Leavenworth, nestled in the Central Cascades of Washington State, is modeled after a Bavarian village in the German Alps. This cozy town is known throughout the Pacific Northwest not only as a quick weekend getaway but also as the gateway to a wilderness playground. Whether venturing up into the Enchantments, visiting the Nutcracker museum, or feasting on German beer and bratwurst, Leavenworth appeals to a wide variety of visitors.
With a nod to its Bavarian heritage, Leavenworth hosts myriad festivals each year, most notably Oktoberfest and the Christmas Lighting Festival. With a reservation for the very last cabin in December and a few bottles of wine, we headed to Leavenworth to see what this little Bavarian Christmas had to offer.
What we didn't anticipate were the thousands of people converging upon Leavenworth with the same idea. During the weeks preceding Christmas, all downtown streets shut down, blocking traffic to allow pedestrians to walk unimpeded through town. The town is packed beyond capacity with three-hour restaurant wait lists and crowds spilling off the sidewalks. Despite our difficulty navigating downtown, we found that Leavenworth doesn't disappoint the most enthusiastic of Christmastime revelers with its outdoor choirs singing Charlie Brown Christmas songs, a tiny sledding hill right in the middle of town, and endless schnitzel and roasted marshmallows hot chocolate.
Though we found the town itself nearly impossible to enjoy, we were floored by the surrounding landscapes. Within a few minutes of leaving downtown traffic behind, we were deep in Washington winter. The Cascades rose up 8,000 feet around us as we drove past picturesque white fields and mountain cabins standing obstinately under blankets of snow. While we failed to get into the backcountry this time around, those little glimpses of this wilderness wonderland ensured that we'd be back with either snowshoes and trekking poles or backpacks and hiking boots at some point in 2017.
Definitely add Leavenworth to your short list of travel goals for the new year, though avoid festival weekends unless you don't mind soul-crushing crowds. Allow enough time for backcountry adventures if that's your speed, otherwise prepare to consume your weight in German beer and cured meats. Prost!