HEAD EAST FROM SEATTLE, through thick evergreen forest and over a sky-high mountain pass, and you’ll find a small city filled with German restaurants, distinctive Bavarian architecture, quirky specialty shops, and people dressed in lederhosen. Willkommen to Leavenworth — or so says the big wooden sign greeting you when you get here.
The Bavarian theme is only part of what defines this central Washington city, though. Against the backdrop of the North Cascades, the region is full of forests, rivers, and wildlife — from bears and cougars to eagles and orioles. Autumn is still warm enough for short sleeves, but the morning air is a bit crisper, the foliage bursts with fall color, and the local produce stands overflow with freshly picked fruit.
Autumn in Leavenworth means riding a bike down a rugged mountain path, eating a plate of sausage topped with sauerkraut, sailing 190 feet above a valley on a zipline, and listening to plenty of oompah music. The options for fall fun are endless — but here are 13 highlights you won’t want to miss.
1. Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest is “the next best thing to being in Munich”…
Any German village worth its salt knows you need to whoop it up during Oktoberfest. In Leavenworth, that means watching the city’s mayor tap the keg in a traditional ceremony before you rock out to live music (from German bands), sip icy German beer from steins, and devour juicy brats and giant turkey legs at four adjacent venues.
While a beer-soaked festival may not seem compatible with family fun, Oktoberfest is actually great (and free) for kids until 9pm. The dedicated children’s area (aptly named Kinderplatz) is full of options — think bounce toys, a rock climbing wall, balloon animals, and kid-friendly entertainment. In 2017, the festival spans three weekends: September 29–30, October 6–7, and October 13–14.
2. …but it’s not the only party in town.
Leavenworth loves its festivals. To meet local artists and see their work, head over to the Front Street Park for Village Art in the Park — an outdoor art show that runs through October 22. During the Wine Walk on September 9, you can wander through downtown sampling wine at over a dozen locations. (Really, the complimentary local cheese, wine glass, and live music are just a bonus.)
The Autumn Leaf Festival, the city’s longest-running event, has been a staple since the city went Bavarian in 1964. Visit September 23–24 for two parades, kids’ activities, food booths, live music, and some top-notch entertainment, including the famous-to-locals Wenatchee Youth Circus.
3. The vibe gets super romantic.
It’s easy to see why Leavenworth is a popular spot for proposals and weddings. For an experience that goes all-out fairy tale, take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the tree-lined streets. You even have more than one option: Both Hans Christian Andersen Carriage Co. and Leavenworth Carriage Company will parade you around the cobblestone streets beneath the fall foliage. Not too shabby for a date night.
Get cozy during your stay, whether that’s fireside in a rustic cabin, snuggled up at a B&B, or at the über-luxurious Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. There, the coupled-off can book a couples massage at the spa, take a yoga class together, or go for a dip in the hot pool or sauna. Then there’s the resort’s romance package (think rose petals sprinkled on your bed).
And if you’re hankering for something brand new, check out the Posthotel. Recently opened, their spa is state-of-the-art, and the entire experience is focused on wellness. Imagine dipping into the saltwater swim-out pool, breaking for an authentic European breakfast, and spending the afternoon in a relaxation lounge. Leave the kids at home for this one — it’s adults only.
4. The locally made adult beverages run the gamut.
Central Washington is wine country, and you’ll find dozens of wineries and tasting rooms around Leavenworth. Boudreaux Cellars and Eagle Creek have tasting rooms on Front Street, but their woodsy wineries are worth the drive (Boudreaux requires an appointment). To feel like a movie star, spring for a limo tour of the local wineries.
For beer, check out Leavenworth’s many beer gardens, breweries, and bars. At Icicle Brewing Company, you can take a brewery tour on weekends or hang out at the tasting room sampling local lagers and ales. If you’re traveling with your dog, Doghaus Brewery lets you drink a cold one in the company of your pup at their 9th Street location.
The distillery scene is also strong in these parts. Head to the tasting room at Blue Spirits Distilling to sample gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey produced from local glacial waters. If sipping cucumber vodka, buttered rum, or cherry whiskey doesn’t make you happy, nothing will.
5. The only-in-Leavenworth specialty shops are good for hours of browsing.
You need a new cuckoo clock. A snazzy hat. An old-fashioned music box. A care package of bath fizzers and 70s vintage memorabilia. A board game you vaguely recall from childhood. Because who doesn’t need all that? Downtown Leavenworth has a wealth of shops you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
The Wood Shop & Hat Shop is a two-for-one deal: Check out the handmade puzzles, games, and classic toys at the first, and browse the newsboy caps, top hats, and furry creations at the second. Then head down the road to pick up a beer stein or cuckoo clock at Alpen Haus Gifts, or browse the enormous selection of music boxes at Die Musik Box. Make your trip even more international with the goods at Jubilee Global Gifts, and don’t leave before you get your smells in at The Bubblery — everything is locally handcrafted, from perfumes and soaps to candles and lotions.
One of the best things about Leavenworth: Even the most familiar businesses feature revamped logos and signs in classic Germanic fonts. Ubiquitous businesses like Starbucks, Wells Fargo, and McDonald’s have never looked so appealing.
6. You can hike or bike miles of beautiful fall trails.
In Leavenworth, the best way to work off that German meal (or German beer) is to hit the trails. If you’re hiking with the family, Hidden Lake is a great choice. It’s 1.5 miles of easy terrain studded with enormous ponderosa pines. For something longer, tackle the 12.5-mile trail at Spider Meadows — you’ll be forgiven for forgetting you aren’t actually in the Alps.
There are plenty of biking options here, too. For a leisurely ride, head out on the trail at Blackbird Island off Waterfront Park — just keep an eye out for jumping fish. Freund Canyon or Devil’s Gulch are solid options for the more serious cyclist. If you didn’t pack your bike, you can rent one in town at Arlberg Sports Haus and Der Sportsmann.
7. The freshly picked local produce is like nothing you’ve ever tasted.
The local orchards yield millions of apples and pears every autumn. The Community Farmers Market at Lions Club Park runs every Thursday evening through October, and it’s well worth a wander to check out the heaping piles of fresh local veggies and fruits.
Just down the road in Peshastin is Smallwood’s Harvest, where you can catch the tail end of summer peaches, snag some Bartlett pears, pick a pumpkin, or choose from all kinds of apples — Braeburn, Criterion, Rome Beauty, and Winter Banana are all in season. Bring the whole family for this one, because the kids will love the cow train rides, petting zoo, outdoor games, and puppet shows, too.
8. The German food is legit…
Bratwurst. Sauerkraut. Schnitzel. You could spend days sampling Bavarian specialties in Leavenworth and never eat the same thing twice.
In a wooden booth at Andreas Keller, slather Bavarian mustard on a warm pretzel and choose from eight kinds of sausage. At Viscontis Sausage Garten, the sausages are made right next door (using local ingredients) at Cured. All are gluten-free and taste great with tangy German potato salad. And because there’s no such thing as too much sausage, head to München Haus for a charbroiled Bavarian wurst paired with tangy apple cider kraut. Currywurst, beerwurst, and the traditional ⅓-pound bratwurst are standouts.
9. …but even if you don’t love brats and sauerkraut, you’re still in luck.
Leavenworth has exploded in recent years when it comes to culinary options. Alley Cafe, for example, is where you’ll get your Italian fix and then some, like steamed crab dumplings followed by a mean black bean ravioli. For that farmer’s market feel, Watershed Cafe is where all that local produce — Washington apples, Oregon tenderloins, pesto-crusted PNW cod — meets the plate.
But don’t fill up. Head to the Soup Cellar for the salad bar and housemade soups (they also serve all-you-can-eat prime rib on Friday and Saturday evenings). At The Loft, it’s nachos, gourmet burgers, and meaty sandwiches. If you’re feeling adventurous, try their signature Canadian-Bavarian fusion dish: poutine featuring bratwurst. Because here, you can’t stay away from sausage for long.
10. You can alternate sweet shop, gourmet shop, sweet shop…
At the Fudge Hut, choose from dozens of flavors from the classic (chocolate walnut) to the slightly unusual (tiger butter). When you’re done, head to Schocolat, a gourmet boutique where you’ll find gluten-free, handmade chocolates with ingredients like dried local pears, cinnamon liqueur, and fresh-roasted coffee beans. If you’re craving baked goods, beeline to the Bavarian Bakery — the owner (and resident baker) came over from Germany, so this is about as homemade and authentic as it gets. And then there’s Homefires Bakery, where you’ll find the best pies in town. (Yes, pies fit in carry-ons.)
On the savory side, check out the Cheesemonger’s Shop and browse the sausages, German beer, and all things cheese — hard, soft, smoked, herbed, and so many more. Round out the gourmet excursion at the Oil & Vinegar Cellar where you can explore dozens of oils and vinegars perfect for dressing salads and drizzling on soups.
11. The German-inspired entertainment will transport you across the Atlantic.
Like any Bavarian village where people regularly don lederhosen, Leavenworth is filled with enthusiastic entertainers. The local festivals — particularly Oktoberfest — are hotbeds of yodeling, polka, folk dancing, and oompah music. Local favorites include German polka band Musikkapelle, German/Austrian folk dance group Edelweiss Tanzgruppe, and Austrian folk quartet AlpenFolk.
Even if you can’t make it to a festival, there’s live entertainment at a number of venues. Andreas Keller, Der Hinterhof, Bavarian Bistro & Bar, Wok About Grill, and The Loft all feature live music regularly.
12. Fall is still adventure season.
Autumn may fall between summer’s whitewater rafting season and winter’s Nordic ski and snowmobile season, but there are still plenty of adventures. Rock climbers can book a lesson or guided climb with Northwest Mountain School. For some ziplining, head to Leavenworth Ziplines, open through October, and fly through the air suspended nearly 200 feet above the forest floor, conquering up to nine ziplines and a suspension bridge.
You can also ride into the Cascades on horseback with Icicle Outfitters and Guides or along a forest trail at Eagle Creek Ranch. Red Tail Canyon Farm offers hayrides through the nearby meadows and into Red Tail Canyon, topped off by a hillside BBQ dinner.
13. And of course, the hillsides are ablaze with vibrant fall colors.
Every autumn, the hardwood trees in and around Leavenworth sizzle with fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. As you explore, you’ll see colorful cottonwoods, maples, and huckleberry bushes. A hike through The Enchantments to spy the glowing display of alpine larch is a perfect way to take in the fall colors. Or head to Waterfront Park for a 360-degree view of foliage.
Whatever you see, whatever you do, one thing is certain: Leavenworth in autumn is an incredible trip.