Welcome to Leavenworth Washington’s quirky Bavarian mountain town
written by Corinne Whiting | photos courtesy of Leavenworth Chamber, Icicle TV, Brian Munoz & Dzhan Wiley
Craving a European fix (with a twist) in the Pacific Northwest? Leave your passport at home and journey to Leavenworth, Washington where a version of Bavaria bustles with quirky charm in a stunning mountain setting. From Seattle, travel two and a half hours east over the pass to this popular destination—one whose draws extend far beyond bratwursts and beer. Outdoor enthusiasts ock to this region for the endless recreation options that range from fishing and rafting on the Wenatchee River that flows through town, to mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing and other adrenaline-fueled pastimes. Lori Vandenbrink, director of sales and marketing at Sleeping Lady Resort, has lived here with her family for fourteen years. “I love most everything about Leavenworth, but if I had to narrow it to a couple of things it would be the community, being surrounded by mountains and the access to recreation,” she said.
She marvels at the lengths residents will go to attain their desired lifestyle here—working multiple jobs, sometimes below their ability level, or commuting to Seattle a couple days a week, solely to call this beautiful place home. Let it be known—this carefully planned tourist destination, tucked at the base of Washington’s north central Cascade Mountains, has not always boasted Bavarian-alpine architecture or annual Maifest and Oktoberfest celebrations. Initially, native Yakama, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes lived here, enjoying the beauty and bounty of the land as they hunted for deer and elk and fished for salmon in Icicle Creek. In 1890, however, Icicle Flats was born as settlers descended upon the area in search of promised gold, timber and furs. Near the turn of the century, the arrival of a rail line led to booming business for the logging and sawmill industries. When the railroad rerouted and left the region, though, Leavenworth nearly became a ghost town, teetering on the brink of extinction. To lure visitors back in the early 1960s, town leaders gave the town a Bavarian facelift.
“I know it’s probably hard to believe, but after you live here for a while, the Bavarian architecture fades into the backdrop of the surrounding mountains and it looks like it’s always been there,” Vandenbrink said. “Many locals enjoy and partake in the theme, painting their home or business with murals, dressing in Trachten for work or festivals and participating in traditional customs such as Edelweiss Tanzgruppe, the local Bavarian folk dance group.”
SLEEPING LADY • ART WALK • CHIHULY
Crank up the radio and climb into the mountains. If you’re driving over Stevens Pass, shortly after you crest the summit, be on the lookout for a display of color on the north side of Highway 2 between Lichtenburg and Smithbrook. Once arriving in Leavenworth, enjoy dinner at Watershed Café, where the menu features Hama Hama oysters, or Mana, a cozy yellow house in which diners enjoy a “three-hour, eight-course journey through the senses.” Afterward, savor a good night of sleep at Sleeping Lady (or up the Icicle, if a Thermarest is more your style).
Located at the base of the Icicle canyon and on the peaceful banks of Icicle Creek, Sleeping Lady’s dreamy mountain resort features Kingfisher Restaurant & Wine Bar, a renowned performance center and a self-guided art walk, showing off the magnificent permanent installation by legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly. Long known for its sustainable and ecologically minded practices, this Certified B corporation resort, also offers enticing amenities like an on-site spa and heated pool. Its mission which incorporates nature, art, recreation and healthful dining is so special,” Vandenbrink said. Harriet Bullitt, a multitalented entrepreneur and longtime supporter of the arts and environmental conservation in the Pacific Northwest, started the Sleeping Lady. “I want people to leave here and feel as though they can change their corner of the world,” she once said.
FAT BIKES • BREWS • BRATS
Those staying at Sleeping Lady start the morning with a vibrant, seasonal breakfast spread included in their package. Otherwise, mosey into town for espresso with a view at Argonaut—try the Namaste Latte with turmeric and honey accompanied by the tiny café’s granola bars or seasonal toasts. Afterward, locals suggest hiking up Icicle Ridge or out Red Bridge, the two main town trails, or hitting the Stuart or Colchuck trails. Other options include arranging a river adventure with Osprey Rafting or taking a fat bike onto the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club trails. After getting out into nature, relish an après beverage and snack at Blewett Brewing, Boudreaux Cellars, 37 Cellars, Blue Spirits Distilling or Icicle Brewing Company. At Icicle, a friendly twenty-five-barrel brewhouse, waitstaff serve giant pretzels dipped in Beecher’s cheese and colorful salads topped with manchego, Applegate turkey and Chukar cherries.
The venue draws loyal fans thanks to a bustling scene, live music sessions and seasonally rotated beers made with Icicle Creek water, which flows into the Wenatchee River less than a mile from the venue. Get a sampler to try an array of brews ranging from lagers to porters and IPAs. If you still have steam for an afternoon adventure, consider mountain biking up at Ski Hill, riding the new Up Trail and then down either Fruend or Rosy Boa. On scorching days, cool o with a dip in the Wenatchee River. “ The best thing about Leavenworth is the incredible mountain setting and endless recreational opportunities at its doorstep,” Vandenbrink said. For a casual dinner, order a brat at festive München Haus, or change things up entirely with a Mexican feast at South, where grilled street corn, sweet potato enchiladas, steak tacos and “mangorita” cocktails prove a well-deserved reward after an active day. Sleeping Lady guests take advantage of dinner at King sher Restaurant, included in their package—here, chefs create gourmet meals from the freshest local ingredients, many from the resort’s own 2-acre organic garden.
OKTOBERFEST • SHOPPING • COFFEE
If you happen to be in town during Oktoberfest (October 5-6, 12-13, and 19-20), head to the gathering’s four venues to eat, drink and be merry. A Keg Tapping Ceremony led by the town’s mayor happens at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, and throughout the fest, enjoy live tunes by Musikkapelle Leavenworth and other groups from the U.S., Canada and Germany. (Children under 12 enter for free, as do military members with I.D. Minors, allowed until 9 p.m., will enjoy the designated Kinderplatz area.) Vandenbrink offered some insider tips for negotiating Oktoberfest crowds, like walking or taking a shuttle from one’s hotel. (Sleeping Lady offers a complimentary shuttle for guests on Saturdays.) Other tips— go early if you seek a mellow experience, know that Friday is cheaper than Saturday, and sit at Icicle Brewing Company, Sulla Vita or the Goose Ridge tasting room for the people watching. In general, cycling is a good way to get around in high season. “
The trickiest part of living in Leavenworth is navigating around town during peak periods,” Vandenbrink said. “In the spring and summer, I just jump on my bike, so sitting in traffic or parking aren’t an issue.” After checking out the festival revelry, pop into stores like Posy Handpicked Goods, where the owner raves about her location along a “row of small-production companies that have a lot of soul and speak their own vibe.” This woman-owned shop supports small businesses mostly from the Pacific Northwest. Next door, The Hunter’s Wife serves healthful takeaway fuel, ideal for commencing your journey home. ( Think plant-powered meals and refreshing smoothies with names such as “Mystic Matcha.”) On the drive back to Seattle, treat yourself to a coffee pit stop at Little Red Shed, about halfway between Leavenworth and the pass. Or—as a nod to your Americana road trip— tuck into a burger and fries, served out of the 59er Diner food truck, as memories of your blissful Bavarian getaway fade in the rearview mirror.