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Sample a bit of Bavarian ambience, food, music, and drink, while only 130 miles from Seattle.

Leavenworth is a lovely place to visit, with lots to enjoy all year round.

 
 
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Leavenworth, WA Visitor Information

A Bavarian style village in a beautiful setting
 

Leavenworth, a scenically beautiful and easy 135 mile drive from Seattle, should be added to everyone's visit to the Pacific Northwest.

Leavenworth has been remodeled along the lines of a Bavarian mountain village, and now offers the twin attractions of charming Bavarian architecture and a stunning mountain setting.

Part one of a three part series on Leavenworth, and part of a larger general series on traveling around the Pacific Northwest.  See the links on the right hand side for other parts of this series.

Also see our article on Wine Trails and Tasting in the Leavenworth area.

 

 

Just over two hours drive from Seattle, three from Vancouver and four from Portland is an incredibly beautiful place you'll be sure to enjoy visiting - the mountain village of Leavenworth.

With hot dry summers, and cold snowy winters, Leavenworth has four very different seasons, each offering different but strong reasons to visit.

Be sure to include a visit to Leavenworth as part of your travels around the Pacific Northwest.

 

Why Visit Leavenworth

A visit to Leavenworth offers another dimension and experience to your time in the Pacific Northwest.  Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, even Portland, all have their own distinctive character and attractions, and Leavenworth offers yet another experience, while being close to the other places you're likely to be visiting.

After losing its income and business base when the railroad moved away, and with rail dependent timber milling operations closing down, Leavenworth seemed fated to fade away into extinction, same as many other small rural towns.  But farsighted city fathers, starting in the early 1960s, re-invented the town as a tourist attraction.  They built on its natural beauty and wonderful location, nestled in the valleys between towering mountains, and recreated it in the style of a Bavarian alpine village.

The town itself is at an elevation of about 1150 ft, and nearby mountains tower over it, up to a height of 8000 ft.  The Wenatchee River runs through the town, adding a watery dimension to the summer activities open to visitors.

These days, the town lives for tourists, without being offensively touristy.  For sure, most of the stores sell somewhat junky touristy trinkets, but the small town of 2200 people retains genuine small town friendliness, while offering its visitors an impressive array of varied things to see and do while staying there.  It is a lively and prosperous feeling place, but also - due to its outstanding natural beauty - a very tranquil and relaxing place, too.

Note - there is no prison in or close to Leavenworth, WA.  You're thinking of Leavenworth, Kansas.

Getting to and from Leavenworth

(Click image to open a larger more detailed map)

Most people will choose to travel by car when traveling to Leavenworth.  There is also Amtrak service (currently to nearby Wenatchee but plans are to open an extra station in Leavenworth in the next year or so) and scheduled air service (also to Wenatchee).

If driving by car

Leavenworth is an easy drive most of the year from a number of other places you may be starting from or continuing on to.

  • Vancouver, BC is 210 miles away

  • Seattle, WA is 135 miles away

  • Spokane, WA is 190 miles away

  • Portland, OR is 290 miles away

  • Wenatchee, WA (airport and Amtrak) is 23 miles away

  • Stevens Pass, WA (closest major ski field) is 35 miles away

  • Winthrop, WA is 115 miles away

Seattle to Leavenworth Loop Drive

Most people will probably be driving between Seattle and Leavenworth.  This is a wonderful drive, and better still, can be done as a loop.  There are two main routes to Leavenworth - a more northerly route that travels east from I-5 in Everett along Highway 2 to Leavenworth (which is located on Hwy 2).  This route takes you over Steven's Pass (summit at 4000 ft).

The more southerly route travels east on I-90 from its start in Seattle some 85 miles to Cle Elum, then goes north on routes 970 and 97 up to Highway 2, where it then goes west 5 miles to Leavenworth.  This route takes you over two passes - Snoqualmie Pass (3000 ft) on I-90 and then Blewett Pass (4100 ft) on route 97.

We recommend you should do the complete loop - traveling one way to Leavenworth and the other way back.  There's no real advantage to doing the loop in one direction or the other, and of course if time allows, you should do two loops - one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise, because - yes - the routes really do look different in each direction, and each way can be made into a full day trip, with stops at scenic lookouts, quaint towns, and other points of interest along the way.

There's another loop you can consider as well - the Cascade Loop.  The upper part of this is only open seasonally, however (closed in winter).  Details here.

Winter driving issues

Winter driving over the passes can sometimes be a challenge.  Although most of the winter seems the roads easily drivable with a good set of multi-purpose snow tires, on occasion heavy snow falls can outstrip the ability of the snow-removal equipment and chains become necessary.

Rarely a highway might even be totally closed for some hours before snow clearing has been completed.

Excellent information on driving over Washington's many passes in the winter is available on the WA State Dept of Transportation website's Mountain Pass pages.

Flying to Leavenworth

There is no airport in Leavenworth.  The closest airport is 29 miles away, in East Wenatchee, airport code EAT.  Currently there are four scheduled flights a day between EAT and Seattle (SEA) on Horizon Air (airline code QX - a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines); it is a 40 minute flight on a small commuter plane.

Hertz, possibly Budget, and perhaps other rental car companies can rent you a car there.

Amtrak

Amtrak provides daily service both westbound (terminating in Seattle) and eastbound (terminating in Chicago) on its Empire Builder train.  Currently the closest station is in Wenatchee, about 24 miles from Leavenworth, but a new station in Leavenworth itself has been approved and is expected to be open in Fall of 2008.

Trains from Seattle arrive into Wenatchee at 8.42pm and trains to Seattle depart Wenatchee at 5.38am.  It is a four hour journey from Seattle to Wenatchee, and a 4hr 40min journey back to Seattle - almost twice as long as the 2.5 - 3 hours it takes to drive the distance.  Of course, people never take a train in the US in the hope of arriving at their destination sooner than if by car.

From Seattle, other trains go north to Vancouver and south to Portland and beyond.

Trains from eastern points arrive into Wenatchee at 5.38am and trains to eastern points depart from Wenatchee at 8.42pm.

Leavenworth train times will probably be about 30 minutes different to Wenatchee train times, with Leavenworth being 30 minutes closer to Seattle and further away from places east.

Traveling around Leavenworth

Downtown Leavenworth is very small, and you can easily walk from one end of town, along its main street (aptly named 'Front St') and to the other end in 20 minutes or less.  For that reason, most people simply park their car and then stroll around the town before returning to their car at the end of their visit.

There is also a trolley service that runs between Icicle Inn at one end of town (outside of the central business district) and Safeway at the other end of town (again outside the CBD), perhaps 1.5 miles or so each way.  This operates every 30 minutes between 10am and 5pm and there is a 25 fare.  When was the last time you rode for a quarter?

There are also horse and buggy rides available, mainly on weekends.

When is the Best Time to Visit Leavenworth

Leavenworth enjoys very different weather in each of the year's four seasons.

It has mild refreshing springs and falls, with plenty of gorgeous autumn colors in the fall and lots of new blossom in the orchards in the spring.

Then it has a hot dry summer, with temperatures breaking through 90 on some days, and a cold snowy winter, with temperatures dropping below 20 on occasion.

This site has helpful average monthly temperature, rainfall, and snowfall data.

Because Leavenworth has a wide range of summer style activities to do in summer, and a wide range of winter activities in winter, there's not really a best or worst time to visit, other than the time which mirrors your own likely range of interests and activities.

Very few other places can boast such different seasons and such a continuing range of positive reasons to visit, year-round.

Weekend Festivals

Each year, it seems that more of the 52 weekends are being filled with festivals of some description or another in Leavenworth.

The best known and most popular two festivals are probably the Christmas Lighting Ceremony festival, which now runs for three weekends consecutively in December, and Oktoberfest, which runs for three weekends in October.

Leavenworth's Oktoberfest is referred to vaguely as 'one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany' - whatever that means.

But there are many other festivals, all of which offer to add something special to your visit to this town.  These range from an international accordion festival (in June) to various music festivals to an ice festival in January.  They range from being moderately sophisticated to being refreshingly amateurish and small-town style (which is unsurprising, the permanent population of the town itself is only about 2200 people).

But note that festivals can sometimes be a challenge as well as a bonus for visitors.  The most popular festivals fill the town to overflowing, with parking impossible to find, all the restaurants full at mealtimes, and all the places to stay full overnight (and/or charging higher festival rates).  If you're wanting to enjoy a quiet relaxed time, perhaps it is best either to visit mid-week, or to choose a weekend where there isn't a big festival scheduled.

How Long to Stay in Leavenworth

It is very common for people living in the Seattle area to visit for a weekend - perhaps leaving early after work on Friday and returning on Sunday, or leaving Saturday morning and driving back early on Monday morning, and some of the hotels and motels either offer special two night packages or require two night stays over the weekend to encourage this type of stay.

At major festival times it is more common to find mandatory two night stays over the weekends.

The large number of people living not far away who travel to Leavenworth for the weekend gives quite a different character to the town on the weekends to during the weeks.  People who visit during the week tend to be more commonly retirees, whereas the weekend visitors are more likely to still be working.  The town is much busier on the weekends than during the week.

Typically, you'll probably travel from somewhere else to Leavenworth to arrive in the afternoon, then you should stay that night, all the next day, and a second night.  You could then either leave the next morning, or, if time allows, stay for as many extra nights as fits into your schedule and budget.

For More Information about Leavenworth and its region

This site - www.leavenworth.org - is operated by the local Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce and it is perhaps the best source of information about Leavenworth.  Another good Leavenworth resource is www.visitncw.com which is published by the local paper, the Leavenworth Echo.

This site  - www.wenatcheevalley.org - has information about nearby Wenatchee.  It is very common for people living in the Seattle area to visit for a weekend - perhaps leaving early after work on Friday and returning on Sunday, or leaving Saturday morning and driving back early on Monday morning, and some of the hotels and motels either offer special two night packages or require two night stays over the weekend to encourage this type of stay.

Read more in Parts 2 and 3

Be sure to read the information in parts two and three about Where to Stay and Eat in Leavenworth and about What to See and Do in Leavenworth Also see our article on Wine Trails and Tasting in the Leavenworth area.

 

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Originally published 1 June 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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