LOCATED AT THE head of a river valley, right smack in the middle of the Cascades, Leavenworth couldn’t be better situated for outdoor exploration by adventurers of all levels of prowess — from tender-footed families to ridge-conquering, steel-thighed alpinists. This Bavarian-themed mountain village enjoys almost every conceivable outdoor adventure, from a relatively relaxed round of wine-tasting to a pulse-pounding whitewater rafting trip.
I’d recommend bookending each outdoor romp with a mug of beer and a giant pretzel, but maybe that’s just me. Let’s dive into these nine outdoor adventures — prost!
1. Driving in on Hwy 2
Enumerating the opportunities for spontaneous outdoorsy adventures on scenic Hwy 2 would require some serious counting skills, should you want to try. It winds through Skykomish, past Stevens Pass Ski Area, and along the Wenatchee River for miles. There are tons of spots to pull over to snap a photo or amble down to the river, if that’s any proof of what the route has in store. Before you even get to Leavenworth, you’re already following the trail of breadcrumbs to an awesome weekend.
That old axiomatic adage “the journey is the destination” is appropriate on your way in, so slow your roll and enjoy the journey deep into Washington’s mightiest mountain range. (Oddly enough, it works in reverse, too.)
2. Rubbing noses with reindeer
If you’re anything like me, the only reindeer you’ve been acquainted with are the flying, mythical type. But even if you hang out with elves on the regular, a visit to the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm on one of those picture-friggin-perfect snowy winter days (or even in the heart of summer), is going to be a blast. How could it not be, interacting with these fascinating and friendly animals? I dunno about you, but the last time I hung out with reindeer was never.
This small, family-run farm also has horses, geese, and pigs. Spring is a great time of year to see the newborn reindeer in all their cute, lanky glory. Expect parents with insanely cute kids (the human kind) to be snapping Instagram gold.
3. Toe-dipping at Waterfront Park
A short walk downhill from the dozens of restaurants, bars, and boutique shops of Front St. will take you to the banks of the river and the sizable Waterfront Park that’s perfect for picnicking, dog walking, or just strolling about digesting lunch. There are a few small sandy beaches where kicking off one’s shoes is the only reasonable thing to do. You’re on vacation. Do it right.
If you’re here with the fam, have the kiddos bring their tackle and pole to the nearby pond. In spring, it gets stocked with trout by Trout Unlimited, and anyone aged 15 or under can try their hand at getting a bite.
4. Kayaking on the Wenatchee River
One of the Cascade’s many beautiful glacier/snowmelt-fed rivers, this is a popular kayaking (and rafting/tubing) destination. Experienced kayakers can taste the whitewater and tackle exciting Class IV and V rapids in Tumwater Canyon. The Swiftwater picnic area on Hwy 2 provides access to the river. Or put your boat in the water at Icicle Creek (also very popular with kayakers) and race towards Leavenworth. Bring your own boat, or rent equipment from one of the many operators in the area such as Leavenworth Mountain Sports, or take a 3-hour kayak lesson from Leavenworth Outdoor Center.
5. Bouldering Icicle Canyon
Some of the best darn bouldering in the state can be had along Icicle Creek, a few miles from downtown Leavenworth. There are a ton of routes available — many are V0 and V1 and suitable for novice climbers and/or beginners. Two super popular (for good reason) areas for bouldering are Forestland Boulders and Mad Meadows, both of which have a wealth of big granite boulders, with plenty of outliers if the main areas are full. Don’t attempt to climb without the proper gear, all of which (crash pads, shoes, etc.) is available for rent local outfitters.
6. Dancing around the Maipole
Mid-May, Leavenworth dons its dirndl, slips on its dancing shoes, and heads to the town square to celebrate Maifest, a traditional German festival welcoming spring. The Maibaum, or Maipole, stands tall with its blue and white spiral stripes running up the length of the single timber. And on Saturday at noon, dancers gather ‘round the Maipole as they have in villages in Bavaria for centuries and dance traditional dances wearing traditional clothing, casting a folksy blessing for a bountiful spring.
Oompa bands and folk dancing erupt from everywhere as the town swells with festival-goers to witness the crowning of the Maifest queen, watch the pros dance around the pole, and catch a free dance lesson — all while noshing on sausages and brats from München Haus and other local joints. Think of Maifest as Oktoberfest’s slightly more sober springtime cousin.
7. Getting happy on the trails
The best way to explore Leavenworth’s alpine setting is to actually lace up your boots and go exploring. The Leavenworth area is a web of hiking trails of all difficulty levels, and is thus a well-known hub for PNW outdoor enthusiasts (not just Germanophiles and sausage gobblers, though certainly for them, too).
On the more difficult end of the spectrum, Colchuck Trail, 4th of July Creek Trail, and Stuart Lake Trail will have you breaking a sweat and wishing you hadn’t skipped leg day. For a more easygoing adventure, locals and visitors alike walk the super tranquil Chiwaukum Creek Trail or mosey over to Hidden Lake for a picnic and a swim.
If you have 8+ hours, plenty of snacks, and love to feel the burn, a hike to the especially-spectacular-in-spring Spider Meadows is in order. Google it and prepare.
8. Shredding single track
Leavenworth and Stevens Pass have successfully staked their claim as legitimate homes to gnarly single-track mountain biking, and a local fave super close to town is Freund Canyon. This 8-mile round trip is gonna punish your legs for the first five miles and reward you with a flowy, bermy descent back to your vehicle.
Nearby Stevens Pass (a 40-minute drive from Leavenworth), an amazing place to ski or ride in the winter months, is the premier summer destination in WA for downhill bike park action. Each year around June the lifts open, bringing downhill mountain bikers up the mountain to navigate themselves back down in a beautifully designed trail system that caters to beginners as well as experts.
9. Exploring Icicle Gorge
From Leavenworth, drive up Icicle Creek Road/Hwy 76 for 17 miles to the Icicle Gorge Trailhead, and you’ll find yourself on one of the most pleasant walks in the area. The gentle loop traverses both sides of the Icicle River, with a couple of bridges taking you over the cool, churning waters midway through the hike. Stop and snap some pics, enjoying a moment to cool off with the river’s breeze.
You’ll likely share the trail with families, joggers, and other hikers out exploring the Icicle Valley, for this place is no secret. And since you’ve made it this far, the rest of Leavenworth isn’t, either.