Guide to Leavenworth

Best Things to Do in Leavenworth

Between the wild outdoors and the wilder nutcracker museum, the Bavarian wonderland is anything but a sleepy mountain town.

By Allison Williams

As if a million bratwurst weren't enough, Leavenworth offers year-round outdoor recreation and a healthy dose of indoor fun. Be sure to check local festival calendars to find out whether the central streets (and Highway 2) will be really crowded or only sorta crowded. 

Nutcracker Museum

Few culinary tools get the personality of a nutcracker; can you imagine if we carved faces onto our can openers? Leavenworth’s Nutcracker Museum is a thorough salute to the person-shaped nut-opening figures that are closely tied to Bavaria and Christmastime. Consider it one part museum, one part gift shop. Sure, there’s something slightly creepy about the wall of intense eyes and square jaws, but if you can’t find a face you love among the 7,000 from 50 countries and reaching back to Ancient Rome—well, someone could call you a tough nut to crack. (Sorry.)

The denizens of the Nutcracker Museum are here for nuts.

Shopping

Downtown Leavenworth, with its main drag turned pedestrian-only in recent years, is less small-town center and more overstuffed gift shop. Novelty tea towels and candy stores abound, though Mountain Modern Supply Company sells mushroom-patterned notebooks and "Camping is in tents" T-shirts that deliver a cheery outdoor vibe. For actual play-outdoors gear, longtime Leavenworth staple Der Sportsmann is like a tiny, local REI in the middle of town. The Gingerbread Factory's bakery cases are filled with exactly what you'd think; the tiny tot figures give you the most arms and legs to bite off. For a refreshingly less-Bavarian break, The Bubblery specializes in sugar scrubs and hair elixir, and the kind of goat's milk soaps that smell so dreamy they must be saved for the guest bathroom.

Leavenworth's pedestrian downtown is an attraction unto itself.

Skiing

Stevens Pass, about 40 minutes west of Leavenworth, has always been Seattle’s funky-yet-serious ski spot, the parking lots filling before sunrise and emptying only after the late-night live music fades at the Foggy Goggle bar. The mountain used to be the scrappy underdog of Northwest ski hills—creaky chairs, greasy lodge food, and lifties blasting tunes on the night shift—but a Vail Resorts acquisition has meant updated lifts and new dining options. Leavenworth also has its own small ski hill with a rope tow for gentle skiing, tubing, and access to Nordic trails.

Though steep mountains tower above, Nordic skiing makes use of Leavenworth's flatter areas.

Mountain Biking

As soon as the snow melts, bikes come out of storage. Enchantment Park's pump track, basically the biker's version of a skate park, serves as practice ground. Der Sportsmann rents wheels by the day (along with bouldering crash pads and rock climbing shoes), and the ski hill area has several trails with easy access. In summer, Stevens Pass turns its lifts into bike-carriers for unlimited downhill fun.

River Floating and Rafting

With turbulent Icicle Creek draining into the Wenatchee River in the middle of town, Leavenworth doesn't want for waterways. Various operators do trips along whitewater routes in the area or just gentle floats to take in the mountain scenery; Osprey Rafting transports customers south to the Tieton River in September when the whitewater becomes inaccessible closer to town. Bobbing down the Wenatchee in the middle of Leavenworth is open to all comers—several river access points are public—but Leavenworth Outdoor Center makes it easy with tubing rentals, a shuttle, and a free key-and-phone check for anything that shouldn't get wet; they also supply a frisbee for each hand to use as a paddle. Central Washington's scorching summers make the cold waters welcome, but outside of the hot months any outdoor water gets real cold, real fast.

River tubing on the Wenatchee River makes hot Leavenworth summers more pleasant.

Hiking 

Hiking trails snake through the mountains that surround Leavenworth and nearby Lake Wenatchee, but no destination is as famous as the Enchantments. The series of high-altitude alpine lakes is perfectly picturesque, a combination of rocky formations, striking larch trees, and curious mountain goats. Despite the demanding hike to the area, it’s incredibly popular, so overnight backpacking permits are limited and available online or at the Wenatchee River Ranger District office in Leavenworth. Day hiking is restricted only by the number of parking spaces at the trailheads, which fill quickly on weekends. 

Festivals

Oktoberfest is less a single festival in Leavenworth than a way of life. Since 1998, the German-inspired party has grown to a multi-weekend event full of outdoor beer gardens, costumes, music, and keg-tapping. Though the original organization moved their party to Wenatchee in 2022, downtown Leavenworth hosts a traditional Oktoberfest downtown and in its central Festhalle. Even beyond the October (sometimes September) weekends of official partying, one can DIY an oompah-music stein-toasting hang pretty much every week of the year at the town’s many beer gardens.

Yuletide is the town's most popular tourist time with a festival called Village of Lights: Christmastown, covering the main street in thousands of tiny bulbs, though the illumination actually continues through February. Fall celebrates autumn color, spring has its Maifest...in short, to repeat: Check the festival calendar.

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