park
Address: 820 Front St, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Front Street Park is the city’s most “urban” park as it’s located right on the main strip of U.S. Highway 2 and is in the center of Leavenworth’s business section. It’s a great place to get some epic photos of Bavarian-themed buildings; when you show them to friends at home, they’ll believe you if you say you went to Germany.
A large gazebo often shelters performing musicians and other events. This park looks incredible at night in the wintertime with its thousands of Christmas lights, too.
Address: 300 Enchantment Park Way, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Enchantment Park was designed and built to be the town’s sports complex. There, you’ll find a skate park, a soccer field, baseball and softball fields, a pump track, and a playground. Further, though, you’ll also find pleasant, shaded, scenic trails and a bridge to Blackbird Island on the Wenatchee River.
The pond on Blackbird Island is stocked with Cutthroat trout, and fishing is encouraged. You’ll also see other wildlife, especially birds, in Enchantment Park.
Waterfront Park is adjacent to Enchantment Park; Blackbird Island is on the river between them. This park is full of trails and paths along the Wenatchee River and is popular with locals.
Hikes are easy and shaded and are great for families with kids. There are some play areas in this park as well.
Lions Club Park
Address: 696 US Hwy 2, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Lions Club Park is maintained by the local Lions Club. Like Front Street Park, it’s on U.S. Highway 2, but it’s across from the main shopping and dining area.
This park is a lovely spot for a picnic, especially if you’re just passing through. There are picnic tables, a picnic shelter, green grass, shade trees, and benches. Take a load off and relax!
10. Take One of the Top Leavenworth Hikes
Leavenworth is in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. As you might expect, that means that this area is full of really spectacular hikes.
The town of Leavenworth is a lot of fun, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you visit this area and don’t take some time to venture into the mountains. Here are a few nearby trails worth trying during your visit.
Icicle Gorge Trail
Distance: 4.1 Mile Loop
This loop trail in the Okanogan-Wentachee National Forest will take you on a four-mile journey along Icicle Creek.
There’s only 337 feet of elevation gain along the way, so this is a kid-friendly hike that is easy for all. You can even bring your dog, but you have to have him or her on a leash. You’ll love the views in this gorge.
Leavenworth Ski Hill MTB Loop
Distance: 5.5 Mile Loop
This trail near Leavenworth has quite a bit of elevation gain – 1,148 feet, to be exact – but when you get to the top, you’ll love the scenic views, and all your hard work will have paid off.
The trailhead is right by the Leavenworth Ski Hill Lodge – if you have trouble finding it, just ask someone. You can expect to see a lot of mountain bikers on this trail, so stay alert so you don’t get run over!
Colchuck Lake via Stuart Lake and Colchuck Lake Trail
Distance: 8.7 Mile Out-and-Back
This lengthy and challenging trail will take you most of the day to complete, but the things you see along the way will blow your mind.
Colchuck Lake is extremely beautiful and looks like something that you’d see only in your dreams. It will make the 2,342 feet of elevation gain that you need to get there worth it. This might be one of your favorite trails you’ve ever been on in your life.
11. Go Whitewater Rafting or Take a River Float Trip
Don’t just look at the waterways near Leavenworth – if you’re visiting in the summertime, get right in them! There are numerous outfitters and providers in the Leavenworth area that will help you get up close and personal with the Wenatchee River or Icicle Creek.
Icicle Creek is a bit slower and more mellow; it’s a great option if you just want to relax in a tube. If you’re looking instead for something that’s a bit more adrenaline-focused, then go river rafting with a guide on the Wenatchee River – you’ll love its Class III and IV rapids.
If you think you’ll be a little cold, don’t worry – anywhere that you rent or participate in around this area will have wetsuits for your use, too.
12. Soak Up the Sun at Lake Wenatchee State Park
Address: 21588 SR 207, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Washington state has 142 state parks, and so many of them are really fantastic, but one of the very best of the bunch is Lake Wenatchee State Park, which is located about 25 minutes north of Leavenworth.
It’s at the confluence of Lake Wenatchee and the Wenatchee River, and it has so much to offer its visitors. It covers 492 acres and offers 12,623 feet of waterfront – wow!
This park is open all year. In the warmer months, visitors can enjoy fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and water sports like whitewater kayaking, boating, waterskiing, swimming, and more.
In the winter, people flock to this park for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and ice climbing. Over 200 campsites are available in the park as well.
13. Go Horseback Riding at Eagle Creek Ranch
Address: 7951 Eagle Creek Rd, Leavenworth, WA 98826
The mountains that surround Leavenworth also offer a wonderful setting for horseback riding. If you’re interested in heading out on a trail ride alone, with friends, or with your family during your visit, there’s no better place to go than Eagle Creek Ranch.
This four-season ranch is just eight miles north of town, and guided rides will take you into the Wenatchee National Forest. It’s family-owned and operated, and it’s clear that these folks love their horses just as much, if not more, than the people who come to ride them.
Rides at Eagle Creek Ranch are very affordable, and there are options for every skill level. The ranch also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides during the winter months.
14. Leavenworth Ski Hill
Address: 10701 Ski Hill Dr, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Tiny Leavenworth Ski Hill was built in 1936. It’s on just 17 acres in the Wenatchee National Forest and only has two surface lifts serving two downhill ski runs, but it also has 16 miles of cross-country skiing trails, a ski jump, and a tubing hill. It’s cute and pleasant and a lot of fun for the whole family, and it’s a great place to spend a winter day in Leavenworth.
The hill, ski lodge, jump, ticket booth, and men’s restroom are all buildings that got Leavenworth Ski Hill added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, so if you are also interested in local history, take some time to check them out during your visit, too.
If you’re going to put a Bavarian town in Washington state, then you’re going to have to have an Oktoberfest – of course! Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest is the area’s biggest and best event of the year.
It happens over three weekends in October (rather than September in Germany), and over 50,000 visitors attend. Book early because hotels in Leavenworth sell out very far in advance.
Each weekend is equally exciting. Attendees can enjoy a street fair, constant live music, dancing, entertainment, costumes, German food, amusement park rides for the kids, and, of course, lots and lots of BEER! Prost! Happy Oktoberfest, everyone!
See Related: German National Holidays to Enjoy
16. Christmas Lighting Festival
There’s another very magical time in Leavenworth beyond Oktoberfest, though, and that’s the Christmas Lighting Festival! Leavenworth is one of the best Christmas towns in the United States.
The number of Christmas lights that this town puts up for the holidays is truly a sight the be seen, and even the biggest Scrooge in your group will be forced into the holiday spirit when he or she sees this marvelous display.
The lights go on at the beginning of December and continue through February, so if you can’t make it during Christmastime, you can still check them out later on.
However, during Christmas week, there’s even more to see and do in town during Leavenworth’s annual Christmastown event, which includes a traditional Bavarian Christkindlemarkt, crafts for the kids, visits from Santa, food vendors, and live music in the gazebo.
The Christmas Lighting Festival tradition began in 1966 – right as the town made its transition into a Bavarian-themed village, and for many locals and visitors, it’s the best part of the year in Leavenworth. Don’t miss it.
17. Attend the Leavenworth Summer Theater
Address: 10701 Ski Hill Dr, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Fall and winter aren’t the only times of year that you can enjoy fun events in Leavenworth, though. The Leavenworth Summer Theater at the Leavenworth Ski Hill puts on fantastic productions every summer to over 20,000 attendees.
It’s an outdoor stage and is the biggest theater between Seattle and Spokane; it was founded in 1994, and after a bumpy first year due to nearby wildfires, it’s been a big hit ever since. You’ll be hard-pressed to decide if you prefer the performances or the views surrounding the stage!
Recent offerings include Cinderella, The Sound of Music, and The Drowsy Chaperone – all of which received excellent reviews.
Why Is Leavenworth Bavarian Themed?
Why on Earth is it like this? That’s a great question. You’d never expect to find a Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade Mountains, thousands of miles from Germany, yet here it is. Leavenworth was founded as a logging town way back in the late 1800s.
This went well until 1925, when the closest railroad was relocated to Wenatchee, over twenty miles away. The population began to decline, and in order to keep Leavenworth from becoming a ghost town, the city turned to tourism and recreation. This new focus helped a little, but not a lot.
In 1962, Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) began, and the town partnered with the University of Washington to figure out how to save it from becoming completely abandoned. Two businessmen, Ted Price and Bob Rodgers, came up with the idea to turn the town toward a Bavarian theme to attract tourists.
The rest is history – and it clearly worked. Today, two million people visit Leavenworth each year, and that’s a whole lot for a town with a population of just 2,383 as of writing.
Without a doubt, you’re going to be charmed by this small town. It’s a fun, quirky, rewarding, and affordable vacation destination for travelers of all ages at any time of the year. Read on to learn more about the many things to do in Leavenworth during your stay, and get ready to visit Germany – right here in the United States!
When is the best time to visit Leavenworth?
Any time of year is a great time to visit Leavenworth! It’s busiest in the summer, during Oktoberfest, and at Christmastime, if you’re looking for some action, but any other time of year, it’s just as pleasant and enjoyable.
What are some budget-friendly things to do in Leavenworth?
Other than accommodations and alcoholic beverages if you imbibe, Leavenworth is a very affordable destination. Most of the activities on this list are low-cost or free. You can have a great time in Leavenworth without spending much money at all.
What activities are available for families in Leavenworth?
Leavenworth is great for all ages! Although there is quite a bit of drinking culture due to the German village theme, don’t let that sway you from bringing the kids. They’ll love the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, the Leavenworth Summer Theater, Leavenworth Ski Hill, and all of the outdoor activities and adventures available nearby.
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- About the Author
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Christy is was born and raised in upstate New York but she has lived in Denver, Colorado for the past decade with her partner, Billy, and their cat, Lucy. Traveling is her favorite thing to do in the whole world, but she also loves writing, reading, being outdoors, seeing live music, cooking, creating art in many mediums, napping, spending time with friends and family, and laughing heartily as often as possible.